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Banking System in India – Non Performing Assets

Non-performing Assets (NPAs)



In the last article on “Understanding the banking system“, we had discussed the Basel norms.

We learnt what Basel norms are and why they hold such importance for the Indian banking system. Then we understood the challenges the banks will have to face in implementing them. Further, we suggested a possible way out.

Previous discussion highlighted why stability in the banking system is important. Following that discussion, in this article we will be discussing one of the biggest challenges threatening the stability of the Indian banking system – the Non-Performing assets (NPAs).

The banking business has boomed since Independence, particularly after the LPG reforms. The sector is currently valued at Rs 115 lakh crore and expected to more than double at Rs 288 lakh crore by 2020. Out of this 70 per cent of business is being done by PSU banks. An interesting fact is that SBI’s market share out of total banking business is 22 per cent!

Looking at the enormous size of the banking industry, the NPAs are a big cause of concern.

We will first look at some of the basics of NPAs; then move on to understand their causes and implications; then examine the challenges that the banks will face because of them; and finally put forward possible solutions.

The discussion will also cover the social agenda behind the banking and whether it is unviable for the Indian banks.



Generally speaking, NPA is any asset of a bank which is not producing any income.

In other words, a loan or lease that is not meeting its stated principal and interest payments.

On a bank’s balance sheet, loans made to customers are listed as assets. The biggest risk to a bank is when customers who take out loans stop making their payments, causing the value of the loan assets to decline.


Loans don’t go bad right away. Most loans allow customers a certain grace period. Then they are marked overdue. After a certain number of days, the loan is classified as a nonperforming loan.

Banks usually classify as nonperforming assets any commercial loans which are more than 90 days overdue and any consumer loans which are more than 180 days overdue.

For agricultural loans, if the interest and/or the installment or principal remains overdue for two harvest seasons; it is declared as NPAs. But, this period should not exceed two years. After two years any unpaid loan/installment will be classified as NPA.



1. Sub-standard: When the NPAs have aged <= 12 months.

2. Doubtful: When the NPAs have aged > 12 months.

3. Loss assets: When the bank or its auditors have identified the loss, but it has not been written off.


After a certain amount of time, a bank will try to recoup its money by foreclosing on the property that secures the loan. The way money is recouped is a highly contentious issue not just with banks but also with Micro-Finance Institutions (MFIs). We will discuss it later in the article.


All of this can be explained in a much more technical manner, but that is not required here. For example, we do not need to list all the conditions that make the banks declare an asset as NPAs like ” In respect of derivative transactions, the overdue receivables representing positive mark-to-market value of a derivative contract, if these remain unpaid for a period of 90 days from the specified due date for payment.”

Only understanding the basic concepts will suffice. UPSC is not going to ask you these details, but about the impact and solutions of NPAs. Even in prelims, these details will not be asked. So we avoid technicalities and jargons here. It is not useful for a GS paper, even if some of it may be useful for Economics optional paper.



Gross NPAs of domestic banks jumped to 4.2 % of total lending by the end of September 2013 from 3.6 % six months before, according to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

As per a recent warning by the RBI, bad loans (NPAs) could climb to 7% of total advances by 2015.

In absolute terms, gross NPAs are estimated to touch Rs 2.50 lakh crores by the end of March this year. This is equal to the size of the budget of Uttar Pradesh. The biggest chunk of the soured debts is with state-run banks (Public sector banks or PSBs), which account for two-thirds of loans but 80 % of the bad assets.

This is how the NPA curve has been moving in the recent years, as per a news report in the Business Standard:

Private-sector and foreign lenders are better placed. Their NPAs in proportion of their lending is lesser than that of the PSBs.



The higher is the amount of non-performing assets (NPAs), the weaker will be the bank’s revenue stream.

In the short-term, many banks have the ability to handle an increase in nonperforming assets — they might have strong reserves or other capital that can be used to offset the losses. But after a while, if that capital is used up, nonperforming loans will imperil a bank’s health. Think of nonperforming assets as dead weight on the balance sheet.

Here is the impact of the NPAs:

  • As the NPA of the banks will rise, it will bring a scarcity of funds in the Indian security markets. Few banks will be willing to lend if they are not sure of the recovery of their money.
  • The shareholders of the banks will lose a lot of money as banks themselves will find it tough to survive in the market. 
  • This will lead to a crisis of confidence in the market. The price of loans, i.e. the interest rates will shoot up badly. Shooting of interest rates will directly impact the investors who wish to take loans for setting up infrastructural, industrial projects etc. 
  • It will also impact the retail consumers like us, who will have to shell out a higher interest rate for a loan. 
  • All of this will lead to a situation of low off take of funds from the security market. This will hurt the overall demand in the Indian economy. And, finally it will lead to lower growth rates and of course higher inflation because of the higher cost of capital.
  • This trend may continue in a vicious circle and deepen the crisis.
  • Total NPAs have touched figures close to the size of UP budget. Imagine if all the NPA was recovered, how well it can augur for the Indian economy.

