KARACHI, Sept 25: A large number of account holders using ATM cards in nationalized and private sector banks were baffled by a gruesome technique adopted by the banks, viz-a-viz freezing of accounts, prior to deduction of Zakat on Monday.

The account holders said their accounts remained frozen for over three days and they could not make necessary withdrawals, and remained short of money.

Inquiries revealed that almost all the banks had been refusing payments since Saturday afternoon. The same was the condition on Sunday while Monday was a bank holiday owing to mandatory deduction of Zakat by the banks on the first of Ramazan.

A large number of people said they had to ask their friends and well-wishers for the required amount, while others said they could not get the required cash from anywhere and failed to fulfill their commitments.

This especially resulted in business losses, as traders and shopkeepers could not withdraw cash. The salaried class having their accounts in the banks too faced the music.

Citizens relying on their ATM cards could not purchase train and air tickets during the last three days. Besides, those who had come here from other cities and relied on ATM transactions were the most affected.

Many people having their accounts in National Bank of Pakistan and other banks said they went from one ATM outlet to another in search of cash but failed. People complained that the ATM machines were showing different kinds of instructions which all were meant non-availability of cash for no obvious reason.

The server of the National Bank of Pakistan remained down while an MCB outlet on Sharea Faisal perturbed people by seizing their cards.

Inquiries also revealed that account holders drew maximum cash on the weekend to avoid any major deduction by their banks under the head of Zakat on the first of Ramazan. The withdrawal of heavy amounts on Saturday afternoon left no cash with many ATMs.

Although mandatory Zakat deductions are made every year, but in view of the increasing use of ATM the concerned banks are morally and legally bound to allow withdrawals throughout the day and night. They should have provided relief to people instead of creating trouble by freezing their accounts.

The ATM service is supposed to be an express service and should have separate rules for Zakat deductions. It is an online banking. The bank concerned should have deducted Zakat on the amount available on the first of Ramazan only, and not on the last working day, remarked an account-holder.

Instead of freezing accounts, the banks should have made formal announcement regarding the deductions.

The State Bank should issue strict guidelines to the banks dealing in ATM because it was meant to facilitate the account holders and not to harass them, remarked an ATM card holder.

While no announcement was made by the State Bank of Pakistan, this technique by the banks was widely criticized by the account-holders as many people remained without cash, and they could not make any purchases.

An account holder, who visited at least five branches of various banks, said that he went to the NBP outlet at Karachi Press Club initially, which was found out of order. He went to the KESC head office outlet, but it was also closed. Then he reached the Union Bank outlet which informed him that host link was down. The same message was on display at Habib Bank branch, which confirmed that the National Bank server was down.

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