While the banking regulator and the Union government have been busy clarifying that bad loans written off does not mean a waiver, documents procured by Vivek Velankar from State Bank of India (SBI) reveal minuscule recovery of these bad debts. Information received by Mr Velankar shows that as against a write off of Rs1,23,432 crore, SBI has recovered just over 7% or Rs8,969 crore over the past eight financial years.
Mr Velankar, president of Pune-based Sajag Nagrik Manch, says, "I 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, I then asked for this information as question for the annual general meeting (AGM). I did not get a chance to ask my question during the AGM, but the bank shared this information, which is quite shocking. This 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."
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. 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, said a former bank chairman to Moneylife.
Technically speaking, when debts are written off, they are removed as assets from the balance sheet because the bank does not expect to recover payment. This practice is frowned upon by experts but is routinely done by banks as part of their tax management clean up process. The beneficiaries are invariably some of our biggest industrialist defaulters.
In contrast, 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.
As per the data provided by SBI to Mr Velankar, Bhushan Power & Steel Ltd, IRVCL Ltd and Videocon Industries Ltd are its biggest defaulters, and had not re-paid a single penny. Alok Industries Ltd is the biggest borrower in this list with a written off loan of Rs8,098.05 but has repaid Rs1,703.57 crore to SBI.
Here is the list of loan portfolios worth Rs500 crore and above that were written off by SBI.
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.
Topping that list of top-50 defaulters to Indian banks, was Mr Choksi's scam-hit company, Gitanjali Gems Ltd, which owed Rs5,492 crore, besides other group companies, Gili India Ltd and Nakshatra Brands Ltd, which had taken loans of Rs1,447 crore and Rs1,109 crore, respectively.
Mr Choksi is currently a citizen of Antigua & Barbados Isles, while his nephew and another absconder diamond trader Nirav Modi is in London.
The second in the list is REI Agro Ltd, with an amount of Rs4,314 crore, and its directors Sandip Jhujhunwala and Sanjay Jhunjhunwala who are already under the scanner of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) since over a year.
The next on the list in the Rs4,000-crore bracket is absconding diamantaire Jatin Mehta's Winsome Diamonds & Jewellery owing Rs4,076 crore and which is being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation for various bank frands.
In the Rs2,000-crore category, there is the Kanpur-based writing instruments giant, Rotomac Global Pvt Ltd, part of the famed Kothari group, which owed Rs2,850 crore.