India clamps down on 'wilful' loan defaulters

India clamps down on 'wilful' loan defaulters

MUMBAI - Kemrock Industries and Exports owns a golf course near its plant in western India and its chairman, Mr Kalpesh Patel, talks of the high salaries he pays employees.

Still, the company has defaulted on loan payments of about US$250 million (S$314 million) and Mr Patel's banks, frustrated that they are unable to seize assets as he fights them in court, say they want to declare him a "wilful defaulter", a fast-growing category in India as bad loans mount.

The prevalence of so-called "wilful" defaults is symptomatic of what critics say is a loose credit culture that plagues Asia's third-biggest economy, keeping underperforming companies in business, crowding out other borrowers and leaving taxpayers on the hook to recapitalise state banks.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) defines a wilful defaulter as a borrower that is able but unwilling to pay, has diverted loan proceeds for other than their initially stated use, or has overstated profits in order to obtain a loan.

Policymakers have voiced growing concern about the problem in recent months, and are urging banks to get tough.

"In India, there is no stigma attached to defaulting on bank loans," said Mr Sharad Bhatia, president of stressed assets management at Axis Bank, India's No.3 private sector lender, which has filed a lawsuit against Kemrock in the western city of Ahmedabad to try to seize assets.

"The defaulters' ability to manage the system is much better than banks', so they can get away easily," he added.

State-run Allahabad Bank is also owed money by Kemrock and said it was trying to get it declared a wilful defaulter.

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