RBI governor Raghuram Rajan has recently said that NPAs must be curbed before the problem becomes alarming.


The rising incidence of NPAs has been generally attributed to the domestic economic slowdown. It is believed that with economic growth slowing down and rate of interest going up sharply, corporates have been finding it difficult to repay loans, and it has added up to rising NPAs. Even finance minister P Chidambaram stated that bad loans are a function of the economy and hence, having bad loans during distressed times is very natural.

However, The NPA mess is not entirely because of the reversal of economic cycles.

Here we look at the other reasons behind this mess. Basically the whole problem can be divided into two parts – External problems and internal problems as faced by the banks.


External Factors 
Reasons related to the corporate sector
  1. Apart from the slowdown in India, the global economy has also slowed down.

    This has adversely impacted the corporate sector in India. Continuing uncertainty in the global markets has lead to lower exports of various products like textiles, engineering goods, leather, gems etc. It can be noted that imports and exports combined equal to around 40% of India’s GDP! 

    A hurt corporate sector is finding it difficult to pay loans 

  2. The ban in mining projects, delay in environmental related permits affecting power, iron and steel sector, volatility in prices of raw material and the shortage in availability of power have all impacted the performance of the corporate sector. This has affected their ability to pay back loans.


    Other sectors

    Banks in India are highly regulated. Priority sector lending (PSL) is one of these regulations which require the banks to give a certain % of their loans to certain sections of society. These are farmers, SCs, STs, IT parks, MSMEs etc.

    Naturally one would assume that the weaker sections covered under PSL are the ones to be blamed for the situation. However, it is not the case.

    As per recent news reports, the Standing Committee on Finance will be now examining the reasons for high NPAS in PSBs.

    The data, shared with the Standing Committee, shows that NPAs in the corporate sector are far higher than those in the priority or agriculture sector.

    Within the priority sector, incremental NPAs were more in respect to micro small and medium enterprises followed by agriculture.

However, even the PSL sector has contributed substantially to the NPAs.

As per the latest estimates by the SBI, education loans constitute 20% of its NPAs!

The sluggish legal system (Judiciary in India) and lack of systematic and constant efforts by the banks make it difficult to recover these loans from both corporate and non-corporate.


Internal Factors


1. Indiscriminate lending by some state-owned banks during the high growth period (2004-08) is one of the main reasons for the deterioration in asset quality.


2. Bankers say there is a lack of rigour in loan appraisal systems and monitoring of warning signals at state-run banks. This is particularly true in case of infrastructure projects, many of which are struggling to repay loans. Besides, these projects go on for 20 to 30 years.


 3. Poor recovery and use of coercive techniques by banks in recovering loans


4. The wait and watch approach of banks have been often blamed as the reason for rising NPAs as banks allow deteriorating asset class to go from bad to worse in the hope of revival and often offer restructuring option to  corporates.

A Parliamentary panel, examining increasing incidents of NPAs, has observed that state-owned banks should stop “ever-greening” or repeated restructuring of corporate debt to check the constant bulging of their non-performing assets. Members of the panel were of the view that NPAs are the result of bad economic situation, but there were also management issue of every-greening of loans, which could be avoided by “not renewing loans, particularly of corporate”.


Therefore, it can be clearly seen that it is only the economic slowdown that is behind the NPAs. There are a whole range of factors.



The simplest approach to cut down NPAs is to recover the bad loans. 

Apart from the regular guidelines released by the RBI, to strengthen further the recovery of dues by banks and financial institutions, Government of India promulgated:

1.The Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993

2. The Securitization Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (SARFAESI) Act, 2002

So, how can the banks legally recover their loans?


(i)     The Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (SARFAESI) Act, 2002 – The Act empowers Banks / Financial Institutions to recover their non-performing assets without the intervention of the Court, through acquiring and disposing of the secured assets in NPA accounts with outstanding amount of Rs. 1 lakh and above. The banks have to first issue a notice. Then, on the borrower’s failure to repay, they can:

  • Take possession of security and/or
  • Take over the management of the borrowing concern.
  • Appoint a person to manage the concern.


(ii) Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions (DRT) Act: The Act provides setting up of Debt Recovery Tribunals (DRTs) and Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunals (DRATs) for expeditious and exclusive disposal of suits filed by banks / FIs for recovery of their dues in NPA accounts with outstanding amount of Rs. 10 lac and above.  Government has, so far, set up 33 DRTs and 5 DRATs all over the country.


