The increasing Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) in the Indian banking sector has recently been the subject of much discussion and scrutiny. Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down a circular dated February 12, 2018 issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The RBI circular laid down a revised framework for the resolution of stressed assets. In this blog, we examine the extent of NPAs in India, and recent events leading up to the Supreme Court judgement.
What is the extent and effect of the NPA problem in India?
Banks give loans and advances to borrowers. Based on the performance of the loan, it may be categorised as: (i) a standard asset (a loan where the borrower is making regular repayments), or (ii) a non-performing asset. NPAs are loans and advances where the borrower has stopped making interest or principal repayments for over 90 days.
As of 2018, the total NPAs in the economy stand at Rs 9.6 lakh crore. About 88% of these NPAs are from loans and advances of public sector banks. Banks are required to lend a certain percentage of their loans to priority sectors. These sectors are identified by the RBI and include agriculture, housing, education and small scale industries. In 2018, of the total NPAs, 22% were from priority sector loans, and 78% were from non-priority sector loans.
In the last few years, gross NPAs of banks (as a percentage of total loans) have increased from 2.3% of total loans in 2008 to 9.3% in 2017 (see Figure 1). This indicates that an increasing proportion of a bank’s assets have ceased to generate income for the bank, lowering the bank’s profitability and its ability to grant further credit.
Figure 1: Gross NPAs (% of total loans)
Source: Reserve Bank of India; PRS
What has been done to address the problem of growing NPAs?
The measures taken to resolve and prevent NPAs can broadly be classified into two kinds – first, remedial measures for banks prescribed by the RBI for internal restructuring of stressed assets, and second, legislative means of resolving NPAs under various laws (like the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016).
Over the years, the RBI has issued various guidelines for banks aimed at the resolution of stressed assets in the economy. These included introduction of certain schemes such as: (i) Strategic Debt Restructuring (which allowed banks to change the management of the defaulting company), and (ii) Joint Lenders’ Forum (where lenders evolved a resolution plan and voted on its implementation). A summary of the various schemes implemented by the RBI is provided in Table 1.
Table 1: Non-legislative loan recovery framework
Sources: RBI scheme guidelines; Economic Survey 2016-17; PRS.
In June 2017, an internal advisory committee of RBI identified 500 defaulters with the highest value of NPAs. The committee recommended that 12 largest non-performing accounts, each with outstanding amounts greater than Rs 5,000 crore and totalling 25% of the NPAs of the economy, be referred for resolution under the IBC immediately. Proceedings against the 12 largest defaulters have been initiated under the IBC.
What was the February 12 circular issued by the RBI?
Subsequent to the enactment of the IBC, the RBI put in place a framework for restructuring of stressed assets of over Rs 2,000 crore on or after March 1, 2018. The resolution plan for such restructuring must be unanimously approved by all lenders and implemented within 180 days from the date of the first default. If the plan is not implemented within the stipulated time period, the stressed assets are required to be referred to the NCLT under IBC within 15 days. Further, the framework introduced a provision for early identification and categorisation of stressed assets before they are classified as NPAs.
On what grounds was the RBI circular challenged?
Borrowers whose loans were tagged as NPAs before the release of the circular recently crossed the 180-day deadline for internal resolution by banks. Some of these borrowers, including various power producers and sugar mills, had appealed against the RBI circular in various High Courts. A two-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court ruled in favour of the RBI’s powers to issue these guidelines, and refused to grant interim relief to power producers from being taken to the NCLT for bankruptcy. These batch of petitions against the circular were transferred to the Supreme Court, which issued an order in September 2018 to maintain status quo on the same.
What did the Supreme Court order?
The Court held the circular issued by RBI was outside the scope of the power given to it under Article 35AA of the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Act, 2017. The Court reasoned that Section 35AA was proposed by the 2017 Act to authorise the RBI to issues directions only in relation to specific cases of default by specific debtors. It held that the RBI circular issued directions in relation to debtors in general and this was outside their scope of power. The court also held that consequently all IBC proceedings initiated under the RBI circular are quashed.
During the proceedings, various companies argued that the RBI circular applies to all corporate debtors alike, without looking into each individual’s sectors problems and attempting to solve them. For instance, several power companies provided sector specific reasons for delay in payment of bank dues. The reasons included: (i) cancellation of coal blocks by the SC leading to non-availability of fuel, (ii) lack of enough power purchase agreements by states, (iii) non-payment of dues by DISCOMs, and (iv) delays in project implementation leading to cost overruns. Note that, in its 40th report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy analysed the impact of the RBI circular on the power sector and noted that the ‘one size fits all’ approach of the RBI is erroneous.
 ‘Priority Sector Lending – Targets and Classification’ Reserve Bank of India, July 2012, https://rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=7460&Mode=0.
 Revised Guidelines on Corporate Debt Restructuring Mechanism, Reserve Bank of India, https://www.rbi.org.in/upload/notification/pdfs/67158.pdf.
 ‘Framework for Revitalising Distressed Assets in the Economy – Guidelines on Joint Lenders’ Forum (JLF) and Corrective Action Plan (CAP)’, Reserve Bank of India, February 26, 2016, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=8754&Mode=0.
 Timelines for Stressed Assets, Press Release, Reserve Bank of India, May 5, 2017, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=10957&Mode=0.
 Flexible Structuring of Long Term Project Loans to Infrastructure and Core Industries, RBI, July 15, 2014, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=9101&Mode=0.
 ‘RBI introduces a ‘Scheme for Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets’’ Press Release, Reserve Bank of India, June 13, 2016, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=37210.
