Banking Regulations in India
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Banking Regulations in India

8 Min.

Basics

In India, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) holds the responsibility of overseeing the banking system, operating under the framework established by the Banking Regulation Act of 1949. To understand the regulatory landscape governing banks in the country, we delve into key aspects and relevant RBI circulars.

The lending practices in India adhere to specific limitations. Individual borrowers are subject to a lending cap of 15% of the bank's capital funds, encompassing both tier 1 and tier 2 capital. However, for infrastructure projects, this limit may be extended to 20%. In the case of group borrowers, the lending cap is set at 30% of the bank's capital funds, which can be increased to 40% for infrastructure projects. Additional lending beyond these limits requires approval from the bank's board of directors, allowing for a further 5% extension. It is important to note that lending encompasses both fund-based and non-fund-based exposure.

These regulations ensure prudent lending practices within the Indian banking sector, promoting stability and mitigating risks associated with excessive exposure to individual borrowers or groups. The RBI's continuous monitoring and implementation of these regulations contribute to the overall soundness of the banking system in India.

Regulatory Requirements for Banks in India

In India, banks are subject to specific regulatory requirements to ensure the stability and liquidity of the financial system. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) enforces these regulations, which include the Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) and the Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR).

Under the CRR, banks must maintain a minimum of 4% of their net demand and time liabilities (NDTL) as cash reserves with the RBI. These reserves do not earn any interest. The CRR must be maintained on a fortnightly basis, with daily maintenance required at a minimum of 95% of the prescribed reserves. Failure to meet the daily maintenance requirement incurs a penalty of 3% above the bank rate, calculated based on the number of default days multiplied by the shortfall amount.

In addition to the CRR, banks must maintain a minimum of 22% and a maximum of 40% of their NDTL as the SLR. This reserve can be held in the form of gold, cash, or approved securities. Any excess SLR holdings can be utilized for overnight borrowing from the RBI through the Marginal Standing Facility (MSF). The interest rate charged under the MSF is 100 basis points higher than the repo rate. Banks can borrow up to 2% of their NDTL through the MSF.

These regulatory measures, such as the CRR and SLR, are designed to safeguard the financial system's stability by ensuring that banks maintain adequate reserves to meet their liquidity requirements. The RBI's oversight and enforcement of these requirements contribute to the overall resilience and soundness of the banking sector in India.

Asset Classification and Provisioning in Banking

In the banking sector, non-performing assets (NPA) are categorized into three classifications: substandard, doubtful, and loss. An asset is classified as non-performing when there have been no interest or principal payments for more than 90 days in the case of a term loan. Substandard assets have NPA status for less than 12 months before being categorized as doubtful assets. A loss asset is one where repayment or recovery is not expected, and it is typically written off.

Provisions are made for substandard and doubtful assets to account for potential losses. For secured loans, a provision of 15% of the outstanding loan amount is required for substandard assets, while 25% is required for unsecured loans. The provisioning for the secured portion of doubtful assets varies from 25% for NPAs under one year to 40% for NPAs between one and three years. NPAs exceeding three years require 100% provisioning for both secured and unsecured portions.

Provisioning is also mandated for standard assets. Agricultural and small and medium enterprise sectors require a provision of 0.25%, while commercial real estate incurs a provision of 1% (0.75% for housing). The remaining sectors require a provisioning of 0.4%. It's important to note that provisioning for standard assets cannot be deducted from gross NPAs to determine net NPAs. Additional provisioning is necessary for loans extended to companies with unhedged foreign exchange exposure.

These asset classification and provisioning requirements are crucial for banks to mitigate potential losses and maintain healthy financial positions. By accurately assessing the quality of their assets and making appropriate provisions, banks can enhance their resilience and ensure sound risk management practices.

Promoting Inclusive Lending in the Priority Sector

The priority sector encompasses various sectors, including micro and small enterprises, agriculture, education, housing, and lending to economically disadvantaged groups known as "weaker sections." Domestic commercial banks and foreign banks with more than 20 branches are required to achieve a lending target of 40% of adjusted net bank credit (ANBC) or the credit equivalent of off-balance-sheet exposure, whichever is higher. Foreign banks with less than 20 branches have a target of 32%.

