As the dust settles around the 16th Lok Sabha, attention must now shift to the state assemblies, some of which have been newly constituted like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and the few that will go into elections in the next few months like Maharashtra and Haryana. There are 30 state legislative assemblies not including the newly formed state of Seemandhara. In our federal structure, laws framed by the state assemblies are no less important and deserve the same diligence and debate as laws made by Parliament. A brief look in to the performance of some of our state assemblies reveals that these institutions which form the cornerstones of our democracy need some serious attention. State Assemblies: business hours The current Haryana Legislative Assembly that comes to the end of its five year term in October this year has held 10 sessions since 2009 till March 2014, meeting for a total of 54 days – an average of 11 days per year. In comparison, the Lok Sabha sat for an average of 69 days each year from 2009 to 2014. Among state assemblies, only Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh sat for fewer days than Haryana. In the same period the Kerala Assembly sat for an average of 50 days per year, while Tamil Nadu Assembly sat for 44 days. In its previous term, the Gujarat Legislative Assembly sat for a total of 157 days – an average of 31 days each year. Similarly, the current Goa Legislative Assembly sat for 24 days in 2012 and for 39 days in 2013. Over the last 10 years, the Assembly sat for an average of 26 days a year. It recorded the highest number of sitting days in the last 10 years, at 39 days. Law making in the states In most states, Bills are passed with little or no discussion. Most Bills are introduced and passed on the last day of each session, which gives Members hardly any opportunity to examine or discuss legislation in detail. Unlike Parliament, where most Bills are referred to a department related standing committee which studies the Bill in greater detail, in most states such committees are non-existent. The exceptions are Kerala which has constituted subject committees for this purpose and states like Goa and Himachal Pradesh where Select Committees are constituted for important Bills. The current Haryana Assembly has passed 129 Bills, all of which were passed on the same day as they were introduced. Upto 23 Bills were passed on a single day, which left hardly any time for substantial discussion. In the twelfth Gujarat Assembly, over 90% of all Bills were passed on the same day as they were introduced. In the Budget Session of 2011, 31 Bills were passed of which 21 were introduced and passed within three sitting days. Of the 40 Bills passed by the Goa Assembly till May 2013, three Bills were referred to Select Committees. Excluding Appropriation Bills, the Assembly passed 32 Bills, which were taken up together for discussion and passing in five days. Almost all Bills were passed within three days of introduction. On average, each Bill was discussed for four minutes. In 2012, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly passed a total of 39 Bills, including Appropriation Bills. Most Bills were passed on the same day they were introduced in the Assembly. In 2011, a total of 23 Bills were passed. On average, five Members participated in the discussions on each Bill. In 2012, the Delhi Legislative Assembly passed 11 Bills. Only one of the 11 Bills was discussed for more than 10 minutes. The performance of the Chhattisgarh and Bihar Vidhan Sabhas follow the same pattern. Over the last few years, some assemblies such as Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana have taken some positive steps which include setting up subject committees and permitting live telecast of Assembly proceedings. Every legislator- in Parliament and the states - is accountable to his voter. Weak democratic institutions deprive legislators of their right to oversee the government as enshrined in the Constitution. Inadequate number of sitting days, lack of discussion on Bills, and passing of the Budget and demands for grants without discussion are symptoms of institutional ennui and do not do justice to the enormous import of these legislative bodies. Serious thought and public debate is needed to reinvigorate these ‘temples of democracy’ and provide elected representatives with the opportunity to exercise their right to legislative scrutiny, hold government to account, and represent their constituents.
Need for Urban Co-operative Banks
The history of UCBs in India can be traced to the 19th century when such societies were set up drawing inspiration from the success of the co-operative movement in Britain and the co-operative credit movement in Germany. Urban co-operative credit societies, were organised on a community basis to meet the consumption-oriented credit needs of their members. UCBs are primary cooperative banks in urban and semi-urban areas. They are co-operative societies that undertake banking business. Co-operative banks accept deposits from the public and lend to their members. Co-operative banks are different from other co-operatives as they mobilise resources for lending and investment from the wider public rather than only their members.
Concerns regarding the professionalism of urban cooperative banks gave rise to the view that they should be better regulated. Large cooperative banks with paid-up share capital and reserves of one lakh rupees were brought under the scope of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 with effect from March 1, 1966. Prior to this, such banks were regulated under the scope of state-specific cooperative laws. The revised framework brought them under the ambit of supervision of the RBI. Till 1996, these banks could lend money only for non-agricultural purposes. However, this distinction does not apply today.
The Expert Committee noted that UCBs play a key role in financial inclusion. It further observed that the focus area for UCBs has traditionally been communities and localities including workplace groups. They play an important role in the delivery of last-mile credit, even more so for those sections of the population who are not integrated into the mainstream banking framework. UCBs primarily lend to wage earners, small entrepreneurs, and businesses in urban and semi-urban areas. UCBs can be more responsive than formal banking channels to the needs of the local people.
Over the years, concerns have been raised about non-professional management in UCBs and that this can lead to weaker governance and risk management in these entities. RBI has also taken regulatory action on several UCBs. For instance, in September 2019, RBI placed Punjab and Maharashtra Co-operative Bank under restrictions on allegations of serious underreporting of non-performing assets. The bank could not grant loans, make investments or accept deposits without prior approval from RBI. While these restrictions were originally put in place for six months, the time frame was extended several times and has now been extended till December 31, 2021. In addition, low capital base, poor credit management and diversion of funds have also been issues in the sector.
