In a landmark judgment in India, delivered by Sri PWC Davidar, IAS, the Adjudicator of Tamil Nadu (also the IT Secretary) has passed an award for payment of Rs 12.85 lakhs to a petitioner who alleged a fraudulent withdrawal from his ICICI Bank account. Bank contended that the issue involved customer negligence and did not fall under the jurisdiction of the adjudicator.

However in a well reasoned judgment copy of which is available here (PDF copy size 2 MB) the Adjudicator held that an offence is made out under ITA 2000 and it falls under the jurisdiction of the adjudicator.

The honourable adjudicator  proceeded to accept the petitioner’s argument that the Bank had not exercised due diligence and therefore was liable under Section 85 of the Act to pay the compensation.

One of the main points highlighted in the judgment is that the Bank failed to use appropriate authentication of its e-mails to customers in the form of “Digital Signatures”. Bank’s systems and procedures before and immediately after the commission of the offence and the lack of KYC responsibility was also highlighted.

Since there are hundreds of Phishing frauds that are happening in the Indian scenario, this judgment is likely to be welcome by millions of Internet Banking customers in India.

As the author has been emphasizing for a long time, non adoption of digital signatures by Banks for authenticating Internet Banking transactions is a matter of utter disregard to the laws and RBI guidelines and this judgment would help in restoring some responsibility amongst the Bankers.

The undersigned had recently offered to one the Chiarman’s of a Bank (who is also the chairman of Indian Bank Association) that digital signature can be provided to every one of their customers at the cost of the annual fee they are now charging for servicing the account.

Regrettably there was no response from the Bank. I hope the Chairman of IBA will review the proposal and mandate introduction of digital signatures in Bank-customer communication besides taking other security initiatives as suggested in the judgment.