Mudda looks at issue of NPAs, Gomti riverfront project

Wednesday’s edition of Mudda discussed what the government is doing to tackle the problem of Non-performing Assets (NPAs) and whether the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) can regulate them as well as the work on the Gomti riverfront in Lucknow and the investigation committee report revelations.

The participants included Chandra Bhushan Pandey, BJP spokesperson, foreign affairs expert SK Dutta, Congress leader Shehzad Poonawala, APN Consulting Editor Govind Pant Raju, environmental issues expert Vikrant Tongad, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Ravidas Mehrotra, and former Inspector General SP Singh. The debate was anchored by Himanshu.

Pandey asserted that the “finance ministry will bring the money back.” He said: “Banking is not in a very good state and NPAs have gone up but we are making efforts to bring in money, reduce NPAs, and also bring back Vijay Mallya.” He added: “No matter how important or big a person is, we will not spare him.” He also said: “Our government has fully empowered the RBI, it is a professional institution.” He then said: “The seed of this catastrophe was sown by a finance person who was also the PM of this country.”

Dutta cautioned that if the economic condition did not improve, worse things would happen. He said: “Before approving a load the banks need to take adequate measures. It is unfortunate that in our country we do not arrest such situations at the beginning but try only when they go out of hand.” Naming Mallya and Lalit Modi, he then questioned: “How did loan defaulters to the tune of crores manage to run away?” Saying extradition is very tough and the government is trying to bring them back, he lamented that “this situation would not have arisen had they not been allowed to leave.”

Poonawala entered the debate, claiming: “The NPAs have increased rapidly in the last two years. There is a loan of seven and a half lakh crores on Adani, Ambani and others who are close to you-know-whom.” He further said: “How did Mallya and Lalit Modi leave the country? Is it a failure of the Modi government or a strategy?” He also showed concern for the farmers in Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu who are committing suicide as they cannot repay their loans while big corporates “who keep Modi’s company” get loan waivers. He also questioned the independence of the RBI and demanded where the money collected from demonetisation went.

Raju pointed out: “It is easy for politicians to wash their hands of it but NPAs happen with assets which are more than a few years old.” He questioned: “Why was the loan given to Ambani and Adani in the first place? How did Mallya get a Rs 900-crore loan without doing any paperwork in 2006-2007?” He said: “Kingfisher was in a deplorable state, why then did the company receive the loan? Whose government was at the centre then?” The question was to Poonawala.

Poonawala retorted: “It is Modi’s government which, within a year of coming to power, wrote off the loans, calling them NPAs. Why did they not recover them, till that point the loans were being repaid.” He questioned: “How can you write off such big loans and then let the defaulters flee the country too?”

Singh said: “NPAs happen when a loan is defaulted on for more than 90 days. Writing it off is the next step. Before giving the loan, a feasibility study is carried out. Assets and collateral are checked. Goodwill is also taken as equity. It’s the banking sector’s job to check the net worth of the company before giving the loan.” Even as he attacked the Congress, he said: “I cannot pin the blame on any particular government.”

In the second segment of Mudda, Pandey said: “The Gomti riverfront project is a contract-driven project. It was a Rs 200 to 250 crore project but the costs just kept increasing. I have information and I am telling you that some people are going to go to jail. No corrupt person will be spared.” He added: “We still have to see what we do on this project. Environment assessment too will take place but the money of the people will not go to waste.”

Tongad said it was damaging to stop the work midway as “the remaining material will ultimately go into the river and disturb its ecology.” He said this project was not put in place “to create a good floodplain but just to create a tourist destination.” He added: “The riverfront was not needed, what was needed was to clean the water from some 27 big drains that falls into the Gomti untreated.” He said: “We need to help sustain the river for the sake of the river, not for our sake or its beautification.” He also rued that an Environment Impact Assessment never took place before the project started. He also said: “It is very sad that the new government is also taking this project forward, it looks like them and the old government are just hand-in-glove in this matter.” He regretted that “we are only talking of cost and corruption even as we know nothing will come out of the committee report while the river is suffering.”

Poonawala began by questioning “the Rs 1,200-crore Sabarmati riverfront project that took place when Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat.” He also asked: “Which Environment Impact Assessment report did Modi read before approving the festival by Ravi Shankar on the bank of the Yamuna in Delhi last year when the NGT had refused it?”

Mehrotra said: “We have tried to clean the Gomti and also construct the riverfront. If someone has been corrupt that person should go to jail. The Gomti is our faith and we want the water to become clean enough so that one may even drink it.”

Singh criticised the SP government riverfront beautification project, calling it “a bungle.” He said: “The catchment area should have been developed but former CM Akhilesh Yadav went to visit the Thames riverfront in London, came back and coolly passed an order to make the same in Lucknow along the Gomti.” He also said that the blame for cost escalation and other issues will not just fall on engineers but also on the politicians. He said: “Akhilesh Yadav is the main culprit” in the affair. He also said: “Rivers are important for the flora and fauna, let’s not make them a political, religious or a spiritual issue. We need rivers for our survival.”

Raju pointed out that the “committee report was on cost escalation, quality control, the work done and what was still pending, not on how the money of the people was wasted.” According to him the “objective of it was to just trap the technocrats and bureaucrats, whereas it’s Akhilesh Yadav’s government which is to be blamed.” He called it “a money minting project.” He also said that the “environment was never their concern as beyond Lucknow all big drains again fall into the Gomti untreated.” He ended his argument by saying: “Till the time the sewerage is not treated or diverted away from the river, the cement walls of the riverfront are anything but beautiful.”

Compiled by Shailaja Paramathma