Amid 10 state-run lenders suffering losses of over Rs 15,000 crore in the March quarter, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has promised greater capital support to banks while warning that defaulters cannot be allowed to “sleep well”, leaving all the worry to bankers.
He also rejected suggestions that huge losses being posted by public sector banks (PSBs) were like “skeletons tumbling out”, saying NPAs were mostly due to business-related losses in certain sectors, rather than due to frauds, and one must “distinguish between chalk and cheese”.
Jaitley, who was on a six-day visit to Japan to attract investments, said the losses were because of provisioning to cover for bad debt and most of the banks including State Bank of India and PNB had good profits at an operational level. “Look at the balance sheets of these banks. Punjab National Bank operationally had a good profit, SBI had a good profit. It is the provisioning which makes it look like a loss,” the Finance Minister told PTI.
Stating that non-performing assets (NPAs) or bad loans have always been there, Jaitley said: “I think a transparent balance sheet is the best way of doing business and that’s what the banks are today doing. I am very clear, the government will fully strengthen the banks and fully support the banks where it is needed.”
On measures being taken to empower the banks, he said bankruptcy law is one empowerment while the strategic debt restructuring (SDR) mechanism of RBI is also there.
“What we are doing to several other recovery laws the Securitisation, Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT) itself is an empowerment. Therefore, you cannot indefinitely have a situation where people who owe money sleep well and bankers have to worry. I think the people who owe these monies will also have to act,” he said.
Asserting that all NPAs are not bank frauds, he said there may be some improper loans but there were large volumes of loans resulting from business losses or on account of sectoral losses.
“The loans were rightly given, sectors haven’t done well. So to say that these are all skeletons stumbling out (is not correct). A business loss is not a skeleton. A skeleton is something which is done as a scam or a scandal and therefore we must be careful to distinguish between chalk and cheese as far as the banking NPAs are concerned,” he said.
The Finance Minister said once the problem climaxes and the sectoral results start turning over, the situation would change.
Citing the example of PNB, he said the bank last year made a Rs 12,000 crore operational profit, which is not a low level of profit, but it declared loss because of NPA provisioning. “So it is the balance sheet provisioning which has led to that situation.”
These NPA loans were not given recently, Jaitley added.
“These are old loans which relate to sectors which have been under stress. Those sectoral problems have been addressed significantly. In many of those sectors, the balance sheet has started changing and therefore slowly it must relate to the banks itself and reflect on their balance sheet,” he said.
Against the backdrop of mounting bad loans and record losses of public sector banks, Jaitley will hold a quarterly performance review on Monday with the heads of PSBs and Financial Institutions.
He would “review the overall performance of PSBs during the financial year 2015-16 as well as with regard to the flow of credit to agriculture, insurance and MSE sectors among others”, the Finance Ministry said in a statement.