These banks could not have been allowed to come below the minimum capital requirement under international norms. So, this was a logical consequence. Also, instead of earmarking Rs 10,000 crore or Rs 20,000 crore in every Union Budget, the significantly higher amount of Rs 2.11 lakh crore should give a big push to PSBs.
Were there other options that the government could have explored?
I don’t think there were other options, besides privatisation. Even for that, some capital infusion would have been necessary to improve the banks’ books. As PSBs cater to 80 to 85 per cent of the system, this situation could not be allowed to continue.
However, there should be a realisation that this capital infusion, although absolutely required, is not a panacea. The government should ensure the credit allocation mechanism is not diluted and there is prudential credit decision and follow-up at every stage. Getting professional management is also very critical. Banks should get more autonomy and made more accountable.
Capital infusion is just the beginning, and all other steps like greater professionalism, better governance and more autonomy are required.
Corporate lending has been lagging. Will there be a pick-up after this infusion?
Corporate lending might not pick up immediately. It depends on the stress in corporate balance sheets and demand for credit. However, the focus of the government is on increasing the lending for small and medium enterprises. Loans for Rs 10 lakh, Rs 20 lakh or Rs 1 crore will definitely get a push from this move. Credit growth in private sector banks and non-banking financial companies is already quite good. Public sector banks can surely use this opportunity to restart lending to this sector.
Does this mean bank mergers will take a back seat?
I didn’t hear any talk about bank mergers during the announcement of the package. Even linking of the package to performance isn’t very clear. Mergers come with their problems. During the transition face of a merger, business almost comes to a halt. So, perhaps there is a view that with this capital infusion, banks should get on with their businesses. There was some reference to PCA (prompt corrective action) banks getting priority but this is not clear.
Is it also an admission that the National Company Law Tribunal route to resolving the NPAs of banks will be a long-drawn process in which banks may have to take large haircuts?
I don't think it is this or that. Capital infusion was essential and can make banks withstand the required haircuts. The important thing in our system is whether it penalises owners and promoters when there are haircuts or is it always banks that are holding the baby.