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A welcome measure to tackle NPAs…

The takeover of the debt-ridden Bhushan Steel by Tata Steel at the cost of Rs 35,000 crore is a watershed in India’s industrial history.

Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, at the fag end of UPAII, used to lament over Rs 800,000 crore of investments remaining stuck. Several projects had gobbled up humongous financial resources lent by banks. For a number of companies there was little relation between owned financial resources and the debts they merrily accumulated. These had several ill-effects:
• It landed banks in a massive chunk of non-performing assets estimated today at Rs 2.41 lakh crore. This figure came to light after the RBI under Raghuram Rajan tigh-tened the screws on the banks by upending the norms for provisions and disclosures.
• The delays suffered by many of these due to environmental issues and corruption led to idling precious assets worth several lakh crores of rupees. Modi had called it the
‘Jayanthi Tax’ after the then minister of environment Jayanthi Natarajan.
• Widespread corrupt practices indulged in by those close to North Block and bank chairmen in the settlement of dues, with the connivance of bank boards, at huge discounts. These related mostly to midcap companies.
The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Act (IBA) and the institutional mechanism of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) to manage the bidding process in quick time have helped recover a lot of sticky loans. Eleven other companies that are under the block are expected to be passed on to new managements bringing in the process a lot of relief to the lenders and in activating fresh capacity for production. Elsewhere in this issue we talk about the shenanigans of these companies.
There are varying estimates of the gains for the banking system. Public sector banks which have shouldered bulk of this burden, have been reporting a shallow recovery of monies lent, just 11 per cent during the 42 month period from April 2014. With the completion of selling the first set of dozen companies over the next few months, banks may receive over Rs 100,000 crore of sticky loans of their NPAs. This recovery is over 40 per cent of the total NPAs! There is the welcome prospect of much fewer monies to be spent on the recapitalisation of banks.
There are several glitches to be resolved. Such glitches can be understood as this is an entirely new experience for the administration and the borrowers. The sick companies are part of large conglomerates. They are bound to resist parting with their silver, fighting to the bitter end. Quick settlement by the NCLT, plugging the loopholes regarding the eligibility criteria for the bidders and fixing the floor prices are tough tasks that would need continuous fine-tuning. There is also the prospect of the fear of losing the asset goading the owners to maximise their efforts to repay the loan on their own or by selling the assets to their contacts for better prices. Essar Oil provides an example for this. This should be welcome.
PSBs can now heave a sigh of relief with the prospects of recovering a considerable chunk of the NPAs. The reckless lending without adequate security and on very high gearing ratios is bound to be moderated.

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