At noon today, the Finance Minister introduced a Bill in Parliament to address the issue of delayed debt recovery. The Bill amends four laws including the SARFAESI Act and the DRT Act, which are primarily used for recovery of outstanding loans. In this context, we examine the rise in NPAs in India and ways in which this may be dealt with.
I. An overview of Non-Performing Assets in India
Banks give loans and advances to borrowers which may be categorised as: (i) standard asset (any loan which has not defaulted in repayment) or (ii) non-performing asset (NPA), based on their performance. NPAs are loans and advances given by banks, on which the borrower has ceased to pay interest and principal repayments. In recent years, the gross NPAs of banks have increased from 2.3% of total loans in 2008 to 4.3% in 2015 (see Figure 1 alongside*). The increase in NPAs may be due to various reasons, including slow growth in domestic market and drop in prices of commodities in the global markets. In addition, exports of products such as steel, textiles, leather and gems have slowed down.[i] The increase in NPAs affects the credit market in the country. This is due to the impact that non-repayment of loans has on the cash flow of banks and the availability of funds with them.[ii] Additionally, a rising trend in NPAs may also make banks unwilling to lend. This could be because there are lesser chances of debt recovery due to prevailing market conditions.[iii] For example, banks may be unwilling to lend to the steel sector if companies in this sector are making losses and defaulting on current loans. There are various legislative mechanisms available with banks for debt recovery. These include: (i) Recovery of Debt Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993 (DRT Act) and (ii) Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Security Interest Act, 2002 (SARFAESI Act). The Debt Recovery Tribunals established under DRT Act allow banks to recover outstanding loans. The SARFAESI Act allows a secured creditor to enforce his security interest without the intervention of courts or tribunals. In addition to these, there are voluntary mechanisms such as Corporate Debt Restructuring and Strategic Debt Restructuring, which These mechanisms allow banks to collectively restructure debt of borrowers (which includes changing repayment schedule of loans) and take over the management of a company.
II. Challenges and recommendations for reform
In recent years, several committees have given recommendations on NPAs. We discuss these below.
Action against defaulters: Wilful default refers to a situation where a borrower defaults on the repayment of a loan, despite having adequate resources. As of December 2015, the public sector banks had 7,686 wilful defaulters, which accounted for Rs 66,000 crore of outstanding loans.[iv] The Standing Committee of Finance, in February 2016, observed that 21% of the total NPAs of banks were from wilful defaulters. It recommended that the names of top 30 wilful defaulters of every bank be made public. It noted that making such information publicly available would act as a deterrent for others.
Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARCs): ARCs purchase stressed assets from banks, and try to recover them. The ARCs buy NPAs from banks at a discount and try to recover the money. The Standing Committee observed that the prolonged slowdown in the economy had made it difficult for ARCs to absorb NPAs. Therefore, it recommended that the RBI should allow banks to absorb their written-off assets in a staggered manner. This would help them in gradually restoring their balance sheets to normal health.
Improved recovery: The process of recovering outstanding loans is time consuming. This includes time taken to resolve insolvency, which is a situation where a borrower is unable to repay his outstanding debt. The inability to resolve insolvency is one of the factors that impacts NPAS, the credit market, and affects the flow of money in the country.[v] As of 2015, it took over four years to resolve insolvency in India. This was higher than other countries such as the UK (1 year) and USA (1.5 years). The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code seeks to address this situation. The Code, which was passed by Lok Sabha on May 5, 2016, is currently pending in Rajya Sabha. It provides a 180-day period to resolve insolvency (which includes change in repayment schedule of loans to recover outstanding loans.) If insolvency is not resolved within this time period, the company will go in for liquidation of its assets, and the creditors will be repaid from these sale proceeds.
[i] ‘Non-Performing Assets of Financial Institutions’, 27th Report of the Department-related Standing Committee on Finance, http://126.96.36.199/lsscommittee/Finance/16_Finance_27.pdf. [ii] Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee, November 2015, http://finmin.nic.in/reports/BLRCReportVol1_04112015.pdf. [iii] Volume 2, Economic Survey 2015-16, http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2015-16/echapter-vol2.pdf. [iv] Starred Question No. 17, Rajya Sabha, Answered on April 26, Ministry of Finance. [v] Report of the Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee, Ministry of Finance, November 2015, http://finmin.nic.in/reports/BLRCReportVol1_04112015.pdf. *Source: ‘Non-Performing Assets of Financial Institutions’, 27th Report of the Department-related Standing Committee on Finance, http://188.8.131.52/lsscommittee/Finance/16_Finance_27.pdf; PRS.
On June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.