Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg

India Empowers RBI to Resolve World's Worst Bad Debt Problem

Updated on
  • RBI said to target fixing 60 soured loan cases in nine months
  • Regulator said to set up a secratariat to oversee resolution

India’s financial regulator will gain new powers to order banks to clean up as much as $180 billion of soured loans on their balance sheets, which has been choking credit and weighing on growth.

With the new rules bolstering its regulatory authority, Reserve Bank of India, is seeking to resolve the country’s 60 largest delinquent-loan cases in about nine months, a person familiar with the matter said. The central bank is also planning to set up a secretariat to oversee the resolution process and will unveil details in two weeks, the person said, asking not to be identified as the information isn’t public.

Various programs proposed by the central bank to resolve the bad-loan problem have been unsuccessful so far, with lenders reluctant to write down assets sufficiently and company owners unwilling to negotiate repayment plans. That’s hindered credit growth and job creation in Asia’s third-largest economy.

“India’s stressed asset scenario is a tough one to resolve and the rule changes announced by the government are another small step in the right direction,” Mumbai-based Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at Credit Analysis & Research Ltd., said on the phone. “This will empower RBI in giving time-bound instructions, which would have to be met by the banks in terms of cleaning up their books.”

The amendment to the Banking Regulation Act, which came into effect on Thursday, will enable the RBI to order lenders to initiate insolvency proceedings against defaulters and to create committees to advise banks on recovering non-performing loans, according to a statement on the Gazette of India website. Stressed assets in the banking system have reached “unacceptably high levels” requiring urgent measures to resolve them, the nation’s government said in the statement.

“There is a list of stressed assets that RBI is already looking at,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters in New Delhi. The banking regulator “was required to be empowered on specific non-performing assets. RBI and government will continue to work together in expeditious resolution of the problem.”

Stressed assets -- bad loans, restructured debt and advances to companies that can’t meet servicing requirements -- have risen to about 17 percent of total loans, the highest level among major economies, data compiled by the government shows.

While government figures peg soured debt at $180 billion, Mintoo Bhandari, senior partner and managing director at Apollo Global Management LLC in India, in March said the the figure maybe about $300 billion as almost half of the top 1,000 companies have unsustainable levels of debt.

To read about KKR’s suggestion to resolve bad debt, click here

Setting up of “oversight committees,” or panels, that will decide on the amount of write downs lenders will need to take, will help bankers reduce the risk of investigations by anti-graft agencies, according to Parthasarathi Mukherjee, chief executive officer at Lakshmi Vilas Bank Ltd.

“The oversight committee is a good thing as the hangover or fear of” a probe will be addressed, said Mukherjee in a phone interview. “This committee will be seen as an independent and authoritative one."

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