The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to give the list of corporate defaulters who owe more than R500 crore to the banks and the data on number of cases pending in debt recovery tribunals (DRTs) and their appellate bodies for the last ten years. It also asked the government to apprise the court on whether the existing infrastructure, including judicial personnel and staffing pattern, of the DRTs are equipped enough to meet the revised timeline set down in the amended debt laws.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur directed the government to file an affidavit within four weeks giving “empirical data on the pendency of cases for more than ten years and the list of corporate entities where the amount outstanding is in excess of R500 crore”.
The court also asked the government to inform about the steps it intended to adopt to enhance the infrastructure of the tribunals, including time-schedules within which the existing infrastructure would be upgraded, so as to achieve the time frame for disposal of cases stipulated in the amended Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debts laws.
The apex court noted that since their inception in 1993 until October 31, 2015, the tribunals have disposed of 1,34,433 original applications leading to the recovery of R70,725 crore. Prior to the establishment of DRTs, as on September 30, 1990, more than 15 lakh cases filed by public sector banks and about 304 cases filed by financial institutions were pending before various courts. The amount involved was R5,622 crore in dues of public sector banks and R391 crore of financial institutions.
“Legislative changes to provide for expeditious disposal of proceedings before DRTs may not by themselves achieve the intended object so long as the infrastructure provided to the tribunals is not commensurate with the burden of the work and nature of judicial duties,” it said citing an instance where the chairperson of the DRAT had in December last year tendered his resignation for lack of infrastructure and facilities.
However, the SC clarified that the direction asking the government to file an affidavit “shall not in any manner affect the functioning of the Committee which has already been constituted by the government and whose report is awaited”.
The government had told the court that more than 70,000 cases involving R5 lakh crore approximately are pending before DRTs, of which many are pending for more than ten years. At present, 34 DRTs and five appellate tribunals are functioning in the country. In the fiscal 2015-16, these tribunals disposed of about 16,000 original applications involving R34,000 crore.
While hearing the PIL by the CPIL, the Supreme Court had in March last year taken suo motu cognizance of a newspaper report that R1.14 lakh crore of bad loans had been written off by state-owned banks between 2013 and 2015.
The petition, which was filed in 2003 by the NGO, had originally raised the issue of loans advanced to some companies by state-owned Hudco. The plea had said about R40,000 crore of corporate debt was written off in 2015.