November 19, 2018
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI)’s board is meeting in Mumbai today in the middle of an unprecedented public feud between the government and the central bank, which alleges attempts by the centre to undermine its autonomy. The liquidity crisis, lending restrictions on state-run banks and the transfer of excess reserves are likely to be discussed in the meeting. After efforts at a de-escalation, RBI chief Urjit Patel is unlikely to resign – as speculated by some reports – but sources predict a clash in the meeting over the centre’s demand for a special liquidity window for Non-Banking Finance Companies (NBFCs). In another likely flashpoint, the government has proposed a supervisory role for the RBI board, which has several of its nominees.
Here are top 10 updates on this big story:
The government has recommended that the board of the Reserve Bank – which functions in an advisory capacity – draft regulations to enable setting up of panels to oversee functions. These functions would include financial stability, monetary-policy transmission and foreign-exchange management. So far, despite RBI board’s advisory capacity, Governor Patel and his team have been taking their own decisions.
The appointment of S Gurumurthy, Subhash Chandra Garg and Rajiv Kumar – all nominated by the government on the board- is seen as an attempt to influence RBI. The members have been vocal about what they said are shortcomings in banking supervision, flow of credit to industry and easing liquidity norms for lenders.
The friction between the bank and the government is over three key issues – including excess reserves with the bank. RBI has surplus reserves of Rs. 3.6 lakh crore, which the government says can be used for development, sources said. RBI argues that these reserves are essential for possible emergencies.
The centre is also concerned about RBI’s restrictions on banks that have massive bad debts and a low capital base. RBI has barred 11 state-run banks from lending and demanded that they shore up their capital base.
On lending to non-banking financial companies and MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises), the bank says there is enough liquidity in the market and defaulting NBFCs are individual cases. The government wants the RBI to allow banks to lend more to these sectors, especially the MSMEs, which employ 12 crore people, who also suffered due to demonetisation.
On easing of “Prompt Corrective Action” – a set of rules that come into action when ailing banks breach regulatory requirements – the government maintains that the existing framework is hurting credit flow in the economy but the bank is averse to any change.
In a tweet, former Union minister P Chidambaram said, “Government is determined to ‘capture’ RBI in order to gain control over the reserves. The other so-called disagreements are only a smokescreen.”
There have been allegations that the government, keen on boosting economy in an election year, had asked the bank to part with a part of its surplus reserves. Mr Chidambaram’s party, the Congress, had said the amount could hover around Rs. 1 lakh crore crore.
When the Governor refused, the government took the “unprecedented step of invoking Section 7 of the RBI Act,” said Mr Chidambaram. Section 7 gives the government the power to consult and give instructions to the central bank chief in public interest.
Mr Gurumurthy has denied reports that the government was asking for central bank’s surplus reserves. The Centre, he said, only wants a policy on how much reserves it should hold. He said studies say reserves need to be 12 to 18.7 per cent of assets; what the bank has amounts to 27-28 per cent.