A day after Keelkattalai robbery, police step up pressure on bank managements over security measures

A day after the daring daylight robbery at gunpoint by a five-member gang at the Indian Overseas Bank branch in Keelkattalai, account holders continued to throng the branch on Tuesday, anxious about the safety of their jewels and cash.

“We deposit our hard-earned money in banks as they are safe and secure, but if banks can get robbed, where do we keep our money,” asked K. Ganesh, an account holder. His reaction probably summed up the prevailing mood among other account holders, who began to troop in to the branch since Tuesday morning. As his niece is getting married on Wednesday, Ganesh came to draw Rs. 1 lakh on Monday afternoon but could do so only on Tuesday afternoon.

P.K. Raghavan, a pensioner, said Monday's incident should be an eye-opener to bank authorities. A former Central government employee and resident of Madipakkam, Raghavan suggested that staff on duty at the bank's entrance ask for a proof of identity before letting “suspicious characters” inside.

Staff recall tense moments

Bank staff had been given strict instructions by the police that their authorities should not speak to the media. However, during brief chats with reporters, they recalled those few minutes on Monday afternoon.

Kamalakannan, a messenger, had been working in the Medavakkam branch of IOB for five years before moving to the Keelkattalai branch six months ago. He was questioned by the city police and also senior officials of the Organised Crime Intelligence Unit of the Tamil Nadu Police. All he said was that everything happened in a flash and the gun-toting men left as swiftly as they had entered.

Gopal Raj, the chief cashier, said he took the keys of safety vaults and cash counters with him when he went home for lunch. When he returned a little past two, everything was over. The armed men were initially unable to open the doors of the cash counter as it was fitted with an automatic lock. But, they managed to squeeze their hand through a small gap on the door and release the lock by pressing its knob. During this time, the rest of the staff and the sprinkling of customers present at that time were taken to a room next to the vault.

Cameras being installed

Since Tuesday morning, work was on to install a foolproof closed-circuit television system and a burglar alarm. An official of IOB from Kancheepuram division said there are 63 branches in the division and they had placed orders for installing the system with a single vendor. Installation of the system was being done in phases.

The average cost of installing a complete system is around Rs. 80,000, they said.

Staff at other nationalised banks around Tambaram said their family members were not as cheerful when they left home for work on Tuesday morning. Employees at the Selaiyur branch of a nationalised bank said the recent robberies had taken place in busy, commercial locations — a pointer to the risks they were exposed to.

L. Balasubramanian, president of All India Overseas Bank Employees' Union and general secretary of National Union of Bank Employees, who visited the branch, told The Hindu that police investigations were on and the bank management too was making an inquiry. “These are occupational hazards. I am here to extend my moral support to my colleagues,” he said.

Stating that arrangements were being made to provide security to all bank staff, Mr. Balasubramanian said banks were opening new branches in far-flung and remote locations and their safety and security too had to be considered.

A beat policeman of Selaiyur police station told The Hindu that since Tuesday morning, he and his colleagues had visited every single bank and given them fresh instructions. Bank officials were asked not to open the branch before 9 a.m., keep the main door locked during lunch hour and not to allow outsiders to sit on the bank premises after 3 p.m.

There are nearly 250 branches of government and private banks in the southern suburbs of Chennai coming within the jurisdiction of St. Thomas Mount district police.

A senior officer said that while they could only appeal to the banks or private pawn broker shops to step up security measures, they had no powers to initiate action against them for failing to meet the norms.