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The Big Picture – Writing off bad bank loans

The Big Picture – Writing off bad bank loans



The state of Indian banks, especially public sectors banks, has been a matter of serious concern now. Growing debts and stressed loans turning into NPAs have been frequently noticed in the last few years. However, it has now reached alarming levels as the government has decided to write off these NPAs as bad loans. According to a report, 29 PSBs have written off around 1.14 lakh crore bad debts between 2013 and 2015. This is half the amount written off between 2004 and 2013. The alarming rise in bad debts between 2013 and 2015 at 60% compared to 4% between 2004 and 2013 is a cause for serious concern.

Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan has repeatedly expressed concern over the health of public-sector banks, and pushed for steps to ensure that banks classify certain stressed assets as non-performing assets (NPAs) and make adequate provisions to “strengthen their balance sheets”, besides working out schemes of merger. With public sector banks sitting on over Rs 7 lakh crore stressed assets, including NPAs and restructured loans, Rajan had recently said the estimates of NPAs being 17-18% are bit on the high side and that entities should be careful not to treat NPAs as total write-offs but see if they can change promoters and repay as the economy recovers. But, the recent move goes against his wish.

Main reason behind the creation of bad loans:

  • The main reason behind the rise is improper management of these loans by the banks.
  • Many of the assets created utilizing these loans remain unutilized or partially utilized because of the ineffective management.
  • Even the courts take many years for the resolution of these cases.
  • In the last two years, especially, the bank bad loans have gone up dramatically mainly because of two reasons. One, the market failure and the other, bad debts were often not reflected properly by the banks.
  • Crony capitalism is also to be blamed. Under political pressure banks are compelled to provide loans for certain sectors which are mostly stressed.
  • In the case of sectors like electricity, the poor financial condition of most SEBs is the problem; in areas like steel, the collapse in global prices suggests that a lot more loans will get stressed in the months ahead.
  • Other stressed sectors include infrastructure, textiles and mining.

Why PSBs’ conditions are bad compared to other banks?

It is because public sector banks provide loans under various compulsions including social banking. Often, these loans are not paid back.

What can be done now?

  • Pass the Bankruptcy law.
  • Revamp the existing management in all the stressed banks.
  • Some banks would have to merge to optimise their use of resources.
  • RBI and government both should together form an ARC. This ARC may purchase these bad loans and can effectively handle them.
  • The government should also come up with appropriate policies aimed at improving the health of these banks.
  • RBI also needs to move fast to put in place its proposed ceiling on bank exposures to large groups.
  • The government might also consider abolishing the department of banking.

What can the government do?

  • While there is little that can be done about the loans going bad, the government has to ensure the earlier hurdles, like not having enough debt recovery tribunals, hinder the banks from getting closure on their legal suits.
  • Also, banks have to be encouraged to take up higher stakes in projects and use this to sell off companies.
  • The government must also work with the regulator to ensure that banking practices improve in PSBs.
  • Politically and administratively, the government should be aware that the state-owned banking sector is undergoing extreme fragility, and this is not the time to stress it further with various “nation-building” demands, particularly when it is reluctant to take bold steps that entail their fundamental restructuring.
  • It should also work to ensure their structural and operational independence.
  • A bank holding company as recommended by the P J Nayak Committee should not be long delayed, even though it would require legislative assent.

The Indian banks are in real danger of losing not only their market share but also their identity unless the government intervenes with surgical precision and alacrity. It is tie for the government and the RBI to come out with a smart option to resolve this issue that can no longer be put on the backburner.