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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 June 2006, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Blind man wins cheque book battle

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Guwahati

Prasanna Kumar Pincha signs a cheque with help from a colleague
Mr Pincha (right) is now going to take on insurance companies (Photos by Subhamoy Bhattacharya)
A blind Indian man is celebrating after winning a legal battle with his bank to be allowed to use a cheque book.

Prasanna Kumar Pincha went to court after trying to open an account at the Industrial Development Bank of India.

He argued it was discriminatory to make him bear the risk of signature fraud, and the court in Assam state agreed.

Unless the bank appeals, experts say the ruling could become a legal precedent giving India's nearly 10 million blind people similar rights.

'Lesser citizen?'

Mr Pincha, who works for Action Aid India, went to the high court in the Assamese capital, Guwahati, after the IDBI bank treated him differently from other colleagues at the charity, all of whom were allowed to open accounts.

Prasanna Kumar Pincha
The battle has been won, but the war has just begun
Prasanna Kumar Pincha

He needs the help of a colleague, who fixes his pen at the right spot, to scribble his almost unreadable signature.

"My signature may look ugly, but nobody can replicate it," he told the BBC.

He says the bank first refused him an account because he was blind. "I asked them whether my blindness makes me a lesser citizen of India."

Bank officials then agreed to open an account, but told Mr Pincha the cheque facility would only be made available to him if he signed an agreement to bear any risk of fraud, he says.

"I was not ready to furnish the undertaking, because no other ordinary Indian citizen has to do so. I decided to go to the high court," Mr Pincha said.

The bank argued that safeguards were needed to stop "unscrupulous people" misusing visually-impaired account-holders' cheque books.

Its lawyers cited an order by India's chief disability commissioner, which makes it mandatory for blind bank account holders to agree to bear risks before being given cheque books.

The order states that all cheques are to be crossed and the account holder's thumb impression should be affixed and authenticated by the bank.

The Indian Bank Association's "Model Deposit Policy" states that cheque books do not normally need to be provided for savings accounts held by illiterate or blind people.

'Erroneous presumption'

But Mr Pincha argued that an element of risk was always involved in writing cheques, regardless of whether the person was blind.

"Lack of sight has nothing to do with possible misuse," he says.

Mr Pincha said the disability commissioner's order discriminates against the visually impaired and is based on the "erroneous presumption that every blind person is incapable of signing and would be obliged to put a thumb impression".

The high court directed IDBI to open a savings account for Mr Pincha with a cheque book facility "as in the case of persons with no visual impairment".

IDBI officials and lawyers for the bank gave no indication when contacted that they would challenge the interim order issued in May.

Mr Pincha now plans to take on the insurance companies, which demand higher premiums from blind policy holders, on the presumption that there is greater risk to their lives.

"The battle has been won, but the war has just begun," he says.

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