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Can we recover the money – and save our face?


The Reserve Bank of India has disclosed that tens of thousands of rupees in bad loans were written off, with the consent of the central government.  The whopping amounts were  due from huge sharks guilty of wilful default that put the very economy in doldrums.  The list of defaulters,  whose debts were written off, include Mehul Choksi, the nephew of diamond dealer Niravi Modi who fled after taking a loan of Rs 15,000 Cr from Punjab National Bank,  Sanjay and Sandep Jhunjhunwala, who are facing CBI enquiry for the loan scam of Rs 3,871 Cr from a 14-bank consortium led by Uco Bank,  Vijay Mallya the liquor baron who escaped after taking loans from different banks to the tune of Rs 9,000 Cr,  Jatin Mehta under CBI probe for thousands of crores of business fraud, and saint-industrialist Baba Ramdev,  all put together spread across 50 companies.

The revelations from RBI have come at a time when current BJP government has been turning its back on Opposition criticism and is given to saving itself through confusing responses about the shady relations with business tycoons and colluding with them in financial frauds.

As a matter of fact, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had raised a question in Lok Sabha on 16 March to get the names and details of the top 50 bank loan defaulters,  who had put the very capital base of the banks in jeopardy.  But finance minister Nirmala Sitaraman was not prepared to give a reply.  What parliament witnessed then was the treasury bench led by finance deputy minister Anurag Thakur raising the appropriateness of Rahul Gandhi raising the question, and thus skirting the real issue.  Subsequently,  it was in response to a question raised under the Right to Information (RTI) Act by RTI activist Saket Gokhale that the RBI gave the real position: ever since the BJP came to power in 2014,  huge loan arrears of 50 companies were written off.

It is when the entire banking sector of the country is wobbling with bad loans of over Rs 10 lakh Crore  that a pack of the country's billionaires escaped to foreign lands without paying back thousands of crores.   And over the last few years, giant entities with assets of crores of rupees collapsed too.   Many of these white collar criminals,  who caused such a crash of the economy,  flourished and later parted ways during swindling,  under the umbrella of the BJP regime.  Not only was there no effort to bring them before law,  many of them were even provided exit channels to depart for alien havens too. 

There may be difference of opinion whether repeated instances of such losses and escapes were because of the inefficiency of the central government or because the tycoons were making good in collusion with with BJP government.   But the silence of the government,  and the report that has now broken that silence,  corroborate the allegation about the ruling elite's clandestine role,  raised not only by the Opposition,  but even many including the economic and political observers of the country.   These revelations – that prove the missing sincerity and confidence of the government – come at the same time when government claims to be making efforts to bring these crass crimnals back to the country.  To any question about financial crimes,  the prime minister and finance minister would give a stock reply that they would be caught and assets would be recovered.  The Central finance minister had also tweeted on 16 March that Rs 2,780.50 Crore was recovered from Choksi and Mallya.  It is in the midst of all this that RBI has let out the fact after gathering figures from various banks,  that the money siphoned off are now irrecoverable loans.

When facts, that were for long hidden from even parliament,  came out,  the central government is now struggling to cover its shame clutching on to technical aspects.  The response of finance minister was that the arrears were not written off as such but included in the list of non-performing assets (NPA),  which at any time is open to be recovered from defaulters.  And there are BJP leaders toeing her line with a a ridicule on Congress that the latter was talking absurdities of economics and banking sector,  despite Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram being among them.   But when the Reserve Bank,  quiite aware of the technical status of the loans,  has made it clear that they were written off,  it is the minister and the BJP leaders who are trying to create confusion by putting a different spin to it.

What the country wants to know is not to which technical classification the arrears of the debt plunderers belong – NPA,  bad loans or written off.   In a country where the common people trapped in bank loans are scared away to suicide,  the question that arises is whether the Centre is seeking any effective ways to arrest the wilful defaulters of billions of rupees and get back the money from them.  And they are people who have capitalised on their proximity to those in power or to those in leadership positions and thereby endangered the very existence of the country's banks and by its impact the very economy.   It is because of lack of confidence about it that the government dodges questions raised  in parliament.  If there is nothing shameful in it,  then from which shame are they trying to save themselves when actual data come into public domain? Can the government recover the money and the honour that the country has lost in the deal?

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