CHENNAI: Coming to the aid of an official of the State Bank of India who was terminated, and two others who faced defamation cases filed by the bank, Madras High Court has set aside the action initiated against them.
The dismissal and defamation proceedings were slapped on them for seeking action against senior officials of the bank for failing to take action over a series of incidents of cash bundles missing from its branches.
In May 2006, six bundles Rs 500 notes, totaling Rs 30 lakh, went missing from the strong room of the Avinashi branch of Coimbatore. At that time, three employees, MV Thangaswamy, president, S Gunasekar, general secretary and G Arasukumar, treasurer of SBI Ambedkar Trade Union, raised the issue and sought action against the then Chief General Manager, Pradip Chaudhary.
In its complaint to RBI and also the posters it put up, the trade union raised similar such cases of cash bundles missing - Rs 5 lakh from Salem branch, Rs 6 lakh from Rasipuram branch, Rs 5.50 lakh from Aminjikarai branch, Rs 5 lakh from Kulithalai branch, and Rs 6 lakh, Rs 1 lakh and then the case of Rs 30 lakh going missing from the same Avinasi branch.
In reply, the bank dismissed one of the office-bearers of the Union and filed defamation suits against two others, arguing that the allegations were baseless defamed the bank, damaging its reputation and business.
However, a division bench of the High Court set aside the disciplinary proceedings, stating that the posters had only appealed to the bank authorities to take action. Moreover, the bank did not deny the substance of the allegation while taking punitive action. "We do not know how the action of the trade union and its office-bearers in putting up the posters can be detrimental to the interest of the bank if the substance of those allegations are not denied," the bench comprising Justice V Ramasubramanian and Justice K Ravichandrabaabu noted.
"Exposing the inaction of the bank in the light of the series of cash shortages can only be in public interest and making such statements cannot be detrimental to the interest of the bank... It cannot even be said to be prejudicial to the interest of the bank," the bench added.
Pulling up the SBI for giving statements against the petitioners over the issue, the bench read Article 43-A of the Indian Constitution that guarantees the right for workers in the management of the industries. Further, it is also the fundamental duty of all citizens to safeguard public property.
"Merely because [the poster] has exposed some irregularities, that will not affect the commercial interest of the bank... On the other hand, only by such exposures, correctional measures can be taken and the bank can assure the general public that all is well with them," the bench noted, setting aside the action against the three