At State Bank of India’s (SBI) headquarters in Mumbai, the recovery department was in a celebratory mood last month. As the news of recovering from an account after an almost 30-year-long legal battle came in, a small party was organised to felicitate the case officer who oversaw the recovery. The bank recently recovered R21 crore from a private limited company, which had taken loans in 1981. The account then turned into a non-performing asset (NPA) in March 1983.
According to bank officials, the suit for recovery was first filed in 1986 in Bombay High Court, after which the company engaged the bank into multiple litigations in the Supreme Court, DRT, DRAT and Bombay High Court.
“There were a total of 19 judgements in favour of SBI between 1992 and 2014,” a banker said. Last two judgements that drove the recovery were the High Court verdict on a writ petition of April 2014 and the rejection of an interim relief by the presiding officer of a DRT in the appeal of October 2014.
“Even when the litigation continued for close to three decades, the bank did not give up hope of recovery. In fact, the case officer sought SBI’s permission to engage a particular lawyer with great track record in recovery disputes,” said a banker.
This is part of the bank’s initiative to recover from accounts which have been taken off the balance sheet or have been written off. According to SBI’s analyst presentation, the bank recovered R602 crore from written-off accounts, up 85% from the same period last year.
“Just because the loan has been taken off our balance sheet does not mean that recovery procedures stop,” an official said, adding the bank has a special team that looks into accounts taken off the balance sheet.
This case highlights the delay in the debt recovery through the legal system. Even as bankers rely on debt recovery tribunals (DRTs) as a legal alternative to recover their bad loans, RBI data show loans worth more than R2 lakh crore were pending at 33 tribunals till FY14, up from R1.43 lakh crore in FY13.
Bankers say even when a case is resolved, the DRT issues recovery certificates to the lenders and takes close to a year to locate the assets of the borrower and then find buyers
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan had recently said the amount recovered from cases decided in 2013-14 under DRTs was R30,590 crore while the value of loans sought to be recovered was R2.36 lakh crore.
Thus, only 13% of the outstanding NPAs in the tribunals were recovered in FY14.