(iii) Lok Adalats:  Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code provides resolution of disputes through ADR methods such as Arbitration, Conciliation, Lok Adalats and Mediation. Lok Adalat mechanism offers expeditious, in-expensive and mutually acceptable way of settlement of disputes.

Government has advised the public sector banks to utilize this mechanism to its fullest potential for recovery in Non-performing Assets (NPAs) cases.   

Among the various channels of recovery available to banks for dealing with bad loans, the SARFAESI Act and the Debt Recovery Tribunals (DRTs) have been the most effective in terms of amount recovered.

The recent controversy surrounding loan recovery in India – Views of the SC

Banks have been alleged to engage in coercive practices to recover the loans. Recently, there have been some judicial pronouncements by the apex court determining the scope of powers of enforcement of securities without the intervention of the courts, by the banks and FIs under the SARFAESI Act. The apex court has reiterated the need to protect the interest of borrowers, and emphasized that the exercise of extraordinary powers of recovery, by banks and FIs must be in compliance with the provisions of the SARFAESI Act.


As per the Supreme Court (SC) – “”Liquidity of finances and flow of money is essential for any healthy and growth oriented economy. But certainly, what must be kept in mind is that the law should not be in derogation of the rights which are guaranteed to the people under the Constitution. The procedure should also be fair, reasonable and valid, though it may vary looking to the different situations needed to be tackled and object sought to be achieved.”



But, these are steps which cure the disease of NPAs. “The issue of NPAs needs to be tackled at the level of prevention rather than cure.”

Therefore, the steps that can prevent the piling up of NPAs are as follows:


1. Conservatism:

Banks need to be more conservative in granting loans to sectors that have traditionally found to be contributors in NPAs. Infrastructure sector is one such example. NPAs rise predominantly because of long gestation period of the projects. Therefore, the infrastructure sector, instead of getting loans from the banks can be funded from Infrastructure Debt Funds (IDFs) or other specialized funds for infrastructural development in the country.


2. Improving processes:

The credit sanctioning process of banks needs to go much more beyond the traditional analysis of financial statements and analyzing the history of promoters. For example, banks rely more on the information given by credit bureaus. However, it is often noticed that several defaults by some corporate are not registered in their credit history.


3. Relying less on restructuring the loans:

Instead of sitting and waiting for a loan to turn to a bad loan, and then restructure it, the banks may officially start to work to recover such a loan. This will obviate the need to restructure a loan and several issues associated with it. One estimate says that by 2013 there will be Rs 2 trillion worth of restructured loans.


4. Expanding and diversifying consumer base by Innovative business models:

Contrary to popular perceptions,the NPA in non-corporate sector is less than that in the corporate sector. Hence, there is a need to reach out to people in remote areas lacking connectivity and accessibility. More and more poor people in rural pockets should be brought under the banking system by adopting new technologies and electronic means. Innovative business models will play a crucial role here. Otherwise, the NPAs may increase instead of decreasing.

As said by the new M.D. of SBI, Mr. Viswanathan proposed ideas such as a single demat account for all investments and credit cards for school students (above class 8th) to make them aware with the banking system.



Looking at the giant size of the banking industry, there can be hardly any doubt that the menace of NPAs needs to be curbed. It poses a big threat to the macro-economic stability of the Indian economy. An analysis of the present situation brings us to the point that the problem is multi-faceted and has roots in economic slowdown; deteriorating business climate in India; shortages in the legal system; and the operational shortcoming of the banks. Therefore, it has to be dealt at multiple levels. The government can’t be expected to rescue the state-run banks with tax-payer’s money every time they fall into a crisis. But, the kind of attention with which this problem has been received by policymakers and bankers alike is a big ray of hope. Right steps, timely and concerted actions and a revival of the Indian economy will put a lid on NPAs. Prevention, however, has to become a priority than mere cure.



Prelims Quiz

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Economy Quiz - NPAs

Non Performing Assets – Quiz



1. In your view, what can be the possible reasons behind the increasingly high NPAs of the Indian banks? How far can this be attributed to the conditions prevailing in the Indian and global economy? (300 words)

2. Explain how high NPAs can be damaging to the Indian economy. (200 words)

3. How far can financial inclusion help in containing the high level of NPAs of banks in India? Substantiate your views with two examples. (200 words)

4. What are the legal mechanisms that can be used to contain the NPAs? Bring out clearly the role of each actor – the RBI, the Government of India, and the banks in achieving lower NPAs through legal mechanisms. (300 words)

5. The Infrastructural projects are faced with several problems especially related to financing of the projects by commercial banks. Examine the bottlenecks in the present system of financing. What can be done to address these issues? (200 words)

6. Despite having a much larger share in the Banking market, the state-owned banks have not performed well financially. Critically examine. Can the problem be resolved by de-nationalizing the poorly performing banks? (300 words)