Banks are stuck with nearly Rs 7,000 crore worth of loans they had advanced to the grounded airline and now appear almost impossible to recover.
The finance minister was speaking after a meeting with the heads of state-run banks in Delhi to review mounting non-performing assets of banks in the wake of the economic downturn as well as large number of stalled projects. "It was not a full-scale review. The agenda was limited to recovery of bad loans, and development and issues in stalled and new projects," he said.
The country's largest bank, State Bank of India BSE 0.74 %, later said it was taking all steps to recover loans to the grounded airline. "We are taking all steps for recovery (of Kingfisher loans)," SBI Chairman Pratip Chaudhuri said.
Chaudhuri said a core group was assessing which securities - assets against which the loans were given - could be sold quickly through an auction.
Stalled Projects Add to Problem
SBI has the maximum exposure, over Rs 1,600 crore, to Kingfisher Airlines. But Chidambaram also emphasised that banks would pursue recovery of bad loans without taking any action that would harm businesses, sending out a strong signal that NPA-saddled banks would not do anything to undermine economic recovery. "We are trying and banks are also trying to make distinction between wilful defaulters and people who are genuinely stressed and who have genuine problems," said financial services secretary Rajiv Takru. Gross nonperforming assets of public sector banks have risen from Rs 71,080 crore as of March 2011 to Rs 1.55 lakh crore as of Dec 2012.
The government has directed banks to constitute a board-level committee for monitoring loan recoveries, and sought review of NPAs worth Rs 1 crore and above by the board of directors. The finance minister said stalled projects in sectors like power, coal, iron, steel and road transport were adding to the problem of bad loans. "As many as 215 projects with investments of Rs 7 lakh crore are currently stalled, and banks have disbursed about Rs 54,000-crore loans towards these," he said.
Chidambaram said the government has identified the main reasons why projects were stalled. "The main reasons are coal linkage, environment clearances, land acquisition," he said, but added there was now greater confidence that some of the stalled projects would get going. The finance ministry will start holding sectoral meetings with state governments and promoters to "move things forward", he said. "The real problem is in road and power. There are 68 new projects in the road sector and 40 in the power sector. We have to get them going," he added.
Replying to a question on charges of money laundering by employees of three private sector banks, Chidambaram said RBI and the finance ministry were looking into the issue. "The department of financial services secretary is looking at it closely. RBI is looking at it closely. They (banks) themselves have instituted enquiries. Let's give them a little time to come up with the report of the enquiry," he added.