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Acting against defaulters

The Supreme Court has taken the bull by its horns and directed the Reserve Bank of India to provide a list of major companies, which have defaulted on bank loans of over Rs 500 crore. In its order on Tuesday, the apex court has asked the RBI to furnish a list of companies whose loans have been restructured under various corporate debt restricting schemes within six weeks. One of the central questions it raised was how public sector banks and financial institutions were advancing large-scale loans without proper guidelines and whether there were adequate means to recover them. “You have a list of major defaulters who run empires and yet default,” the bench said during the hearing. While passing the order, the court took note of a report in a national daily about bad loans or non-performing assets (NPA) and the inability of the banks to recover them. As per the report, twenty-nine state-owned banks had written off a total of Rs 1.14 lakh crore of bad debts between financial years 2013 and 2015. The common fortunately does not have the luxury of having his/her loan “written off”. It is high time that these corporate defaulters are named and shamed. Beyond this, the banks must throw the book and initiate the process of recovering these loans, especially from high-profile firms that have the backing of various political parties. Of course, not all of them are evil, as delays in government approval and various structural concerns continue to dog certain firms that have invested in large-scale infrastructure projects. But it is no secret that diversion of funds by corporates to unrelated activities through fraudulent means is one of the primary reasons for the rising non-performing assets (NPAs) in the banking and financial services industry. Hit hard by mounting non-performing assets (NPAs), many leading public sector banks last week reported their highest ever quarterly losses aggregating to over 12,000 crores. The credit crisis in India is real and the government has begun to initiate some reform measures. Suffice to say, the owner of the now defunct Kingfisher Airlines Vijay Mallya is the poster boy large corporate defaulters, who continues to splurge, despite holding high levels of debt. Fortunately, in the past few months the banks have decided to act. Last week, the Punjab National Bank declared Vijay Mallya-led United Breweries Holdings Limited a “willful defaulter”. In November 2015, a bank consortium led by the State Bank of India decided to auction Kingfisher House in Mumbai in a bid to recover a part of Rs 6,963 crore-debt due from the now grounded Kingfisher Airlines. The auction is slated to take place on March 17. But more than strengthening the management of public sector banks, the government must go after the major corporate defaulters involved in the crisis. By using their political connections and working the overburdened judicial system, these large corporate entities have happily defaulted on their loans, without paying the price for it. However, one must remember that the infamous Vijay Mallya is only one example. The list of major defaulters includes Reliance ADA, Vedanta, Essar, Adani and the Jaypee Group, among others. Due to swelling bad debts, banks are forced to push up the risk premium, which in other words amounts to raising the cost of lending for the common man. But will the government display the requisite political will to go after the likes of Adani Group and Vedanta, among others?
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