Dismissing appeals filed by around 60 companies, the Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the amendment to the Securitisation Act that gave power to every financial institution to decide a period after which a bad loan can be declared as a non-performing asset (NPA).
Before the 2004 amendment to the Securitisation Act and Reconstruction of Financial Assets & Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002 (Sarfaesi Act), RBI was the regulator for the banking, non-banking and securitisation institutions for deciding the period after which loans could be treated as NPA. Till 2004, RBI had set the NPA period for banks at 90 days and at 180 days for NBFCs.
Power Finance Corporation has a six-month period to classify an asset as an NPA. Besides, there are a few other institutions like Exim Bank, National Housing Bank under NHB Act, Nabard, Rural Electrification Corporation and Indian Railway Finance Corporation who are governed by their own regulations.
The promoters of around 60 companies had moved the Supreme Court questioning every financial institutions power to decide its own NPA period, saying it is a violation of right to equality. They had also challenged the RBI’s competence to regulate all banking and NBFCs in this regard. A bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar, while dismissing the appeals, asked the distressed companies to pay 1% of their loan outstanding amount to the lenders as costs.
The ruling came on two batches of petitions against the high courts of Gujarat and Madras as both the courts have differed on the issue. The Gujarat High Court while striking down the powers of different regulators in defining NPAs (under Section 2(1)(o)(a) of the Securitisation Act, 2002) had restored the power of the RBI to decide the period after which the bad loan can be called as an NPA.
However, the Madras High Court while rejecting petitions of various companies and individuals, including Deccan Chronicle Holdings and Marg, had upheld the constitutionality of Section 2(1)(o) of the Act and the guidelines issued by the RBI on the classification of assets as NPAs. Interestingly, Delhi High Court had upheld this 2004 amendment in the securitisation law.
Challenging the Gujarat HC’s April order that termed the decision of Parliament to take away the power from RBI as wrong, the promoters and companies had alleged that its prudential norms defy the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
Questioning the reason for the difference of NPA periods among financial firms, they argued that the 2002 Act should be applied uniformly across all borrowers and challenged the RBI guidelines on income recognition, provisioning and asset classification under prudential norms as being unconstitutional.
“The RBI guidelines are discriminatory, arbitrary, unreasonable and ultra vires the Securitisation Act and that the definition of the NPA as per RBI is contrary, distinct and contradictory to the definition of the NPA under the Central Act, and hence, the same is unconstitutional,” senior counsel Soli Sorabjee had argued.
Debtors of various banks who have appealed against the Madras HC’s order said that issuing guidelines relating to asset classification is essential legislative function and, therefore, it cannot be delegated. They argued that the guidelines issued by the RBI cannot be used for defining NPAs and there should be a separate legislation in this regard.
Sarfaesi Act gives powers to seize and desist to the banks under which the banks need to send a notice in writing to the defaulting borrower requiring it to discharge its liabilities within 60 days. In case the borrower fails to comply with the notice, the bank can take either take possession of the security for the loan, sell or lease or assign the right over the security or appoint any person to manage the same.