Parliament panel quizzes top bankers on Nirav Modi, Chanda Kochhar

The systems at ICICI Bank are strong and robust, but its CEO should have followed certain principles, top bankers told the Parliamentary Committee on Finance that is looking into the growing non-performing assets in the banking sector on Monday.

State Bank of India chairman Rajnish Kumar, who was representing the Indian Banks Association (IBA) and Punjab National Bank (PNB) chairman Sunil Mehta met the panel in Delhi.

On the issue of Chanda Kochhar, the panel was told, "On an individual level, certain principles need to be followed and the managing director and chief executive officer of the bank Chanda Kochhar should have adhered to it and not participated in those credit sanction meetings at the bank. So the consequences should be faced. But the systems of the bank are robust."

The panel was trying to get a feedback on the controversy surrounding Kochhar, who participated in credit meetings that approved sanctions to companies associated with her husband's firm.

Bankers, according the parliamentarian, painted an optimistic picture of the NPA situation, saying that it is coming under control. PNB chairman said that the Nirav Modi scam due to system failure of the Brady House branch of the bank.

Urjit Patel, Reserve Bank of India governor will face a parliamentary panel on June 12 when he will be questioned on the capital situation of the banks, frauds, NPAs, inability of the banks to lend after they have come under the prompt corrective action.

The Parliamentary Committee on Finance also questioned bankers on the rising number of frauds, non-performing assets (NPAs), the Nirav Modi scam.

According to a member who attended the meeting said, "SBI chairman was representing IBA. He was explaining how things are improving the banking sector, especially in the steel sector. With the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 in place, banks are also able to change managements."

Sunil Mehta, chairman, PNB, told the committee that the bank is revamping its systems. He told the panel that Nirav Modi fraud was perpetrated at just one branch.

The committee also asked banks about the inability of banks, especially the 11 banks under prompt corrective action (PCA), and the difficulties faced by the banks to lend.

The bankers said that most the compliance related to credit has improved in the last three months and NPA levels will come down in two-three months. Investment made by the government is also bearing fruit, they said.

One of the parliamentarians raised concerns on fund infusions into the banks, saying, "Whatever money that the government is giving is going down a hole and not rejuvenating the banks." To this SBI chariman told the panel, "We are trying to develop an ecosystem to improve the situation."

The panel asked the bankers if the ownership by the government is creating problem at public sector banks. To this SBI chairman said, "There are no issues."

"Even if there are any suggestions, finally it is the bank that takes the call," Kumar told the panel. The question was on the backdrop of banks completing 50 years of nationalisation in 2019.

Last week rating agency Fitch said in a report, "Cumulative losses at the state banks were large enough to wipe out almost all of the government's capital injections of $13 billion in fiscal 2018, and weak performance is likely to continue in the coming year. The government has earmarked another $11 billion for recapitalisation in fiscal 2019, which should allow banks to avoid breaching regulatory triggers. However, more government capital is required to stabilise banks' balance-sheets, meet regulatory requirements and support growth – given that there could be further (albeit lower) losses over the next few quarters."

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