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RBI board meeting on Monday; likely to reach common ground on some key issues

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RBI

New Delhi | The ongoing rift with the government is set to play out at the RBI’s crucial board meeting Monday, with the Finance Ministry nominees and some independent directors expected to take on Governor Urjit Patel and his team over issues ranging from MSME credit to the central bank’s reserves, though both sides are in favour of reaching a common ground.

While there have been reports and demands from some quarters for the Governor to step down, sources said Patel is unlikely to yield under pressure and will rather mount a strong defence of the central bank’s policies regarding stringent NPA recognition norms as well as measures taken to ease credit supply to MSMEs.

Patel and his four deputies, who all are members of the RBI’s 18-member central board, will present a united front, while a few independent directors too are expected to support the central bank’s mission to clean up bank balance sheets, sources said. The central board, headed by the RBI Governor, is expected to discuss issues mentioned in the agenda circulated to the board members in advance. Off-agenda items can also be raised in the meeting, with the chair’s permission.

The RBI’s central board currently has 18 members, though the provision is that it can go up to 21. The members include Governor Urjit Patel and his four deputies as ‘full-time official directors’, while the rest 13 have been nominated by the government, including two Finance Ministry officials — Economic Affairs Secretary and Financial Services Secretary.

Sources said the government and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) are looking to reach at an agreeable solution with respect to relaxation of the Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) framework and easing of lending norms for the MSME sector. If not in this board meeting, the issue of relaxation of PCA framework would reach a resolution in the next few weeks, they added. As a result of the relaxation, some banks may come out of the PCA framework by the end of this fiscal.

Of the 21 state-owned banks, 11 are under the PCA framework, which imposes lending and other restrictions on weak lenders. These are Allahabad Bank, United Bank of India, Corporation Bank, IDBI Bank, UCO Bank, Bank of India, Central Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce, Dena Bank and Bank of Maharashtra.

The PCA framework kicks in when banks breach any of the three key regulatory trigger points — namely capital to risk weighted assets ratio, net non-performing assets (NPA) and return on assets (RoA).  Globally, PCA kicks in only when banks slip on a single parameter of capital adequacy ratio, and the government is in favour of this practice being adopted for the domestic banking sector as well. The RBI is also expected to consider a special dispensation for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) which have been facing liquidity issues.

The government feels that the MSME sector — which employs about 12 crore people and plays a critical role in the economy — needs some support after being impacted by demonetisation and implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). However, the central bank has been averse to the government’s demand as it considers the sectors to be vulnerable.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Saturday said that growth must not be throttled by limiting credit availability and liquidity. It is necessary that the growth process does not suffer due to the cleaning up of the banking system from the “collectively committed sins” during 2008-14 when the regulatory mechanisms also overlooked high debt accumulation, he said.

Amid growing tensions with the central bank, the Finance Ministry had sought discussions under the never-used-before Section 7 of the RBI Act which empowers the government to issue directions to the RBI Governor.

RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya had in a speech last month talked about the independence of the central bank, arguing that any compromise could be “potentially catastrophic” for the economy.

In his first public comments since the spat between the RBI and the Finance Ministry came out in the open, Swadeshi ideologue S Gurumurthy had last week said the stand-off “is not a happy thing at all”.

Gurumurthy, who was appointed to the board of RBI a few months back, had said the capital adequacy ratio prescribed in India is 1 per cent higher than the global Basel norms. He also pitched for easing lending norms for small and medium enterprises, which account for 50 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Last month, RSS-affiliated Swadeshi Jagran Manch said the RBI Governor should work in sync with the government or resign.

“The Reserve Bank of India Governor should work in sync with the government or otherwise resign,” SJM’s co-convener Ashwani Mahajan had said.

National

Delhi government unearths Rs 262 crore cyber-tax fraud: Manish Sisodia

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arvind kejriwal

New Delhi | The Delhi government has unearthed a cyber-tax fraud totaling Rs 262 crore committed by over 8,700 traders who were found showing fraudulent tax deposits into 13 banks since 2013, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said Wednesday.

Sisodia, who also holds the finance portfolio, said that the Trade and Taxes Department has registered a complaint with the Delhi Police’s Economic Office Wing (EOW) for registration of FIRs into the matter.

“Delhi govt Tax authorities hv unearthed a big cyber-tax fraud. More than 8000 registered dealers have been found showing fraudulent tax deposits into 13 banks. The matter has been handed over to EOW, Delhi Police. AAP govt believes in zero tolerance to any corrupt practice (sic),” Sisodia tweeted.

Earlier in the day, the deputy chief minister said that during the scrutiny of suspected fraud transactions, it was noticed that such kind of fraud had been continuing since 2013 and it was going on until it was detected by the department.

“The government has detected cyber-tax fraud of Rs 262 crore. As per our initial investigation, around 8,700 traders were involved in the fraud. It is a very serious issue that should be investigated thoroughly by probe agencies,” he said.

Sisodia also said that the traders who were found involved in this fraud had tracked bank IDs and passwords, and also showed that they have deposited tax online, but in reality, they were not depositing tax.

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Supreme Court to hear Indigo Airlines challenging Meghalaya HC order to make Umroi airport operational

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Supreme Court

New Delhi | Indigo airlines on Wednesday moved the Supreme Court challenging the Meghalaya High Court direction to all commercial operators and the Ministry of Civil Aviation to urgently take a decision to start flights from Umroi airport, 30 km from capital Shillong.

The apex court was told that the high court on its own had last week taken up the matter and asked the Director General of Civil Aviation, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation and Airport Authority of India Chairman to hold a meeting within a week on the issue of making the airport operational.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Indigo Airlines, mentioned the petition before a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, which agreed to give it an urgent hearing on Thursday.

The bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, was told that the airport was not ready for landing of big aircraft and does not have fire-fighting facilities. “The operation can’t start,” Rohatgi submitted before the bench.

The high court on December 7 had directed that the exercise for taking decision to make operational the airport has to be completed within seven days and had posted the matter for further hearing on December 14.

Besides Indigo, other operators were also represented by their advocates before the high court. The brief hearing also witnessed lighter moments when the bench told Rohatgi that he will now be identified as as Indigo’s counsel. “You will have tremendous disadvantage,” the CJI said indicating there would be lot of requests to him.

When Rohatgi mentioned the matter, the CJI asked him “Who are you?”  He replied “I am Indigo.”

“We are always going to remember you are Indigo. You may have tremendous disadvantage since you are Indigo,” Justice Gogoi said evoking quick response from Rohtagi that “I will get it fixed if there are difficulties”.

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J&K Bank Under Siege

Ali Azar

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J&K Bank

At a time when the banking sector is heavily in focus for all the wrong reasons and a valiant effort is being made to cleanse it of all its wrong-doing over decades, every move is scrutinized with greater detail in a sector that is in the midst of a massive overhaul. The sector has seen it all – new regulations such as IBC, mergers, bailouts, scandals, scams, swindles; basically the whole lot, or so we thought. The latest to come our way from the stables of the beleaguered industry is a little known but hotly contested takeover by the government of Jammu and Kashmir Bank.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is special in so many ways – from it being granted autonomous status by virtue of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to being famous for its beautiful mountainous landscape and numerous shrines to being the only Indian state to have a Muslim majority, one thing is for certain; Jammu and Kashmir does it differently. Keeping in tune with this theme, the state’s premier institution and its only listed company; Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Bank is indeed an example of this uniqueness. J&K Bank, incorporated in 1938 is the only bank in the country to be majority owned and controlled by the state government instead of the central government. 59.3% of this bank by virtue of its shareholding belongs to the government of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in all public sector banks, it is the central government that holds a majority stake, as banking is a central subject. The Srinagar headquartered bank is classified as an “old private sector bank” even though the government owns a majority stake. The important implications of this structure is that financial control of J&K Bank lies within the authority of the state and the bank does not come under the auspices of the right to information act (RTI Act) and central vigilance commission (CVC), an apex body created to address governmental corruption.

On the fateful day of 22nd November 2018 the State Administrative Council (SAC) under the chairmanship of Governor Satya Pal Malik approved an eyebrow-raising decision when it announced that J&K Bank Ltd. would be made into a public sector undertaking thereby becoming accountable to the state legislature and being brought under the purview of RTI Act and CVC. The announcement drew a tremendous amount of flak and kicked up a political storm with all major political parties from the valley including former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), National Conference (NC) and Peoples Conference (PC) voicing their discontentment. Further, The Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA), a collection of trade unions in the valley has threatened a statewide agitation if the decision was not rolled back.

But what is the big deal in converting an organisation whose majority is already held by the government into a public sector unit and make them more accountable and transparent? If one ponders into the realm of the unsaid the answers are not very difficult to stumble upon. For a bank whose network comprises 924 computerised branches spread over 24 states across the country and controls over 60% loans and deposits in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the bank is a treasure trove for any political party that is given the keys to its financial machinery. Extending questionable loans and advances is well within the realm of any political party. The bank is also not a stranger to accusations of lack of transparency in its operations with the latest being a controversy triggered by an appointment of 582 candidates believed to be politically motivated. In the light of these facts and to ensure that the bank is being managed under the supervision of the centre, just as all other PSUs are, it can perhaps be concluded that Governor Satya Pal Malik’s intention to bring the bank within the centre’s control is bona fide. But in the corridors of Indian politics things are seldom what they are projected to be.

The circumstances under which this decision was made is also a matter of contention. After BJP broke its alliance with PDP in Kashmir and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti resigned, President Ram Nath Kovind imposed Governor’s rule in the state on June 20th 2018 for the eighth time in its history. Kashmir being Kashmir, the element of uniqueness is not far behind. In normal cases, in a situation where the state government collapses for lack of majority, President’s rule is imposed. In Kashmir, an additional layer is provided by virtue of its separate constitution. Therefore, Governor’s rule is imposed for a period of 6 months and only after this period of 6 months; the state is placed under President’s rule. It is within this 6 month window when the Governor, who is a BJP leader and is not answerable to the joint forces of the PDP and BJP, attempted to take control of the crown jewel of the state, J&K Bank. It is feared that once the bank becomes a PSU, there are concerns that it will be open to interference by centre on issues of recruitment, lending and loan settlement. Besides, the track records of PSU banks in the country is not desirable, with most of them being mismanaged and loss-making and are placed under various lending restrictions (PCA framework etc). Further, some were even of the opinion that the governor was beyond his authority in making such a decision, as usually, no major operational decision is taken under governor’s rule and the governor, in this case, was thought to be acting like the Chief Minister.

After prolonged protests from various quarters of the state including political parties, unions, separatist leaders, trade and industry bodies and employees, Governor Satya Pal Malik decided against this takeover and announced that “no changes are being made here or announced” and this decision would be kept on the back burner for now, to the relief of many concerned parties. Although for now this controversial decision was reversed, facts surrounding the incident still beget the question, what was the intention of this move and who would be the ultimate benefactor?

After prolonged protests from various quarters of the state including political parties, unions, separatist leaders, trade and industry bodies and employees, Governor Satya Pal Malik decided against this takeover and announced that “no changes are being made here or announced” and this decision would be kept on the back burner for now, to the relief of many concerned parties. Although for now this controversial decision was reversed, facts surrounding the incident still beget the question, what was the intention of this move and who would be the ultimate benefactor?

 

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