New Delhi: The State Bank of India (SBI) and Union Bank of India (UBI) allegedly deducted money from the bank accounts of 11 crore children enrolled in government schools under the RTE Act across India, for not maintaining a minimum balance amount in their scholarship accounts.
These scholarship accounts were assigned to the children under the Right to Education Act to provide them with school uniform among other things. While SBI has acknowledged the mistake and promised to refund the deducted amount, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has issued summons to UBI for fining these students and failing to reply to the commission.
News18 has accessed a copy of the summons where the child rights body mentions the several past reminders it had issued to UBI. Now, the bank is expected to explain its stand on March 6.
“The commission has registered a complaint regarding fine levied on scholarship accounts. The commission has requested you number of times to take swift action in these matters and submit an action taken report. The commission now requires you to appear in person in this matter along with relative records documents on March 6,” reads the summon letter addressed to the Chairperson of UBI.
The commission has also made it clear that if UBI fails to appear before them on March 6, they would be “subjected to the consequences of the non-attendance as provided in the procedure of Civil Procedure Code”.
Priyank Kanoongo, RTE & Education member in NCPCR told News18 that the commission chanced upon the wrongdoing while conducting workshops in Maharashtra. An education sub-committee under a zilla gram panchayat brought it to the notice of the commission.
“The amount of RTE Act entitlement is like a government scholarship amount and that is an entitlement that no one can take away from the children as it is guaranteed by the Constitution. It's a right of the child,” said Kanoongo.
According to the child rights body, "an approximate Rs. 400-800 is given to the economically weaker section (EWS) students for school uniforms. It is this money that the banks have deducted as a fine for not maintaining a minimum balance”.
Kanoongo added that there are almost 19 crore students studying under the RTE till Class VIII. Out of these 19 crore, 38% are enrolled in private schools, which leaves "almost 11 crore students in government schools", who have bank accounts in SBI and UBI and are subjected to this wrongdoing by the banks.
According to NCPCR, most of the students, "whose money was deducted, could not purchase a uniform for this academic year".
But is there a legal mandate that permits banks to deduct any amount of money citing non-maintenance of minimum balance from bank accounts of children enrolled under the Right to Education Act.
According to NCPCR, such an act by the bank is in complete violation of an RBI circular issued last year.
"Earlier last year, the Reserve Bank of India had issued a circular to not deduct any minimum balance fee from accounts of children below 18 years," Kanoongo said.
NCPCR is also set to issue a recommendation to the RBI next week so that "all bank accounts of children below 18 years are declared to be zero balance accounts".
Apart from UBI, State Bank of India too was guilty of deducting money from the accounts of students, but has now "agreed to remedy the error".
“We had send notices to both UBI and SBI. SBI has now designated officers in each and every district of the country to ensure proper implementation of the disbursal scheme. They have also given us a list of these designated officers and we have shared the list with the state education department and soon these officers will have the concerned bank account numbers and within a months’ time, we will transfer the amount that was deducted from the accounts of the students,” Kanoongo said.