An Indian government policy that enables large corporations to lend money with the backing of India’s state bank has been slammed by a commission of experts. In January 2022, the Peoples’ Commission on Public Sector and Public Services urged authorities to reverse the policy, including a deal between the State Bank of India and the Adani Group. The experts and its supporters warn the policy paves the way for India’s large corporate conglomerates to gain even more power over the lives of farmers and other small enterprises.
This is the text of the Commission’s statement which has been backed by over 70 NGOs and prominent people:
Demand to Reverse the SBI-Adani Capital Deal
16 January 2022
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) should reverse its policy with regard to allowing Non-Banking Financial Companies (like Adani Capital) to have tie-ups with Public Sector banks (PSBs), like the State Bank of India, for co-lending to farmers and other small borrowers. The undersigned demand an immediate reversal of this arrangement as it will have serious implications for the public.
The immediate context
There are reports in the media that the State Bank of India (SBI), India’s largest bank, has signed a master agreement with Adani Capital, belonging to the Adani Group, for co-lending to farmers. Ostensibly, the arrangement is for the purchase of inputs including tractors and farm implements in order to ‘increase efficiency in farm operations and improve productivity of crops’. We outline below our multiple apprehensions with regard to such an ill-fated move and it is our appeal that the RBI steps in to reconsider and roll back.
The SBI is the largest bank in India with 22,219 branches, 245,652 staff and 71,968 business correspondents, with a track record unparalleled in the history of banking in the country and, like other PSBs, is driven by the social objectives of the nation. PSBs like the SBI have had a great role in reducing income inequalities, minimising regional imbalances, ensuring affirmative action to correct historic injustices, and so on. On the other hand, private Non-Banking Financial Companies’ (NBFC) capacity and operations are very limited and are driven exclusively by their overarching objective of maximising profits. We wish to express our deep concern at the RBI, whether deliberately or otherwise, contributing to this unfortunate situation in which small borrowers, especially those in the informal sector of the economy, have paid a heavy price.
- We are rather alarmed by the fact that while the RBI has itself cancelled licences and even blacklisted a large number of NBFCs (1701 in 2019 alone), it has permitted this arrangement of co-lending by banks and NBFCs.
- The RBI, as the banking-sector regulator, has repeatedly urged banks to lend more to NBFCs. Incidentally, such loans also qualify for Priority Sector lending targets set for banks. An arrangement such as the one cited here paves the way for NBFCs owned and controlled by the large business conglomerates to make a backdoor entry into the unorganized sector on a much larger scale, riding on the back of a banking behemoth, the SBI.
- The banking-sector regulator has stipulated that NBFCs provide at least 20% of the loan amount. Moreover, they are to do online verification of Know Your Customer (KYC) Identification, storage of data, capture live images, pay e-stamp duty, report credit information and other such functions. In effect, these stipulations ensure that the NBFCs become the first point of contact for borrowers which in the long run is disadvantageous to the borrowers, exposing them to greater risks.
- Small borrowers would be totally dependent on the NBFCs, a situation comparable to the pre-nationalisation era when money lenders and traders controlled most of the lending to farming and small businesses, charging usurious rates of interest to the farmers’ detriment.
- It appears appropriate lessons have not been drawn, while taking such a move, from the fiasco since 1991 of allowing the entry of private promoters in the banking sector, which has resulted in the defrauding of depositors. In fact, several public-sector banks were forced to take over such banks in order to protect the interests of depositors. The subsequent entry of inadequately regulated NBFCs and the crisis that followed, especially at the hands of micro-financing agencies, which drove thousands of small borrowers to suicide is still fresh in memory.
- Worryingly, we find that some of the NBFCs belong to groups of companies owned and controlled by corporate houses that are already heavily indebted to the public-sector banks. Persuading the latter to co-lend with such NBFCs would involve a conflict of interest that could adversely affect the interests of the banks’ depositors.
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The SBI-Adani partnership is worrisome
Adani Capital belongs to an industrial conglomerate, which has already gained significant interests in the storage and transportation of agricultural products, particularly food grains. Indeed, the Food Corporation of India (FCI), another large Central Public Sector Undertaking, for no justifiable reason, has outsourced the same to corporate houses, including the Adani Group. The conglomerate provides end-to-end supply-chain solutions, operates grain silos and other large storage facilities, controls dedicated railway tracks and rolling stock, supplies technology, purchases fresh products, manufactures food products and markets them, in effect forcing the farmers into its fold, a situation that has already caused nationwide concern among farmers.
Demand to reconsider
We are aggrieved by the fact that the RBI issued such a notification without holding wide-ranging consultations with all stakeholders, especially the farmers. To us, it appears to be part of the concerted efforts of late on the part of the government to bring small borrowers, including the farming community, within the fold of corporate business – the most recent example being the farm laws that were rolled back finally after a year-long farmers’ agitation.
