Banking system faces enormous challenges as the spectre of gargantuan non-performing assets (NPAs) is haunting them even as the regulator is coming out with new schemes to address the NPA menace head-on.
The banks have been given time till March 31, 2017 by RBI to clean up their books while the gross non performing assets have reportedly ballooned to over Rs 5.5 lakh crore by end of March 2016. This Herculean task needs to be addressed in a holistic manner, keeping the Indian ecosystem in mind, so as to minimise future slippages in the accounts. To begin with, it would be pertinent to recognise that all borrowers are not ‘chors’ and that all lenders cannot be accused of not having done the due diligence and then try to find a resolution before the problem starts eating into the very growth of economy.
The list of factors that caused a jump of more than 475 per cent in NPAs in a matter of 5 years are many. However, factors like commodity cycle downturn, delays in approval from government be it environmental clearance, land acquisition process, obtaining right of way, forest clearance and lack of dispute redressal mechanism in a business-like manner, besides, policy changes like cancellation of telecom licences, withdrawal of coal and iron ore mines, dumping by some countries which made local products unviable, were other contributory factors which were further compounded by the indecisiveness of the decision makers who simply did not take any timely decisions fearing political backlash.
Just to elaborate this point further, let me draw on the steel sector. According to RBI’s Financial Stability Report, June 2015, five out of the top 10 private steel producing companies are under severe stress on account of delayed implementation of their projects due to land acquisition and environmental clearances among other factors. And then the operational units in the steel sector lost their cost competitiveness. As is well-known, some of the critical factors affecting the competitiveness of this industry, particularly in economic downturn, include government’s support (tax incentives), tariff protection, raw material security at competitive prices and availability of infrastructure and logistics. Who would have seen this coming when the projects were set up.