Lindsay Pereira: How to get away with murder

Feb 24, 2018, 06:19 IST | Lindsay Pereira

Try defaulting on an EMI and your bank will hound you; walk away with a few thousand crores and you can live happily ever after

The Enforcement Directorate seized cash, jewellery and bonds worth crores during a raid at the Thane branch of Punjab National Bank on Monday in connection with the Nirav Modi scam. Pic/PTI
The Enforcement Directorate seized cash, jewellery and bonds worth crores during a raid at the Thane branch of Punjab National Bank on Monday in connection with the Nirav Modi scam. Pic/PTI

Lindsay PereiraI can't wrap my head around the figures thrown up by newspapers this month. A jeweller has allegedly defrauded a bank of a few hundred crores. That figure multiplied with every week to a few thousand. It may be a billion soon, because it's obvious that no one's quite sure about the number. It's also cute, now that the scam has come to light, that figures have begun to arrive with decimal points. It's Rs 4,886.72 crore, say a few bankers, who have finally found that they can count after all. It's amusing how this ability was mysteriously suspended for over half a decade, while a man and his family kept raking in a whole lot of money.

Banks would amuse me if they didn't terrify me more. Consider, for a moment, what it takes to open a savings account, or borrow a few lakhs as a loan for a motorcycle. Watch as banks ask you for everything, from birth certificates and proof of income, to guarantees that you won't run away with their money. Watch as they make it impossible for you to make a single transaction without linking your Aadhaar number to your account. Notice how they start to circle like hawks the minute you're a week late with a single payment.

Their advertisements fool us constantly: 'Home loans in one day.' 'Personal loans in just 5 minutes.' 'Change your life in an hour.' 'Walk in miserable and walk out with a smile.' Naturally, because millions of us are gullible (look who we elect as leaders), we turn to banks for help, and start thinking of bankers as saviours. We assume they are always hard at work, making sure our hard-earned money is being well taken care of. We don't grudge them their cushy jobs, extended perks, regulated hours or low interest rates for employees. We don't say a word when salaries of their senior executives are discussed, because we assume they need to get paid a lot for taking care of our money.

And yet, it's interesting how banks that can't trust us with their ballpoint pens are so nonchalant when it comes to giving away crores to people who probably don't need the money in the first place. 'Non Performing Assets,' they say, washing their hands of thousands of frauds perpetuated with their connivance on a monthly basis, shrugging off the loss of millions that don't belong to them in the first place, safe in the knowledge that the government will have to step in and bail them out. After all, banks in America managed to walk away from one of the biggest failures in human history and still managed to give their CEOs a raise.

What exactly do bankers do anyway, apart from making us wait in line for our own money and coming up with inane rules and regulations to make our lives more difficult? How do so many people manage to walk away with so many crores, when millions of us can barely afford a loan for a microwave without our financial health being examined with a microscope? How did a certain bank manage to issue 143 Letters of Undertaking and 224 foreign letters of credits through fraudulent means, without anyone waking up to what was going on? And how come these frauds continue to flourish when anyone with half a brain should be able to put in a system of checks and balances the minute something like this happens the first time?

Naturally, there are a whole lot of people rummaging through assets now, trying to get their hands on anything and everything that can be sold for them to recover some of their money. The people responsible for the crime have managed to fly away easily, because they knew they were going to be raided long before the rest of us heard about it. This is the equivalent of the police informing a murderer of their intention to arrest him, giving him enough time not just to pack, but to find a safe haven in another country, a few thousand miles from his local police station.

Banks get away with murder because they are allowed to. We should stop falling for their PR campaigns, because the next scam is probably just around the corner.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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