In a watershed moment for public sector banks, the government on Saturday assured them of zero interference in their operations. It also promised to consider the sector's blueprint for reform which, among others, suggested greater autonomy to these banks.
Briefing the media at the end of the two-day Gyan Sangam here on Saturday, Hasmukh Adhia, secretary, Department of Financial Services, said, "The Prime Minster has assured bankers there will be no interference from the government in the internal workings of any bank. He said 'you will never get a phone call from even the PMO, let alone anyone else'."
Earlier, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said there was need for more autonomy in public banks, which often faced contradictory directions from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the government. Speaking on the sidelines of the retreat, organised by the finance ministry, he said public sector banks needed more autonomy to improve efficiency.
"Banks have to be given a sufficient amount of leeway to deal with commercial issues with a commercial mindset… there is a need for bringing greater autonomy into them," Jaitley said.
At the retreat, PSBs had suggested the government cut its stake in these entities to less than 51 per cent over a period of time and empower the boards of individual banks. During the two-day Gyan Sangam, aimed at identifying steps to kick-start long-pending reforms in the banking sector, bankers told the government PSBs needed to shift from being state-owned to state-linked.
On its part, the government said it would consider the suggestions and take a decision on the matter soon.
"There are a series of steps the government has taken and now, there is a need for the banking system in India to finance infrastructure and infuse liquidity in a big way," Jaitley said.
In a nutshell, bankers suggested the government adopt the recommendations of the PJ Nayak committee, set up by Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan to improve governance in PSBs. The Nayak panel had said for a healthy banking system, the government should give up its control in PSBs.
While government stake reduction has been envisaged in the long run (after a period of two years), it has been proposed a 'bank bureau' be set up in the interim to support the creation of independent, high-performing boards.
Also on the cards is a bank investment company, in line with the Nayak committee's proposals, which will help the government cut its stake in PSBs.
According to the blueprint presented to the prime minister, who attended the concluding session on Saturday, banks have identified measures they have to implement, as well as another set of steps the government should take.
|RECOMMENDATIONS BY BANKS|
WHAT GOVERNMENT SHOULD DO
WHAT BANKS NEED TO DO
Source: Finance ministry
Banks have agreed they need to reorient their portfolios, particularly smaller ones, so that they can focus on niche areas to build capabilities and optimise capital.
They have sought the government's interference in their affairs be minimal, which the prime minister and the finance minister acknowledged. Banks also requested market distortions such as debt waivers and interest rate caps be done away with, and sought a stronger legal framework.
On the issue of consolidation, another important point of discussion at the two-day retreat, the finance ministry has said proposals in this regard should come from the banks concerned. Hasmukh Adhia, secretary in the Department of Financial Services, said while decisions in this field should be taken by banks, the government would sensitise banks about such needs, given the country needed large banks to support infrastructure development.
Adhia said the prime minister had, during his address to banks, emphasised the need for size and scale of Indian banks.
The government and the central bank have also agreed on the need to shore up banks' capital base. "The capital base of banks might need to be enhanced," a finance ministry release said, quoting RBI Governor Rajan.
Rajan also stressed the need to consolidate ownership and improve in governance. "PSBs need to recruit young talent, train and retain them. And, the government needs to re-look at campus recruitment, currently banned because of a Supreme Court ruling," he said.