A direction was also issued to the bank that it should not collect a single rupee from petitioner Nalini Devi in lieu of the alleged excess payment of Rs 2,34,158 made to her, and instead recover the said amount from officers who were callous in making the excess payment.
“If the trail of representations (submitted by Nalini Devi) is noticed, it would demonstrate a callous, lackadaisical and irresponsible attitude of the officers of the bank and the fifth respondent (joint director, Pension Payment Treasury) or office of the accountant general who had processed the petitioner’s papers for family pension. The petitioner, wife of an employee who died in harness, is a senior citizen and has been made to run from pillar to post, mentally harassed, first to set her pension right and then to get her account unblocked,” Justice M Nagaprasanna observed.
“In 2016 the petitioner requested that excess payment of pension of Rs 50,000 be recovered in equal monthly instalments of Rs 2,000 but it was the bank that kept quiet over the request and woke up only in 2021 by which time the excess pension paid had touched Rs 2,34,158. Even in 2021 she offered that if it was really excess payment, Rs 3,000 be deducted from her pension account every month. The honesty and anxiety of the petitioner have to be noticed with appreciation,” the judge noted.
“We are in a digital age. Excess payment is immediately reflected on the screens of computers through which amounts are disbursed. It is only to be noticed by the person operating the computer or the person who takes the decision on transferring the monthly pension. In such a case, neither the hardware nor the software would be responsible, but the heartware. By heartware, I mean the person who handles the account and transfers the amount through the computer. The heartware has to detect that something is amiss. If excess payment is detected at early stages, there would be no loss caused to the bank/state or agony to the account holder,” Justice Nagaprasanna said.
The judge opined that officers who display such remissness should not be tolerated and the option of initiating disciplinary proceedings against them for imposing punishment for dereliction of duty should be explored, so that taxpayers’ money is not put in jeopardy.
Devi’s husband C Sudhakar was working as a second-division assistant in the office of the deputy commissioner of police, CAR (central), Bengaluru. He died on December 29, 2004. Since December 30, 2004, a pension of Rs 2,430 was deposited every month into the petitioner’s account in Syndicate Bank, BWSSB branch, Gandhinagar, Bengaluru.
However, on November 7, 2016 when Devi visited the bank, she was told that she cannot operate the account as excess payment of Rs 50,000 had been made to her family pension account. She submitted representations to the bank, the ombudsman and also accountant general’s office. She explained her problems, including the medical cost she incurred on account of contracting Covid, borrowing money to meet day-to-day expenses such as paying rent, utility bills and payment of interest on borrowed money among others.