The Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (SARFAESI) Act 2002 is a powerful instrument in the hands of the banks and financial institutions (FIs) as secured creditors. This Act helps them enforce securities held as collateral to loans disbursed by them should such loans turn out as non-performing assets (NPAs) during the currency of the loan without interference from the Courts. Section 13 of the Act gives power to the secured creditor even to evict the tenant. It is our observation that the banks have been overenthusiastic in taking recourse to SAFRAESI Act provisions as a first resort of recovering the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) loans, mostly violating guidelines of Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
The entire process under the Act involves several factors of fairness and technicalities. During our interactions with the borrowers and banks in the State Level Inter-institutional Sub-committee (SLIIC), we have noticed the banks jumping into coercive actions throwing overboard the due processes. It is surprising that tech-savvy systems of banks have not put in the measured timelines before pressing the red button to put the credit traffic of the MSMEs on halt.
RBI’s timelines are as follows:
If the account does not reflect credits into the account, 90 days preceding the date of balance sheet of the firm. Temporary deficiencies like late/ non-submission of stock statements or balance outstanding exceeding the drawing power, non-renewal of limits should not get categorised as NPA.
If the borrower does not pay three instalments continuously after 90 days but up to 12 months the account becomes sub-standard and NPA. Section 13 (2) empowers the Bank/ FI to serve a notice to the borrower for taking possession of the assets held as security for the money lent by it. But there is precursor to this action: the Bank/FI shall serve notice to the borrower to discharge his full liabilities within 60 days from the date of notice that should also detail out the legal consequences and penal provisions.
Going by these two directions under the Act, the borrower should be getting at least 17 months’ time before the Bank could proceed against the defaulting MSMEs.
If the borrower becomes a ‘wilful defaulter’ as defined by the RBI Master Circular on wilful defaulters vide RBI circular (RBI/2014-15/73 DBR.No.CID.BC.57/20.16.003/2014-15 dated July 1, 2015) SARFAESI Act proceeding can be issued even without notice to the borrower.
Who is a wilful defaulter?
Deliberate non-payment of the dues despite adequate cash flow and good net worth;
Siphoning off of funds to the detriment of the defaulting unit;
Assets financed either not been purchased or been sold and proceeds have been misutilised;
Misrepresentation / falsification of records;
Disposal / removal of securities without bank's knowledge;
Fraudulent transactions by the borrower.
Banks/ FIs throwing overboard these norms, classify all the MSME NPAs as wilful defaulters to apply the SARFAESI lever. As per the Act, valuation of the asset has to be done and notify that valuation to the borrower before issuing public notice for auction of property. Bank has to give 30 days’ notice to the borrower regarding its right to proceed against the mortgaged property if he does not pay up the entire principal and interest.
However, we have noticed that in most cases all the above timelines are followed more in breach with impunity by the banks. For example, a public sector bank (PSB) branch in Jammikunta proceeded with sale of property within 15 days of declaring the asset as NPA. They have also fixed a reserve price without consulting the impugned borrower or without taking into consideration any objections raised by the borrowers as required under section 13 (3) (A) and proceed for auction of the properties. This is the case with most collateralised MSME NPAs. On top of this, in Jammikunta, the bank has also engaged agents for enforcing coercive recovery measures.
In quite a few other cases, the banks sold off assets to asset restructuring companies (ARCs). Here the process is that the bank bundles a few NPAs and sells them off at a discount, which is not disclosed either to the borrower or to the SLIIC sub-committee. Although it may be in order for the bank to entertain request of the enterprise under one-time settlement (OTS) within the rules of the RBI, its preference is to transfer to ARC at a far lesser price than OTS would have got to the bank.
What is ARC and how does this operate?
All transactions of securitisation, reconstruction and creation of security interest shall be registered with a Central Registry maintained with the Union Government. Within 30 days of securitising the asset, details of securities have to be filed with the central registry by paying the required fees.
RBI has issued guidelines in 2003 on the form of offer and details to be incorporated therein. The most usual form is the Security Receipt (SR) and an agreement with the originator to continue to service the assets of the securitisation. It can also take the form of a debenture at no less than 1.5% above the Bank Rate. The ARC should notify a separate scheme for each financial asset acquired or proposed to be acquired. Scheme-wise the account shall be maintained. Although Security Receipt is a tradable receipt among the investor institutions there is no such evidence thus far.
Realisation of the asset is held and applied towards redemption of the investments as assured while issuing the security receipt. It acts like a trustee managing the assets and does not become the owner of the assets. ARC can sell or lease out the assets for realising the value of the assets. The recovered amount of the discounted price of the asset will be shared between the Bank and ARC in 85:15. For example, if a loan of Rs100 lakh is sold for Rs60 lakh to the ARC and the ARC realises only Rs50 lakh on sale or the entire armoury at its command, the Bank will get Rs42.50 lakh for fully wiping out the account from its books. Once the asset is sold off, it ceases to be NPA in its books.
If the intention of the Bank were to recover as much as possible from the stressed asset, it would be wise to explore OTS as first option within the RBI guidelines. We have noticed that in no more than 5% of cases that this option is exercised as the bonafides in OTS transaction is suspect. It would be prudent on the part of the RBI to ensure that the OTS option is exhausted before going for securitisation and sale of the asset.
The other option is to seek the Banking Ombudsman’s intervention as Arbitrator to settle the distressed asset closure in cases where either the borrower or the bank has reason to believe that a mutually agreed price of the loan would be a better option than proceeding against the asset under SAFRAESI Act.
(K Manicka Raj (IAS), is Director of Industries, Government of Telangana and B Yerram Raju is Adviser, MSE Facilitation Council, Department of Industries, Government of Telangana. The opinions expressed are personal.