Carrying forward its efforts to clamp down on corruption, particularly on economic offenders, the central government has drawn up a no fly list of 91 people from wilfully defaulting firms (those that refuse to repay loans despite having the means) while the parliament began considering a bill to confiscate the assets of other fugitive offenders.
A Mumbai court last week had already ordered the executives of bankrupt mobile company Aircel Limited against flying out of India. The Reserve Bank of India has made a rule that if banks fail to fix a sour loan within 180 days, it will be referred to the bankruptcy court.
The courageous steps being taken by the central government to attack rogue defaulters will give a much needed boost to the banking system of the country, hit by the Nirav Modi-PNB scam which germinated during the previous Congress-led regime.
The No Fly list is considered to be a huge step towards reigning in the defaulters in the system. The No Fly proposal will prohibit 91 people from travelling overseas on account of their roles as owners or directors at 400 companies, deemed wilful defaulters.
The No Fly list also includes people who have disposed off the assets pledged for a loan without the bank’s knowledge. The Ministry of Home Affairs is believed to have asked the Bureau of Immigration not to allow promoters of firms with outstanding loans to leave the country.
According to sources, Indian banks have also been asked to provide passport details of individuals who have signed applications or stood guarantors for soured credits of more than 500 million rupees.
The Prime Minister’s approach towards bank defaulters is so strict that billionaire brothers Malvinder Singh and Shivinder Singh of Fortis Healthcare, who are countering charges of fund diversion, issued a public statement saying “We are not going anywhere”. Benaami properties, the so-called safe method to invest illegal money in someone else’s name, will also now come under the legal ambit, with the possibility of seizures.
Minister of state for External Affairs M.J. Akbar told the Parliament recently that as many as 31 business people facing a CBI investigation have flown out of the country, including famous names such as Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya in addition to relatively unknown ones such as Pushpesh Kumar Baid, Chetan Jayantilal Sandesara and Ashish Jobanputra. The economic fugitives take advantage of tough extradition laws in their host countries, because of which it becomes difficult for the Indian government to prove their offence.
Hence it was imperative to act tough at the right time on such offenders, before they could take advantage of the laxity in our banking system and fly overseas. Prime Minister Modi at a youth rally in January had said none, whether they are big or small, will be spared in his anti-graft exercise. “The youth of India refuse to accept corruption. The fight against corruption and black money will not stop”, he had said.
According to data with the Credit Information Bureau of India Ltd, state-owned banks reported wilful defaults of Rs 93,357 crore involving 7,564 borrowers as of September 2017.
While the government continues to execute its measures against economic offenders, the BJP has also questioned the Congress as to why the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram allowed RBI sanctions to seven jewellery firms, allowing them to import gold on May 16, 2014 – the day general election results were announced and the Congress was routed. It was considered an act of ’round tripping’, which is a form of a barter that involves a company selling an unused asset to another company, while at the same time agreeing to buy back the same or similar assets at about the same price.
Long before the Nirav Modi-Mehul Choksi fiasco came up, Gujarat-based diamond merchant and owner of Winsome Diamonds Jatin Mehta, who owed more than Rs 6,500 crore to a consortium of banks, had comfortably fled the country in 2012 under the UPA regime. The CBI had also closed its files about him.
It is no surprise that when push came to shove, the skeletons started tumbling out of the cupboard. The sins of the previous regime have come down heavily on the honest middle-class tax-paying citizens of our country. Let us hope the days of these criminals are now numbered.