Cabinet approved the release of 50% share of the central government for recapitalisation of the remaining 24 RRBs to improve their capital to risk weighted assets ratio
New Delhi: The Indian government on Thursday approved Rs632 crore capital infusion in cash-starved regional rural banks (RRBs) to improve their capital adequacy and lending capacity to the agriculture sector, reports PTI.
"RRBs will get Rs632 crore from the central government", said a minister after the meeting of the Cabinet.
Following recommendations of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) deputy governor Dr KC Chakrabarty, the government had initiated recapitalisation process in 2009-10 for 40 financially weak RRBs, which mainly provide credit to rural and agriculture sectors.
However, till March 2012, capitalisation was done in 16 banks as several states did not provide their contribution.
In order to complete the process of recapitalisation, the Cabinet has decided to extend the scheme by two years.
"The Union Cabinet today approved the release of 50% share of the central government for recapitalisation of the remaining RRBs to improve their capital to risk weighted assets ratio (CRAR)," an official statement said.
"The release of central government share is subject to the release of state government and sponsor bank share," it added.
The capital of RRBs is shared by centre, states and the sponsor bank in the ratio of 50%, 15% and 35% respectively.
Hence, in essence, these 16 RRBs would get Rs1,264 crore of fresh capital if all stakeholders contribute in proportion to their shares for recapitalisation.
India has 82 RRBs and almost all of them are equipped with core banking solutions.
Why are fire accidents occurring with impunity and what does it say of the prospects of the fire safety industry?
Of late, fire accidents are being reported with unfailing regularity and are forgotten by all of us immediately. Major accidents such as Uphaar fire tragedy in Delhi or Kumbakonam school fire in Tamil Nadu or AMRI hospital fire in West Bengal or the Carlton Towers fire accident in Bengaluru are grim reminders that fire safety is still not given the importance that it deserves.
The retail explosion in India and the growth of the real estate sector in the last few years has directly created a need and awareness for fire safety and security surveillance. Despite this growth, why are fire accidents occurring with impunity and what does it say of the prospects of the fire safety industry?
Unfortunately, people view fire safety in the same way as they would view insurance. Fire safety is considered as a means for obtaining a no-objection certificate, which is a must for obtaining a building permit. Either the fire safety installations are not done in a professional manner or are poorly maintained. Also, the NBC (National Building Code) hasn’t been updated since 2005—despite the fact that so many accidents have resulted due to gross violation of the code.
V Nagesh Rao, a fire safety expert, rues that maintenance of fire safety systems is not up to the mark in India. He says that gross violation of the building codes for maintaining fire safety go unnoticed. “What is the point of investigating a lapse on part of the promoter when so many lives have already been lost?” he asks. More so, when no one wants to learn lessons from such tragedies.
R Prasanna, a national sales head in a security firm, says that the awareness about the fire fighting industry in India is gradually increasing. “If you look at Bengaluru, the growth of the city as a “Silicon Valley” directly boosted the prospects of the fire safety sector. IT, IT-enabled services, retail boom and massive real estate growth in Bengaluru all of these contributed to the growth of the fire safety industry. But when the prospects of real estate sector plummeted, it had a direct impact on the fire safety industry.”
Adds Prashant Desai, a fire safety systems designer says, “Many of the MNCs which occupied offices in Bengaluru insisted on fire safety systems comparable to international standards. This forced the strong impetus for installation of fire safety systems as per international design standards.”
But despite the construction boom, why is it that the fire safety industry is not growing as expected? M Prabhu, marketing manager in a fire safety firm, says, “The 2008 recession had a terrible impact on the fire safety sector—the collateral damage to this industry due to a slump in the real estate sector resulted in many builders and developers not honouring their payment dues to the system integrators. Some builders abandoned their projects half-way and also did not pay the contractors for the work that they had completed. The sad fact is that the growth of fire safety industry is cyclical.”
As if this wasn’t enough, unorganized players with little experience have given the industry a bad name. “People who sell fire extinguishers have masqueraded as system integrators and have ended up botching the credibility of the sector”, adds Mr Desai. Worst is when some electrical contractors are assigned the job of fire safety despite the lack of competence.
