The clean-up begins: On RBI's move against 12 borrowers

Armed with the powers, a little over a month ago, to get lenders and defaulting borrowers to sit down and address the messy task of cleaning up toxic bad debts, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to crack the whip. The central bank’s decision to act on the advice of its Internal Advisory Committee and direct lenders to initiate insolvency proceedings against 12 corporate borrowers — each owing in excess of ₹5,000 crore — has come not a day too soon. With gross non-performing assets (NPAs) at about ₹7 lakh crore, a regulatory intervention was imperative not only to safeguard the health of the banking system but also to ward off any wider impact on the economy. RBI Governor Urjit Patel underscored the importance of tackling the bad loans problem as recently as during the June 6-7 meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee when he said: “The quiescent investment cycle remains a key macroeconomic concern. It is, therefore, imperative to ensure resolution of stressed assets of banks and timely recapitalisation [of public sector lenders].” While the RBI has not divulged the names of the defaulting dozen, reports suggest they are largely made up of steelmakers and infrastructure companies. That steel companies were among the worst-hit in the wake of the global downturn in commodity prices and depressed demand in recent years is widely known; to that extent the sector’s presence in the list comes as no surprise.

The onus now shifts to the lender consortiums to expedite the insolvency process under the new Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). The enabling architecture is now in place to speedily bring a defaulting borrower’s operations under the purview of an insolvency professional, once the National Company Law Tribunal has accepted the creditors’ application for initiating insolvency proceedings against the debtor. But the actual timeframe in which the resolution is going to occur remains to be seen, given that the IBC is still in its infancy. While the code has been drafted to bring under its ambit existing laws related to insolvency and bankruptcy, thereby curtailing the options available to a borrower who wishes to mount a legal challenge, the proof of the pudding as always will be in the eating. The fate of this long-overdue attempt at resolving the banking sector’s NPA crisis will ultimately be determined by how quickly the lender consortia are able to initiate the implementation of a resolution plan that retains the defaulting company as a going concern — there are, after all, thousands of direct and indirect jobs at stake here. Or, in the absence of approval for such a plan, start taking steps to liquidate assets.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2020 7:36:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-clean-up-begins/article19127863.ece

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