Read Editorial with D2G – Ep CCLXXIII (273)

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The arrests by the Central Bureau of Investigation of former IDBI officials are worth noting for timing, intent (determined to do (something)) and implications. The agency is investigating these officials, who had been at the helm (a tiller or wheel for steering a ship or boat) of the public sector bank’s affairs eight years ago, on charges of facilitating a ₹900-crore loan to the now-defunct (no longer existing or functioning) Kingfisher Airlines without due diligence (conscientiousness, assiduousness).

Two days after the arrests, a list that included former IDBI Chairman Yogesh Aggarwal, the Securities Exchange Board of India barred Kingfisher promoter Vijay Mallya and senior officials of group firm United Spirits Ltd. from securities dealings, and restrained (unemotional or dispassionate) them from holding directorial positions in listed companies.

Mr. Mallya owes banks close to ₹9,000 crore and has been in exile (the state of being barred from one’s native country) in the U.K. for nearly a year, even as his lenders have scrambled to recover their dues, with little success. Last week, after a three-year-long trial, the Debt Recovery Tribunal allowed a consortium (an association, typically of several companies) of 17 banks to recover from Mr. Mallya and his company’s outstanding dues of ₹6,200-odd crore plus interest related to the airline’s operations. For the Central government, Mr. Mallya’s flight to London has been a source of much embarrassment (financial difficulty), with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley terming the bad loans a legacy from the UPA days.

Amidst the rising pile of non-performing assets in government-owned banks, wilful defaulters were said to be responsible for around ₹77,000 crore of bad debts by last July, but the Kingfisher baron (an important or powerful person in a specified business or industry) has emerged as the poster boy of the problem. Therefore the flurry (a small swirling mass of something, especially snow or leaves) of action on his bad loans, however belated, could help counter perceptions of a passive approach towards the well-heeled.

Breaking the banker-borrower nexus (a connection or series of connections linking two or more things) is just as critical for safeguarding public money as is acting against corrupt administrators, but a timely and transparent system is needed to ensure that bankers don’t turn wary of extending credit at the slightest hint of risk. The fear of investigative agencies and adverse audit reports was blamed for the so-called policy paralysis in the UPA’s second term. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, early in his term, urged officers to take bold decisions without fear of retribution (punishment inflicted on someone as vengeance for a wrong or criminal act) and promised to stand by them for decisions taken in good earnest.

That promise requires making some necessary amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act, particularly the much-too-broad and subjective Section 13(1)(d) that has resulted in many an honest officer being charge sheeted for the corruption of others. If there is malfeasance (wrongdoing, especially (US) by a public official) involved in the IDBI loan, action must be swift and exemplary ((of a punishment) serving as a warning or deterrent) — but to ensure circulation of credit, systems must also be put in place to reassure bankers against random witch-hunts.