Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Sunday, Apr 21, 2002
Money & Banking - Security
Bank on security rules to tackle armed attack
CHENNAI/MUMBAI, April 20
EVEN as fear has seized the Chennai banking sector following the attempted armed dacoity in one of the SBI branches on April 10, in which a bank official was killed and another injured, bankers are telling themselves that such things are "an occupational hazard".
The incident has focussed attention once again on the need for adequate security measures in banks. But, the question remains as to what adequate security is. For, according to bankers, there is always the problem of customers being put to difficulties while banks go through rigorous security procedures.
However, they say that danger to human life could be minimised, if not completely avoided, by following one simple banking industry edict: when under attack, do not resist.
"The event (in SBI) has underscored the uselessness of armed security at branches," one senior manager in a nationalised bank told Business Line. He narrated an incident: once a plain-clothed police officer stuck his index finger into the back of a distrait "armed security" at a bank and said, "hands up". The terror-stricken guard threw his arms up, his bayonet-rifle on the ground.
The symbolic presence of an armed guard may not do much good, but sometimes, sticking to the rules can help. For example, some bankers point out, the SBI event would not have happened if, as the rules say, the front door had been locked from the inside before the bank officials went to open the vault. Till the actual start of business hours, the door to the entrance of the bank must remain locked, they say.
There are some in the industry who feel that dacoities could be dealt with by the use of closed circuit TVs. New private sector banks, such as the IDBI Bank, have CCTVs. The CCTVs, which monitor the movement of people in and out of the bank, would discourage attacks, they say. However, some others feel that CCTVs can be only of limited help. "What if the miscreants come masked or disguised," one senior manager in a public sector bank, asked.
It is almost universally believed in the banking circles that this "occupational hazard" can be minimised only by a system that enables severe judicial retribution. But until such a system is established, bank officials will continue to live in fear.
Inadequate or poor security has been one of the major issues in State-run banks with banks averaging a minimum of three-four incidents of theft or dacioty in each State, monthly. In the north-eastern States and Bihar, officials said that such incidents were almost a daily occurrence.
Bank officials argue that in case of public sector banks, some of them having more than 3,000 branches, it is virtually impossible to ensure a full-proof system of security. The SBI Chennai incident comes close on the heels of another case of robbery in SBI's Ajmer branch.
Commercial banks generally follow the guidelines laid down by the Government and RBI in matters relating to security of branches. A committee appointed by the Government had laid down the various classifications such as high risk, low risk and normal risk. The RBI has also laid down guidelines with regard to the layout of the branch, location of the cash room and requirements of collapsible shutters.
Bankers said that security in branches is generally based on the threat perception which, in turn, is based on the value deposits in the branch, the location and the general law and order situation prevailing in that area.
Security in bank branches is basically classified on the basis of the risk profile of the area and the cash retention limit. High risk branches are those that have currency chests or those that are located in vulnerable areas, susceptible to burglary, theft or dacoity or even those branches that are located in border areas.
Bankers said that in the branches in some cases, as much as five armed security guards are appointed along with the mandatory electronic devices such as burglary alarms and electronic night mode system. Recently, banks have also started deploying devices such as television sets and electronic time-locks in select branches.
In normal risk branches, there may be one security guard appointed while in low risk branches, there are no security guards.
Bankers say that the classification of branches in an ongoing process and there may be constant re-evaluation of the risk profile in branches.
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