The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), which is dedicated to promoting rural development by providing soft loans to State governments for social sector projects, has given hundreds of crores as loans to corporates on concessional terms.

In the Union Budget of 2011-12, Rs. 18,000 crore was allocated by the Centre to NABARD’s Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF), of which Rs. 2,000 crore was exclusively earmarked for the creation of warehousing facilities. While the allocation of Rs. 16,000 crore to the States was made by NABARD’s State Projects Department, the allocation of Rs. 2,000 crore towards warehousing was entrusted to a new team set up on the recommendation of global consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG), after being awarded the mandate for a repositioning exercise.

In a circular of September 27, 2011, NABARD, making a significant deviation from its earlier policies, included private entities as eligible institutions without consulting the RBI. In another circular of December 23, 2011, NABARD further revised the scheme, again without consulting the RBI, to provide private firms an interest rate rebate of 1.5%. In violation of the regulated 8% rate levied by RIDF, an avenue was created for flow of funds to corporates and release of the interest rate rebate to the borrowers directly by NABARD.

According to documents available with The Hindu, a total of Rs. 759 crore was disbursed, including as refinance at 8% to various banks to fund 516 warehouses and cold storage projects of private entities in March 16-31, 2012. Shubham Logistics Ltd, a subsidiary of the over Rs. 6,000 crore Kalpataru Group, was handpicked for a rebate of 1.5%, allowing it to access Rs. 115 crore under a government scheme at a concessional 6.5% rate of interest. Shubham Logistics would have paid a 10.5% rate of interest had the funds been sourced from the market. The company, which was disbursed a total of Rs 180.87 crore, to set up 18 warehouses, became the beneficiary of a further 15% subsidy under another government scheme, entitling the company to a refund of over Rs. 20 crore.

The two schemes that were used to favour Shubham Logistics are Grameen Bhandaran Yojana which offers subsidy of 15% to 33.33% for construction of rural godowns. For corporates the subsidy is 15% of total financial outlay up to a maximum of Rs 28.12 lakh. Under the other scheme, ‘Warehousing scheme under RIDF’, banks are offered refinance at 8% which can be further reduced to 6.5% as an incentive for prompt repayment.

Documents reveal that the RBI has questioned NABARD’s interest rate manipulations in financing warehousing projects without its permission and demanded a recall of the Rs. 759 crore allocated to private firms. Compliance with this directive means that NABARD will have to return the money to the RBI and raise debt from the market to honour its commitments. This is likely to hit NABARD’s balance sheet by roughly Rs. 150 crore. The Ministry of Agriculture has further questioned irregularities in Shubham Logistics storage projects in Deesa, Banaskantha, pointing out that the project is ineligible for sanction of the subsidy.

Meanwhile, Aditya Bafna, Executive Director of Shubham Logistics Ltd (SSLL), a subsidiary of Kalpataru Power Transmission Ltd was appointed Director on the board of NABARD Consultancy Services Private Ltd (NABCONS) — a wholly owned subsidiary of NABARD — on January 15, 2010. He refused to comment on either the allegations of special favours or the conflict of interest arising from his appointment on the NABCONS Board.

NABARD’s response to a RTI query reveals that it released Rs 13.3 crore BCG for a ‘repositioning’ report that it admits has never been submitted. Sources in NABARD allege that an additional payment of Rs. 9 crore has also been released to “rollout the recommendations”. NABARD Chairman Prakash Bakshi, under whose leadership these transactions were sanctioned, did not respond to detailed questions that were emailed to him on December 3, including on the fresh release of Rs 9 crore to BCG or what hit NABARD’s balance sheet was likely to take after the repayment to RBI of the unauthorised fund transfers to corporates.

BCG’s Chairman, Asia Pacific, Janmejaya Sinha did not respond to detailed questions regarding whether the firm had any exposure to working with any developmental financial institution prior to its consulting assignment with NABARD, especially in the Asia Pacific region, the terms of reference and payment for the assignment or whether it was true that BCG was scouting for fresh business opportunities with the RBI.

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