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Banks killed road sector: official

Bubble createdby them resulted in high NPAs

Banks caused a bubble, failed to do due diligence and lent more than what was warranted to developers, and this has led to the high Non-Performing Assets (NPA) arising out of the road sector, Road Secretary Vijay Chhibber told The Hindu in an exclusive interview on Wednesday. “The banks have killed the road sector,” he said.

“There was a bubble because the banks would give developers money even before the land was made available… Certainly the banks have a lot of explaining to do. Because it wasn’t just that they allowed funding to happen to these projects which were not yet ready for construction, but they agreed to costs and TPCs [total project cost] much higher than what NHAI had assessed,” Mr. Chhibber said. That is, developers received loans for amounts far higher than the government’s project cost estimates, he added.

“Why did the banks release so much money? They have not done proper diligence… The developers are not having a problem. They have taken their money out of the projects, the banks are the ones in trouble. And, as taxpayers, we are asked to re-capitalise the banks. It is a scam,” he said.

In August, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the road sector was responsible for the second highest amount of NPAs, after the steel sector.

A recent Crisil report said “almost half of them [road projects], being constructed under the build, operate, transfer with a sanctioned debt of Rs. 45,900 crore, are at high risk of not being completed.”

“My complaint is that the banks have killed this sector, it’s not the other way round,” Mr. Chhibber said.

He said the developers were entitled to a higher TPC due to delays, but they had taken advantage of it. “Even if there is a delay, a few years’ delay, it cannot explain a 100 per cent increase in cost. At best, there will be a 10 per cent increase or a 20 per cent increase. But… in a portfolio of 70 projects, only five projects see a 20 per cent increase. The rest are all 70 per cent, 80 per cent, 100 per cent increases.”

“How can NHAI, a professional road construction company, assess a project at Rs. 1,000 crore and you [the developers] are saying the cost is Rs. 2,000 crore? And then you expect the government to do something about it,” he added.

The Crisil report highlighted the problem of developers earning less-than-estimated revenues from toll because of lower traffic. Mr. Chhibber said this problem would soon be sorted out with the use of technology in traffic assessment. “We have farmed out traffic collection across the entire length of highways. Twice a year, every road stretch will get mapped through a scientific system by a third party… So, over time, you can see that… this is the kilometrage and this is the traffic in each segment of the road through a time series. So this whole thing of traffic data going awry, that it didn’t meet predictions, will get sorted out. You will have a scientific means of measuring traffic,” he said.

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