A different kind of demonetisation struck Assam’s Tinsukia district when mice allegedly shredded notes worth Rs 12 lakh inside a State Bank of India (SBI) ATM.
The SBI ATM (DFBK – 000196116) in Hijuguri’s Bahbari locality has been shut due to a technical snag since May 20. However, behind closed doors, unknown to the world, it was hosting an army of four-legged guests: mice. On June 11, when a few repairmen visited the outlet to get the machine fixed, they were surprised to find heaps of 500 and 2,000 rupee notes shredded into tiny pieces.
“The cash dispenser of the ATM had stopped working so it was shut down on May 20,” says a local police officer from Hijuguri. The SBI ATM is currently under the management of a Guwahati-based financial company named FIS: Global Business Solutions. “The ATM might be under the SBI banner but all maintenance has been outsourced to FIS. We just source the money, they do everything else,” says a bank officer. The concerned ATM falls under the category of Brown Label ATM where a service provider (in this case FIS) owns the hardware of the ATM, but “cash management is handled by a sponsor bank (in this case SBI) whose brand is used on the ATM.”
“On May 20, we found that the machine was not working so we tried to contact the FIS according to their set procedures,” says the officer, “For 10 days, we did not get any response.”
“On 28th May, FIS got a Kolkata-based audit team to check the machine. But for some reason they were unable to open it up,” says the police officer. On June 11, a vault cutting unit arrived from Delhi. “When they opened it up, they found the destroyed notes. And alongwith it, a carcass of a dead mouse,” he says.
According to bank officials, notes worth Rs 12,38,000 have been destroyed by the mice. FIS had reportedly deposited Rs 29 lakhs inside the machine on May 19. “The ATM had stopped working the following day,” says a Tinsukia-based journalist.
The underside of the machine apparently had a hole for wires to go through — “We suspect this is how the mice entered,” says the police official, adding that the air conditioner of the the ATM had been out of order for a year.
FIS has lodged an FIR with Tinsukia police to probe the incident. “May 20 and June 11 is a significant period of time for an ATM to be out of service. People are suspicious as to why it took so long for the mechanics to arrive,” says the journalist, who first heard about the destruction through a Whatsapp forward.
Really Size doesn’t matter!! What a rat this is! Rat-bitten bank notes worth Rs 12 lakh 38 thousand. Torn notes and dead rat found inside ATM in Tinsukia Assam. Rat found dead before little one could bite remaining Rs 17 lakh 10 thousand. pic.twitter.com/3Omns7gAZH
— Nandan Pratim Sharma Bordoloi 🇮🇳 (@NANDANPRATIM) June 18, 2018
However, the police feels that this was accidental. “If there were humans involved, there would have been some sign of breaking and entering,” says the police officer, adding that based on the way the notes have been destroyed, it is evident that it was done by a rodent.
“We have been able to salvage about Rs 17 lakhs,” a bank official confirmed to a local Assamese news channel on Monday morning. Many, however, still express doubts over what really happened inside the kiosk. The CCTV footage is still being awaited by the police. “Till then we cannot officially comment on the investigation,” says the officer.
“We are going to ask FIS to compensate for the money lost,” says the bank. Repeated calls to FIS have gone unanswered.
With lakhs being shredded under mysterious circumstances, it is not surprising that everybody smells a rat.