Pune-based activist Vivek Velankar has requested finance minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman to direct State Bank of India (SBI) to share detailed information on loan write-offs, efforts taken for recovery, properties attached against these bad debts and manpower allocation done by the lender over the past eight years.
Mr Velankar, who is a shareholder of SBI, in a letter to the FM says "I request your kind attention to this serious offence by SBI and request you to kindly instruct SBI to put forth transparently all information about the efforts bank has made on recovery of written off accounts of big defaulters above Rs100 crore. In fact, I request you to compel all other nationalised banks also to publish this information proactively on their websites in larger public interest."
In his latest letter, Mr Velankar, who is also president of Pune-based Sajag Nagrik Manch, told FM Nirmala Sitharaman that, "There were lot of heated arguments in the country a couple of months ago on written off loans of big accounts. That time it was clarified by your department that technical write off does not mean waiving off loans and efforts are on for recovery of these written off loans and due to stringent laws brought in by your department the process of recovery has become more effective and faster."
Earlier, Mr Velankar had tried obtaining this information under Right to Information (RTI) Act, but SBI denied it claiming that collating this information would be a waste of its resources. Being a shareholder of SBI, he then asked for this information as question for the annual general meeting (AGM). While he did not get a chance to ask his question during SBI's annual general meeting (AGM), the Bank shared this information which is quite shocking. "This information also exposes how the bank writes off loans of 100s of crores of rupees of large defaulters while denying waiver of simple interest on loans for common customers," Mr Velankar had told Moneylife.
Here is the information sought by Mr Velankar with help from the finance minister...
1. You (SBI) have given me list of accounts which have been written off technically; I would like to know when case was filed in NCLT for each of this account.
2. What efforts Bank has made to recover the written off amounts for year 2012-13 to 2016-17.
3. How much property is attached for each of the written off account and what is the status of sale of those properties.
4. Provide me manpower allocation done by bank for recovery of written off accounts grade wise. (Is there separate cell formed for this purpose and if yes constitution of the cell as far as manpower allocation is concerned?)
5. Amount of expenses incurred by bank from 2012-13 till 2019-20 year-wise for recovery of written off loans. (This should include legal as well as staff salary and other expenses).
The Bank’s reply to Mr Velankar shows that during the eight years from FY12-13 to FY19-20, SBI has 'technically/prudentially written off’ a massive sum of Rs1.23 lakh crore from its books, but manged to recover only 7% or Rs8,969 crore in this period. This makes a mockery of the aggressive claims by a string of high-profile government spokesperson and economic advisors that a ‘technical’ write-off does not stop the recovery process.
When a bad debt is written down, some of the bad debt value remains as an asset because the bank expects to recover it. However, as SBI has shown, most of the times, there is no recovery or negligible recovery for the amounts written off.
The fact is that once a loan turns bad in India, it is almost impossible to recover anything because it has already been ever-greened for several years, a former chairman of a bank had told Moneylife.
Earlier in April, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had said that Indian banks have technically written off a staggering amount of Rs68,607 crore due from 50 top wilful defaulters, including absconding diamantaire Mehul Choksi. RBI had revealed this information in reply to an RTI filed by Saket Gokhale.
RBI said that this amount (Rs68,607 crore) comprising outstanding and the amounts technically or prudentially written off till 30 September 2019.
Mr Velankar, in his letter, says, "I even wrote to them (SBI) to at least convey me whether this information is not available or bank cannot provide me this information but till date no response what so ever is received by me. This raises doubts in minds of common citizen like me about bank’s intentions.
"It seems that in spite of efforts made by your department to make stringent provisions for recovery of written off loans bank is not acting on this with some fraudulent motives. In fact, this information should have been available on bank website but in spite of asking also this information is not disclosed clearly means that either bank is not intentionally taking much efforts to recover these written off loans or doing only selective recovery. This seems to be intentional move by the bank to let down the efforts done by your department on this issue," the activist says in his letter to finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
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