 RBI identifies Accounts for Reference by Banks under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), Reserve Bank of India, June 13, 2017, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=40743
The Union Cabinet approved the Model Tenancy Act, 2021 on June 2, 2021, for adoption by state and union territory governments. The Model Act has three primary objectives. First, it aims to regulate renting of residential and commercial premises by establishing conditions for tenancy, eviction, and management of the property. Second, in regulating tenancy, it proposes mechanisms to balance and protect the rights of landlords and tenants. Last, it proposes a three-tier adjudicatory mechanism consisting of Rent Authorities, Rent Courts, and Rent Tribunals for speedy adjudication of tenancy related disputes.
However, note that rental housing is regulated by states as land, land improvement, and control of rents falls under the State List of the Indian Constitution. This Model Act is only a proposed framework that states and union territories may alter when passing their own tenancy laws.
In this blog, we provide a background on the rental housing market and explain some issues with the 2021 Model Act.
Need for the Act
In India, 95% of households in rural areas live in self-owned housing, and rental housing is a predominantly urban phenomenon. Between 1951 and 2011, the urban population in India grew by six times and as of 2011, comprises 31% of the total population. This is projected to grow to 40% by 2036. However, the share of persons living in urban rental accommodation has decreased from 58% to 27% between 1961 and 2011. The 2015 draft National Urban Rental Housing Policy noted that urban areas face a significant housing shortage and stated that this cannot be addressed by home ownership. In 2012, a Technical Group studying urban housing shortage estimated the urban housing shortage to be at 1.9 crore units. The 2011 Census noted that between 6.5 crore to 10 crore people (17% to 24% of the urban population) live in unauthorised housing in urban areas. The Economic Survey (2017-18) noted that rental housing is a key way to address informality and shortage. It stated that rental housing enables mobility and affordability for low-income segments, who may not be able to purchase housing. It also observed that a significant portion of urban rental housing stock is vacant, attributing it to unclear property laws, poor contract enforcement, and rent control laws.
State governments regulate rental housing through various legislative tools including rent control laws. To prevent landlords from charging exorbitant rent and ensure affordable housing, these laws specify a ceiling on rent and put conditions on eviction of tenants. The 2015 draft Policy noted that rent control laws discourage private investment in rental properties. It observed that rent control laws also skew arrangements towards tenants and lead to more litigation. This has eroded the trust of landlords in the regulatory system. A significant share of the rental demand is addressed through alternate arrangements such as leave and license agreements and informal leases.
A model law to regulate tenancy was first proposed in 1992. The first draft Model Tenancy Act was released in 2015, which was adopted by Tamil Nadu. However, as of 2021, 20 states including Karnataka, Maharashtra, and West Bengal continue to have rent control laws. A few states including Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh have repealed their rent control laws.
Besides its key objectives, the Model Act also seeks to ensure affordability, formalisation and increase private investment in the rental housing market. The framework proposed under the Model Act may address some of these concerns. However, experts have recommended supplementing this with other policy initiatives to meet these objectives. For instance, a 2012 Technical Group observed that about 96% of the urban housing shortage pertains to the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Lower Income Group (LIG) categories. The 2015 draft Urban Rental Housing Policy noted that a repeal of rent control laws may increase private investment and availability of rental housing. However, it has recommended several other measures to ensure affordability of rental housing. These include: (i) provision of incentives such as tax exemptions and subsidies to tenants and home owners, (ii) encouraging public-private partnerships and residential rental management companies, and (iii) enhancing access to finance within the EWS and LIG sectors.
Concerns for right to privacy
The Model Act requires all landlord and tenants to intimate the Rent Authority about a rental agreement with a prescribed form. The form requires both the tenant and the landlord to submit their Aadhaar numbers and attach self-attested copies of the card with the form. This may violate a 2018 Supreme Court judgement, which states that requiring Aadhaar card or number can be made mandatory only for expenditure on a subsidy, benefit or service incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India. Registering a tenancy agreement does not entail these, therefore making Aadhaar number mandatory for registering a tenancy may violate the judgement.
The Model Act also states that tenants and landlords will be provided with a unique identification number after registering a rental agreement. Details of the agreement along with other documents will be uploaded on the Rent Authority’s website. It is unclear if personal details of the parties such as PAN and Aadhaar number, which must be submitted along with the agreement, will also be made available publicly. If these are shared on the website, this may violate the right to privacy of the involved parties. The Supreme Court has included the right to privacy as a fundamental right. This right may be infringed only if three conditions are met: (i) there is a law, (ii) the law achieves a public purpose, and (iii) the public purpose is proportionate to the violation of privacy. Sharing personal information of individuals may not serve a public purpose, and hence may violate the right to privacy of such individuals.
The preamble of the 2021 Model Act and the background note accompanying the 2020 draft Model Act state that it seeks to establish a speedy adjudication mechanism for disputes linked to tenancy agreements. The Model Act specifies the timelines for resolution of cases linked with eviction and payment of rent. However, timelines have not been specified for certain cases. For instance, no timeline has been specified within which the Rent Authority must resolve a dispute on withholding of essential services or revision of rent.
Specification of minute details
The Model Act seeks to balance the tenant-landlord relationship by specifying rights and duties of both parties. However, it also caps the maximum possible security deposit amount that a tenant must pay to the landlord. Further, a suggestive framework for the rental agreement also includes minute details on responsibility for repair and maintenance. If codified, these specifications may hinder flexibility in framing tenancy agreements.
For a PRS analysis of the Model Tenancy Act 2021, please see here.