Mr Prasanna says, “System integrators are realizing that spreading business into different verticals is the way to sustainability and long-term growth. For example fire safety in the infrastructure sector pays rich dividends as these are mostly lump sum contracts. In the infrastructure sector, fire safety is an absolute necessity. A threshold of the contract value is agreed upon and it is the system integrator’s ingenuity to complete the project at a cost much less than the contract value to generate higher margins. Focusing only on the real estate sector exposes contractors to the vagaries of the fortunes of the real estate sector”. Bengaluru-based security consultant Anantharaman (who works with ABB as quality and safety advisor) says that focusing on the hospitality and hospital sector besides infrastructure projects will help the fire safety business maintain an even keel.
What then are the critical success factors for a successful business model? Alok Mitra, a security expert says that the industry needs to be more professional in its approach. “A project-based approach using fundamental scientific techniques of project management is a must. The fire safety industry thrives on relationships nurtured with clients over time. Successfully completed projects act as brand ambassadors for winning future projects”.
Mohit Nagaiah who works as a sales manager in a fire safety firm says “In today’s world, customers appreciate system integrators providing value engineering—how can we provide more value at a lesser price. Clients are opening up to innovative suggestions from our system designers and that is actually helping the business”. Adds Mr Desai, “Today system integrators and clients have to work together to arrive at solutions. Clients do appreciate if their suggestions are not accepted due to scientific reasoning. Rework in the later stages of the project can prove to be costly”
Who will then provide fire safety systems to the real estate sector? Mr Mitra says, “Many builders delay our payments citing silly reasons. There are clients who come up with a big snag list when it comes to releasing our payments. This defeats the purpose of business partnership. On many occasions, our operations team does not receive clearance from the client side for executing piping work and this delays the project. But when it comes to releasing the payments, this delay is attributed to us. Yes, I agree that customers are important but so is the survival of our business. These things can’t be mutually exclusive, can they?” he questions. Extreme situations may need arbitration if the problem between the client and the contractor can’t be resolved amicably.
A Bengaluru-based developer thought that he could use his ingenuity to get the work done without paying up. This work of fire safety was to be completed in a multiplex that was to go operational shortly. The maintenance team landed at the multiplex and completed the work. But the developer started playing truant when it came to releasing the payment without realizing that the team had left parts of the work incomplete as they were not sure that their payments would be released. The moment this was highlighted to the developer’s office with a veiled threat to inform the chief fire officer, the developer’s team came running to make the payments that were overdue for more than six months.
The clients need to give preference to quality of erection and not just go by the cost involved in setting up a fire safety system. What is cheaper need not always be the best. On their part, the service providers can negotiate with their product vendors to reduce the input costs and this cost saving can be passed off to the client on a mutual sharing basis.
Generally, the work involved in fire protection and detection can be completed in a reasonable period of time if all the resources are available. But this is where the problem is. The supply and erection advances are released against bank guarantees and later on, these monies are used to mobilise resources at the site. Material supplies follow and the subcontractors like civil, welding/fabrication, etc, start getting involved in the site activities.
As per the terms of contract, payments are released after supplies are made and erection bills are submitted as per the mutually agreed milestones. Delayed payments from clients have cascading impact. Two aspects of the project need focussed attention. One is material management and the other is the execution schedule. If these two aspects are managed well, then half the battle is won. But this is not possible without the support of the client or the PMC that acts as an intermediary between the system integrator and the client.
Embracing newer technologies to deal with newer dimensions of risks is very vital for survival in the market. If organizations are able to consolidate through strategic alliances without hurting employees’ career growth prospects, that itself is a major achievement. Ask the former employees of Chennai-based Agnees who were left high and dry when UTC took over the company. “But this is not unique to the fire safety industry. These sorts of issues are common whenever mergers occur, so why blame only the fire safety industry?” asks Mohit.
Decades ago, the word “fire safety” only conjured up images of fire stations, fire fighters and fire extinguishers. But the industry has now come a long way. Fire safety is increasingly gaining greater importance as an inherent part of any infrastructural set up. But it has still a long way to go.
The whole economy is in shambles. The RBI and the central government will have to put their heads together by taking the right steps to boost growth
The present foreign exchange imbroglio and economic crisis faced by our country brings back to memory the near disaster faced in 1991, when the country had to airlift 67 tonnes of gold to pledge with Bank of England and Union Bank of Switzerland to raise $605 million of foreign exchange loan to avert a default in international payments. In January 1991, the foreign exchange reserves of our country had reached a precarious position of $1.2 billion, which was barely enough to last for meeting three weeks of imports then. This necessitated the pledging of gold followed by sharp devaluation of rupee that took place in two doses—first by 9.5% on 1st July and by another 11% on 3 July 1991 and these steps temporarily helped tide over the balance of payment crisis.
