Onus of bad loan on borrower: Raghuram Rajan

Banks have to be concerned whether a loan is performing or not and need not look into the mechanism that made it a bad asset. Nor should they be worried about some ''big names and big companies'' that are linked to the problem, Reserve bank governor Raghuram Rajan said.

Delivering the Inaugural Kotak Family Distinguished Lecture at Columbia Law School, he said the issue of bad loans gets ''loaded with a lot of morality'' and it is necessary to keep criminal liability separate to put stressed assets back on track.

''What is happening on the NPA front...this becomes loaded with a lot of morality; are these good people, bad people. I think one should take out the morality from the NPA clean-up,'' he said.

No asset is bad, it can produce value and can function given a chance. But its performance depends on its handler, Rajan asserted. In any case, he said, the ''asset is not a criminal.''

He was replying to a query whether non-performing assets were a concern for him given that some ''big names and big companies'' are linked to the problem.

Rajan said the NPA clean-up is simply about whether the loan is ''performing or not performing. It may have become non-performing simply because you had terrible luck or somebody else's fault. Somebody cancelled your licences, didn't give you approvals on time, your partner didn't perform. There could be all sorts of reasons why companies get into trouble.''

If companies get into trouble, the loan becomes a non-performing asset and ''we very much want these assets to be back on track,'' he said.

At the same time, Rajan noted that there exists some intrensic criminality in at least a few cases. It is also possible that the borrower and officials at the lender banks are at fault.

''It is a completely separate issue of who to blame and whether there is criminal liability involved. In a fraction of the cases there may be criminal liability involved. That should be separated from the whole issue of putting the assets back on track,'' he said.

Asserting that the ''asset is not a criminal'', he said the asset can produce value and can function. ''It should be allowed to produce value even while there is a separate case going on if there was criminal activity involved,'' he said.

Rajan emphasised that the government has said very clearly it will not interfere in the process of granting loans and ''I think that is a very important development. The next stage has been on trying to improve the administrative structure in the banks.''

Rajan said the Reserve Bank has a responsibility to ensure that the banking sector is well oiled and that they have enough room to lend and that the clean-up of stressed assets is part of the stabilisation agenda.

''We do want to have our banks get their money back. For that we need a proper bankruptcy system, a court system that functions in finite time and we didn't have that in the past,'' he said.

He said ''there is a reasonable chance'' that the bankruptcy code bill will be passed soon, which will ensure a fully functioning system ''where you can renegotiate outside of bankruptcy but the shadow of bankruptcy keeps you from getting away with too much either on the banking side or the promoter side.''