The new board of debt-laden Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) under Kotak Mahindra Bank managing director and CEO Uday Kotak could meet as early as Thursday to take stock of the situation and prepare an initial assessment of the crisis by October 8, a senior government official said on Wednesday.
The board is expected to firm up a preliminary resolution plan in a fortnight, he added. Warning of action against anybody involved in wrongdoing, another official said the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), which has already initiated a probe into the affairs of IL&FS and its subsidiaries, could file a tentative report on irregularities in around a month.
Mindful that vested interests may seek to sabotage the functioning of the new board, the government will ring-fence it from any potential court tussles by providing immunity through the NCLT. The new board will soon obtain the approval of regulators like the Reserve Bank of India and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi). Efforts will also be made to push for out-of-court settlements in certain cases where payments owed to IL&FS are stuck.
Any cash flow through expeditious resolution of these cases could help IL&FS meet some of its short or medium-term obligations, said the official. The government, which on Monday superseded the earlier IL&FS board, is trying to prevent the contagion of the crisis from spilling over to the broader financial system. As part of these efforts, state-run banks, being the largest lenders, may consider the possibility of restructuring certain outstanding loans to IL&FS, officials indicated.
The crisis-ridden company owes Rs 57,000 crore of its whopping Rs 91,000-crore debt to state-owned banks. “If the exposure of banks to the IL&FS Group is assumed to be about Rs 53,000 crore, then considering that the exposure of the entire banking sector to all the NBFCs is about Rs 3.3 lakh crore, IL&FS Group is not inconsequential, but, critical to the financial stability as its share in the total exposure of the banks to the NBFC sector is about 16%,” the ministry of corporate affairs had said in its petition at the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), while explaining the necessity to supersede the IL&FS board.
Pointing at a serious dereliction of duty, the ministry of corporate affairs has already informed NCLT that the risk management committee of IL&FS met only once between 2015 and 2018. Importantly, between 2014 and 2018, the infrastructure financier’s loans ballooned with consolidated debt climbing to Rs 91,091.3 crore from Rs 48,671.3 crore. Hemant Bhargava, managing director, Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), which has a 25.3% equity stake in IL&FS, was the chairman of the committee.
Even in its limited review report the statutory auditor SRBC & Co had drawn the company’s board of directors’ attention to the “existence of material uncertainty on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern” and the “management plan to raise funds”. The crisis at IL&FS was triggered by a series of defaults by its group companies in the last two months on term-deposits, short-term deposits, inter-corporate deposits, commercial paper and non-convertible debentures.
LIC is the largest shareholder of IL&FS, followed by Japan’s ORIX Corp (23.54%), Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (12.56%) and Housing Development Finance Corp (9.02%) as on March 31, 2018. Central Bank of India and State Bank of India hold 7.67% and 6.42%, respectively. The government will appoint CS Rajan, former chief secretary of Rajasthan, to the new IL&FS board that now comprises six members, including chairman Kotak. Separately, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance chairman and senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily said he will take up the IL&FS case for scrutiny.
He will discuss the crisis with representatives of LIC and SBI, which are key stakeholders of IL&FS, on October 30, and will also have talks with the new board of the company and even officials of the Union transport department. Moily will submit the report in 1-2 months, he said. Meanwhile, a look-out notice is being issued for former top executives of IL&FS, such as Ravi Parthasarathy, Ramesh Bawa, Hari Shankaran and K Ramchand, as the government fears they might flee the country.