But the ramifications of the crisis in 1991 were echoed not only within the country but also overseas. A little known fact is that when it was clear that our country was on the verge of default on its external balance of payment obligations in 1991, the international banks in London and New York refused to accept the letters of credit (LCs) opened by a few public sector banks from India and even their branches abroad, putting them in an embarrassing position of having to face humiliation from the very same banks which had to be bailed out by the US and UK governments during the world financial crisis of 2008. But the real panic was caused when a few public sector banks operating in London then were refused credit lines by the international banks even for inter-bank overnight borrowings, giving a big jolt to the banking fraternity of our country. Fortunately, the economic liberalization that followed got India out of that precarious situation and we have not looked back since then.
But in 2012 India’s economy again appears to be going downhill and the symptoms are all showing signs of significant deceleration in all areas of economic activity. Though we are in a much better position today both in terms of the strength of our economy and the large foreign exchange reserves in our kitty, there are a number of similarities, which are a cause for concern. Added to our own problems are the global uncertainties, which, coupled with the impending threat of breakdown of Eurozone, will have its own impact on the world economy.
In 1991, inflation was running into double digits, causing considerable hardships to a large number of poor people of our country. It is no different now. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been virtually fighting inflation during the whole of last year by raising interest rates as many as 13 times with not much success. Though there was a semblance of inflation coming down during early part of this year, there are signs of inflation rising again in the coming months, and if adequate and appropriate steps are not taken both by the RBI and the central government we may be back to double-digit inflation with all the attendant consequences.
The foreign exchange position shows a similar story. Against a forex reserve of $1.2 billion prevailing then, our reserves as of now are in the vicinity of $288 billion, which is good enough to cover some eight months’ imports. But the irony is that due to the growing current account deficit, and the recent slowdown in capital flows, the forex reserves which were continuously growing and had peaked to over $320 billion as on 28 October, 2011, have fallen by over 10% during the last few months and presently are around $288 billion. Though RBI has taken a series of steps to stem the fall of rupee, it has depreciated nearly 20% during the last 10 months and has reached a level of over Rs56 per dollar, fuelling inflation. The only silver lining in this precarious situation is that the international oil prices have cooled down and have fallen just below $100 per barrel, which may help to improve the country’s balance of trade to some extent.
There is a perceptible fall in the rate of growth of the economy, as GDP (gross domestic product) growth has fallen to a nine-year low of 6.5% during 2011-12. The macro-economic indicators are far from satisfactory. The fiscal deficit, which was 5.39% in 1991, has shot up to 6.9% in 2011-12. The current account deficit, which was 3% in 1991, is likely to be over 4% during the current year. The GDP growth during the current year is expected to fall further, what with the deteriorating economic situation in western countries, the chances of improving our own exports are remote. The whole economy is in shambles, and unless remedial steps are taken quickly, it may reach a point of no return with dire consequences.
Apart from the slowdown of the economy, there is one more dimension to the present crisis faced by the country; it is the crisis of trust and confidence in the political class. With a series of scams unearthed during the last two years involving both the public and the private sector, there is total loss of public confidence in the elected representatives of our country. The 2G (second generation) scam has exposed the extent of corruption in the highest echelons of the government.
The Adarsh building scam has put on the mat a number of civil servants and the higher functionaries in the defence forces. The land grabbing scams are dime a dozen, not to mention the one involving the highest office in the country. The illegal mining scam involving the state governments and the private sector is a testimony of the complicity of the high and the mighty in robbing the state to no end. The Tatra truck scandal involving a public sector company is a slap on the face of the miniratnas of our country. The 2010 Commonwealth Games scam is a national shame exposed in the presence of the international players. The curtains are yet to rise in respect of the coal scandal which is not officially unveiled by the CAG so far.
The gloom and doom prevailing in the country can only be reversed if bold decisions are taken to control inflation without affecting growth, by a coordinated effort of RBI and the central government and taking right steps with the alacrity and equanimity it deserves. In 1991, the new government that came to power under the prime ministership of PV Narasimha Rao with Manmohan Singh as finance minister unshackled the economy that changed the course of history.
Do we, therefore, need another change of government at the Centre to yet again evolve a new course of direction for our country? But if we again get a fractured mandate in the impending elections, which is very likely, the only option is to have a national government with best brains in the country joining together to chalk out a path of least resistance to achieve that glory of being considered as the fastest growing nation in the world.
(The author is a financial analyst. He writes for Moneylife under the pen-name ‘Gurpur’)