Twenty-nine state-owned banks wrote off a total of Rs 1.14 lakh crore of bad debts between financial years 2013 and 2015, much more than they had done in the preceding nine years.
In response to an RTI application filed by The Indian Express, the RBI disclosed that while bad debts stood at Rs 15,551 crore for the financial year ending March 2012, they had shot up by over three times to Rs 52,542 crore by the end of March 2015.
Asked about the details of the biggest defaulters, whether individuals or business entities, whose bad debts to the tune of Rs 100 crore or more had been written off, the RBI said: “The required information is not available with us.” Banks are required to report the bad debts on a consolidated basis, it said.
Even as the government has been trying to shore up public sector banks through equity capital and other measures, bad loans written off by them between 2004 and 2015 amount to more than Rs 2.11 lakh crore. More than half such loans (Rs 1,14,182 crore) have been waived off between 2013 and 2015.
Only two banks, State Bank of Saurashtra and State Bank of Indore, have shown zero bad debts in the past five years.
In other words, while bad loans of public-sector banks grew at a rate of 4 per cent between 2004 and 2012, in financial years 2013 to 2015, they rose at almost 60 per cent. The bad debts written off in financial year ending March 2015 make up 85 per cent of such loans since 2013.
The RTI reply also disclosed that bad debts have declined only four times since 2004. The last time was in 2011.
An analysis of the information available with the RBI till 2012-13 also shows that between 2009 and 2013, both the advances by public sector banks to individuals and business entities as well as their amount of bad debts written off doubled. From 0.33 per cent of total advances in 2009, bad debts rose to 0.61 per cent in 2013.
Bank-wise break-up shows State Bank of India, India’s largest bank, is way ahead of others in declaring loans as unrecoverable, with its bad debts shooting up almost four times since 2013 — from Rs 5,594 crore in 2013 to Rs 21,313 crore in 2015.
In fact, SBI’s bad debts made up 40 per cent of the total amount written off by all other banks in 2015 and were more than what 20 other banks wrote off. In 2014 too, the bank’s bad debts alone comprised 38 per cent of the total of all banks. The figure of bad loans for 2014 and ‘15 combined, Rs 34,490 crore, was Rs 10,000 crore more than that for between 2004 and 2013, Rs 23,992 crore.
The country’s second-largest public sector bank, Punjab National Bank, has also witnessed a consistent rise in bad debts since 2013. These grew by 95 per cent between 2013 and 2014 but climbed by 238 per cent between 2014 and 2015 — from Rs 1,947 crore in 2014 to Rs 6,587 crore in 2015.
Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan has repeatedly expressed concern over the health of public-sector banks, and pushed for steps to ensure that banks classify certain stressed assets as non-performing assets (NPAs) and make adequate provisions to “strengthen their balance sheets”, besides working out schemes of merger.
With public sector banks sitting on over Rs 7 lakh crore stressed assets, including NPAs and restructured loans, Rajan recently said the estimates of NPAs being 17-18 per cent are bit on the high side and that entities should be careful not to treat NPAs as total write-offs but see if they can change promoters and repay as the economy recovers. He also said that some banks would have to merge to optimise their use of resources.
Gross NPAs of public-sector banks rose to 6.03 per cent as of June 2015, from 5.20 per cent in March 2015. RBI has asked banks to review certain loan accounts and their classification over the two quarters ending December 31, 2015, and March 31, 2016.