Shrinking share in the banking sector
There were 1,539 UCBs in the country as of March 31, 2020, with deposits worth Rs 5,01,180 crore and advances worth Rs 3,05,370 crore. Even though 94% of the entities in the banking sector were UCBs their market share in the banking sector has been low and declining and stands at around 3%. UCBs accounted for 3.24% of the deposits and 2.69% of the advances in the banking sector. The Committee noted that state-of-the-art technology adopted by new players, such as small finance banks and fintech entities, along with commercial banks can disrupt the niche customer segment of the UCBs.
Figure 1: Growth in deposits of UCBs (in Rs crore)
Figure 2: Growth in advances of UCBs (in Rs crore)
Burden of non-performing assets
UCBs had the highest net non-performing asset (NNPA) ratio (5.26%) and gross non-performing asset (GNPA) ratio (10.96%) across the banking sector as of March 2020. These levels correspond to around twice that of private sector banks, and around five times that of small finance banks. The Committee noted that, as of March 2020, UCBs have the lowest level of net interest margin (difference between interest earned and interest spent relative to total interest generating assets held by the bank) and negative return on assets and return on equity.
Figure 3: Asset quality across banks (in percentage)
Sources: Report of the Expert Committee on Urban Co-operative Banks; PRS.
Supervisory Action Framework (SAF): SAF envisages corrective action by UCB and/or supervisory action by RBI on breach of financial thresholds related to asset quality, profitability and level of capital as measured by Capital to Risk-weighted Asset Ratio (CRAR). The Committee recommended that SAF should consider only asset quality (based on net non-performing asset ratio) and CRAR with an emphasis on reducing the time spent by a UCB under SAF. The RBI should begin the mandatory resolution process including reconstruction or compulsory merger as soon as a UCB reaches the third stage under SAF (CRAR less than 4.5% and/or net non-performing asset ratio above 12%).
Constraints in raising capital
The Committee also observed that UCBs are constrained in raising capital which restricts their ability to expand the business. According to co-operative principles, share capital is to be issued and refunded only at face value. Thus, investment in UCBs is less attractive as it does not lead to an increase in its value. Also, the principle of one member, one vote means that an interested investor cannot acquire a controlling stake in UCBs. It was earlier recommended that UCBs should be allowed to issue fresh capital at a premium based on the net worth of the entity at the end of the preceding year.
Listing of securities: The Committee recommended making suitable amendments to the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 to enable RBI to notify certain securities issued by any co-operative bank or class of co-operative banks to be covered under the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956 and the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992. This will enable their listing and trading on a recognised stock exchange. Until such amendments are made, the Committee recommended that banks can be allowed to have a system on their websites to buy/sell securities at book value subject to the condition that the bank should ensure that the prospective buyer is eligible to be admitted as a member.
Conflict between Banking Regulation Act, 1949 and co-operative laws
The fundamental difference between banking companies and co-operative banks is in the voting rights of shareholders. In banking companies, each share has a corresponding vote. But in the case of co-operative banks, each shareholder has only one vote irrespective of the number of shares held. Despite RBI being the regulator of the banking sector, the regulation of co-operative banks by RBI was restricted to functions related directly to banking. This gave rise to dual regulation with governance, audit, and winding-up related functions regulated by state governments and central government for single-state banks and multi-state banks, respectively.
2020 Amendments to the Banking Regulation Act: In September 2020, the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 was amended to increase RBI’s powers over the regulation of co-operative banks including qualifications of management of these banks and supersession of board of directors. The Committee noted that due to the amendment of the Act, certain conflicts have arisen with various co-operative laws. For instance, the Act allows co-operative banks to issue shares at a premium, but it is silent on their redemption. It noted that if any co-operative societies’ legislation provides for redemption of shares only at par, then, while a co-operative bank incorporated under that legislation can issue shares at a premium, it can redeem them only at par.
Note that on September 3, 2021, the Madhya Pradesh High Court stayed a circular released by the RBI on appointment of managing director/whole-time director in UCBs. The circular provided for eligibility and propriety criteria for the appointment of such personnel in UCBs. The petitioner, Mahanagar Nagrik Sahakari Bank Maryadit, argued that the service conditions of the managing director and chief executive officer of co-operative banks are governed by bye-laws framed under the M.P. State Cooperative Societies Act, 1960. The petition noted that co-operative as a subject falls under the state list and hence the power to legislate in the field of co-operative societies falls under the domain of the states and not the central government.
Over the years, several committees have looked at the feasibility to set up an Umbrella Organisation (UO) for UCBs. It is an apex body of federating UCBs. In 2011, an expert committee on licensing of new UCBs recommended that there should be two separate UOs for the sector. In June 2019, RBI granted an in-principle approval to National Federation of Urban Co-operative Banks and Credit Societies Ltd to set up a UO in the form of a non-deposit taking non-banking finance company. The UO is expected to provide information technology and financial support to its federating members along with value-added services linked to treasury, foreign exchange and international remittances. It is envisaged to provide scale through network to smaller UCBs. The report of the current Committee recommended that the minimum capital of the UO should be Rs 300 crore. Once stabilised, the UO can explore the possibility of becoming a universal bank. It can also take up the role of a self-regulatory organisation for its member UCBs. The Committee also suggested that the membership of the UO can be opened-up to both financial and non-financial co-operatives who can make contributions through share capital in the UO.
Comments on the report of the Expert Committee are invited until September 30, 2021.