Bad loan write off, window dressing by Indian banks; role of AI in minimizing financial frauds

By Dr Brajesh Kumar Tiwari

Last week, Minister of State for Finance Mr. Bhagwat Karad said in the Rajya Sabha that in the financial year 2021-22, commercial banks (Scheduled Banks) wrote off a total loan of Rs 1,74,966 crore. In which only Rs 33,534 crore has been recovered from the right-off loan. According to data from the RBI, during the course of the last six fiscal years, scheduled commercial banks (SCBs) wrote off a total of Rs 11,17,883 crore. Over the past five fiscal years, Scheduled Commercial Banks have recovered only Rs 1,32,036 crore from loan accounts that were written off.

State Bank of India alone wrote off loans worth Rs 1.65 lakh crore during the last four financial years. The total number of wilful defaulters each having an outstanding loan of Rs 25 lakh and above in public sector banks was 8,045 as on June 30, 2017, and 12,439 as on June 30, 2022; whereas in private sector banks, it was 1,616 as on June 30, 2017, and 2,447 as on June 30, 2022.

Bank non-performing assets (NPAs) are primarily the result of bad loans and scams. Any country’s banking system is the backbone of its economy. Because the amount deposited in the banks belongs to the citizens of the country, the excessive loss to the banks affects everyone in the country.

The public’s confidence in the banking system is being undermined by a new bank scam that appears in the press every few weeks. There are many bank scams in front of us including DHFL (35,000), ABG Shipyard (23,000 crore), Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi scam in PNB scam (11,400 crore), Liquor businessman Vijay Mallya (Rs 10,000 crore) banks, Andhra Bank Fraud (Rs 8,100 crore), PMC scam (Rs 4,355 crore), Rotomac Pen Scam (Rs 3,695 crore), Videocon Case (3,250 crore), Allahabad Bank Fraud (Rs 1,775 crore), Syndicate Bank Scam (Rs 1,000 crore), Bank of Maharashtra scam (Rs 836 crore), Kanishk Gold Bank Fraud (Rs 824 crore), IDBI Bank Fraud (Rs 600 crore), RP Info Systems Bank Scam (Rs. 515 crore) etc. Several Committees were set up earlier and voluminous reports were submitted; yet, sadly, they are never enough to prevent future Bad Loans.

However, there is a relief for banks as gross non-performing assets (GNPA) as of March 2022 have come down to a six-year low of 5.9 percent. Nevertheless, our NPA ratio is still higher than comparable countries UK (1.2%), Malaysia (1.6%), China (1.8%), Indonesia (2.6%), and France (2.7%). In the last few years, the NPAs of the banks have decreased, but the black reality behind it has been erased. Banks wrote off more than double the number of loans they recovered in 5 years.

As per RBI guidelines, such bad loans, for which, on completion of four years, the bank has made provision for the full amount in its account, are removed from the balance sheet of the bank, although this provision is made by the bank from its own resources and builds with public money only. This is also known as a write-off. Banks write off NPAs for the purpose of keeping their balance sheet clean and taking tax benefits. Banks claim that even after the loan is written off, pressure is put on returning the loan, however, if you look at the figures, it is known that more than 75 percent of the written-off loan is not recovered.

Information shared by the Reserve Bank of India reveals that just 312 big defaulters account for more than 76% of the total bad loans. While on one hand, the government is providing capital to the banks with taxpayers’ money, on the other hand, banks are putting large amounts of loan defaulters in cold storage. Today, questions are being raised on the policy, intention as well as monitoring of the banking institutions and investigative agencies in these bad loans. Today, the amount of stressed assets with Indian banks is about 10 lakh crores ($150 million), which is almost twice the GDP of Sri Lanka.

The application of artificial intelligence to monitor financial transactions can significantly minimize financial fraud. The adoption of digitalization, however, may be mistaken if it goes beyond a certain point because artificial intelligence only considers quantitative information not qualitative. Although the GOI and Reserve Bank of India have taken various steps to address the problem of banking industry scams, there is still a long way to go. India should build an early warning system (EWS) in the post-disbursement phase and enhance loan recovery procedures rather than continuously eliminating major corporate bad loans.

(Dr Brajesh K Tiwari is Associate Professor at JNU at the School of Management. The views expressed are author’s own.)

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