In the agriculture sector, loans should be disbursed in an amount equivalent to the credit equivalent of off-balance-sheet exposure or 18% of ANBC, whichever is greater. When lending to micro-enterprises and small businesses, 40% of the loans should be extended to enterprises with equipment valued up to 200,000 rupees and plant and machinery valued up to 500,000 rupees. Additionally, 20% of the loans should be provided to micro-enterprises with plant and machinery valued above 500,000 rupees but not exceeding 1 million rupees, as well as equipment valued above 200,000 rupees but not more than 250,000 rupees.

Loans to weaker sections, including specific castes, tribes, and small farmers, should amount to 10% of ANBC or the credit equivalent amount of off-balance-sheet exposure, whichever is higher. However, foreign banks with less than 20 branches do not have specific targets in this regard.

Private banks in India have traditionally shown reluctance to directly lend to farmers and weaker sections. This is mainly due to the disproportionately higher non-performing assets in the priority sector, accounting for an estimated 60% of total NPAs. To meet their lending quotas, private banks often acquire loans and securitized portfolios from non-banking finance corporations (NBFCs) or invest in the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF).

By fostering inclusive lending practices in the priority sector, banks can play a vital role in supporting economic growth, empowering marginalized communities, and addressing societal inequalities.

Promoting Responsible Banking With Revised Guidelines

The revised guidelines introduce new criteria for groups seeking a banking license. Applicants must demonstrate a successful track record of at least 10 years, and the bank must be operated through a non-operative financial holding company (NOFHC) fully owned by the promoters. The minimum paid-up voting equity capital requirement is set at five billion rupees, with the NOFHC holding a minimum of 40% initially and gradually reducing it to 15% over a span of 12 years. Furthermore, the bank's shares must be listed within three years of commencing operations.

Foreign shareholding is capped at 49% during the first five years of operation. Subsequently, approval from the Reserve Bank of India is required to increase the stake to a maximum of 74%. To ensure independence and transparency, the bank's board of directors must have a majority of independent directors. Additionally, the bank must comply with the priority sector lending targets mentioned earlier.

To maintain accountability and prevent conflicts of interest, both the NOFHC and the bank are prohibited from holding any securities issued by the promoter group. Furthermore, the bank is restricted from holding any financial securities held by the NOFHC. The new regulations also emphasize financial inclusion by mandating that 25% of the bank's branches be established in previously unbanked rural areas.

These revised guidelines aim to foster responsible banking practices, bolster governance standards, and enhance financial access for underserved communities. By adhering to these requirements, prospective banks can contribute to the inclusive and sustainable growth of the Indian banking sector.

Addressing Willful Default: Strengthening Regulations

Instances of willful default occur when a loan remains unpaid despite the availability of resources, when funds are misused for purposes other than their intended use, or when a property pledged as collateral is sold without the bank's knowledge or approval. Furthermore, if a company within a group defaults and other group companies that provided guarantees fail to fulfill their obligations, the entire group can be classified as willful defaulters.

To combat such actions, stringent measures have been put in place. Willful defaulters, including their directors, are barred from accessing funding, and legal proceedings may be initiated against them. In a recent regulatory update, the Reserve Bank of India expanded the scope of willful defaulters to encompass non-group companies as well. If these entities fail to honor a guarantee provided to a company outside the group, they can be labeled as willful defaulters.

These regulatory changes underscore the importance of honoring financial commitments and discourage willful defaults. By holding accountable those who deliberately evade loan repayments or misuse funds, the RBI aims to uphold the integrity of the banking system and protect the interests of lenders and stakeholders.

Conclusion

India's banking regulations reflect its goals and priorities for the financial sector. The Reserve Bank emphasizes stability and inclusiveness. While the regulations may seem conservative, they are necessary for a developing banking sector. Stringent capital requirements build trust, and priority lending aims to serve underserved individuals and sectors. Public banks handle most priority lending, but there is debate over the sector's definition. The Reserve Bank adapts regulations to promote growth and stability in India's financial system.

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