We believe that the SBI has the capacity to increase credit to farms and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) through its own branches. It can convert its 71,968 Customer Service Points into small branches, which will provide regular employment to youth and increase credit in the rural and semi urban areas.
Considering the fact that the NBFC sector is inadequately regulated and therefore poses risks that the economy can ill afford to bear, we feel that there are compelling reasons for RBI to stop issuing licenses to corporates to run NBFCs.
We demand that the RBI review its policy on persuading the banks to tie up with the NBFCs for co-lending to the borrowers, as it would yield no benefits to the banks, nor would it be in the long-term interest of the small borrowers.
- T. M. Thomas Isaac, Former Finance Minister, Kerala
- Justice Hari Paranthaman (retd) Judge, Madras High court
- Aditi Mehta, Former Additional Chief Secretary, Rajasthan
- Dr C P Chandrasekhar, Retired Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
- EAS Sarma, Former Secretary, Ministry of Power & Economic Affairs, Govt of India
- Indira Jaising, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India
- S. P. Shukla, Former Member, Planning Commission
- Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University
- P. Sainath, Founder Editor, People’s Archive of Rural India
- R Nagaraj, Visiting Professor, Centre for Development Studies
- Utsa Patnaik, Professor (retd), Jawaharlal Nehru University
- V P Raja, Former Chairman, Maharashtra State Electricity Regulatory Commission
- V Sridhar, Senior Journalist
- Venkatesh Athreya, Hon Professor, Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation, Thiruvananthapuram 15. Alok Perti, IAS (retd)
- Amitabha Pande, IAS (retd)
- Avinash Mohananey, IAS (retd)
- Hyndal Tyabji, IAS (retd)
- K P Fabian, IFS (retd)
- Meena Gupta, IAS (retd)
- Nagalsamy, IAS (retd)
- Navrekha Sharma, IAS (retd)
- Rajdeep Puri, IRS (resigned)
- S P Ambrose, IAS (retd)
- Sundar Burra, IAS (retd)
- Surendranath, IAS (retd)
- Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA)
- Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM)
- Financial Accountability Network India (FAN India)
- Let India Breathe
- ROSA, Tamilnadu
- The Research Collective
- Toxics Watch Alliance (TWA)
- A V Joseph Former Treasurer, All India Bank Officers Confederation
- Anil Sadgopal, All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE)
- Annie Namala, Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA)
- Archana Prasad, Professor, CISLS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
- Asha Mishra, Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samithi & All India People’s Science Network
- Ashok Choudhary, Working President, All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP)
- C P Krishnan, Joint Secretary, Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI)
- Chirashree Das Gupta, Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
- C H Venkatachalam, General Secretary, All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA)
- Deepak Das, Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee (JMACC)
- Dr. S. G. Vombatkere, NAPM (Karnataka)
- Gautam Bandyopadhyay, Nadi Ghati Morcha - India
- Gautam Mody, New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI)
- Harinarayan Vazhuthakad
- Himanshu Damle, Public Finance Public Accountability Collective (PFPAC)
- Jagdeep S. Chhokar, Professor (retd), IIM Ahmedabad
- Johnsily, President, MALAR SHG Federation
- Krishnakant, NAPM Gujarat
- Mariam Dhawale, General Secretary, All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA)
- Meera Sanghamitra, National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM)
- Maj. Priyadarshi Choudhury (retd), GPF 55. Partha S Bhattacharyya, Former Chairman Coal India 56. P. Rajamanickam, General Secretary, All India Peoples Science Network (AIPSN)
- R Sreedhar, Environics Trust
- Rajender Ravi, People’s Resource Centre & Institute for Democracy and Sustainability
- Raj Kumar Sinha - Bargi Bandh Visthapit Evam Parbhavit Sangh
- Ramesh Jerai, Jharkhandis Organisation for Human Rights (JOHAR)
- Ravindranath, River Basin Friends
- Santi Tiriya, Jayanti Kairam, Omon Mahila Sanghatan, Noamundi, Singhbhum West, Jhakhand
- Sabayasakshshi Chatterjee, Former President, All India Peoples Science Network (AIPSN)
- Shabnam Hashmi, Social Activist
- Shweta, Society for Rural Urban and Tribal Initiative (SHRUTI)
- Soumya Dutta, Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha
- Surajit Mazumdar, Professor, CESP/SSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
- Sushil Khanna, Professor (Retd.) of Economics and Strategic Management, IIM Calcutta
- Thomas Franco, Former General Secretary, All India Bank Officers Confederation & Joint Convener, People First
- T Senthilkumar, Former Secretary, All India State Bank Officers Federation
- Yash Marwah, Climate Change Campaigner