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SBI eyes merger of five associate banks, unions protest move

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The State Bank of India board on Tuesday decided to submit a a proposal to the central government seeking an “in-principle approval” to initiate negotiations with its five associate banks, an official spokesperson said.

The move was immediately drew announcement of a nationwide strike in the five banks on Friday by the All Indian Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) to protest against what it termed the banks’ “forceful closure and takeover” by SBI.

The board of directors discussed the possibility of acquiring the State Bank of Bikaner & Jaipur, State Bank of Hyderabad, State Bank of Mysore, State Bank of Patiala and State Bank of Travancore and their assets and liabilities. They also discussed the possibility of acquiring India’s first bank targeted to women – the Bhartiya Mahila Bank.

Though the spokesperson stressed the discussions were “purely exploratory at this stage and not certain,” the move evoked a strong reaction as staff unions of the five associate banks and AIBEA, who have long opposed it.

“The SBI management’s arrogant and high-handed approach has forced this all-India strike. Employees of the associate bank and other public sector banks express their anger and protest over this act of SBI. More agitations will follow,” said AIBEA vice president Vishwas Utagi.

He claimed that that the boards of the five associate banks met urgently here “to discuss some agenda that have been purported to have been decided earlier”.

“However, without any prior intimation or notice, a table agenda was brought in the board meeting at the dictates of SBI to close down the associate banks and acquire them,” he alleged.

However, the proposal was opposed by the AIBEA’s workman directors and some other independent directors of the associate banks.

Despite their dissent and disapproval over the agenda on the proposal and “the dubious methods” adopted in placing such serious agenda for discussion, a resolution was approved to enable SBI acquire the assets and liabilities of the associate banks, the AIBEA said.

Utagi said the SBI move and the associate banks’ forcible decisions today are contrary to the views and suggestion of Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley conveyed to the AIBEA delegation at their meeting on March 23 and April 25.

“His view and opinon was that all the five associate banks can be cross-merged into one single entity. We are questioning whether SBI can force the associate banks to take a decision to merge with SBI ignoring the FM’s opinion? How can the SBI decide opposite to what the FM had suggested,” he asked.

The AIBEA accused the SBI of “taking the law of governance for granted” and forcefully attempting to acquire the associate banks, which would not be possible without the silent blessings of the bureaucracy and the government.

“We strongly condemn this high handedness and arrogance of SBI and request for the government’s intervention to reverse the resolution adopted in the meetings today,” Utagi demanded.

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SC seeks Centre, RBI reply on levying interest charges during moratorium

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New Delhi, May 26 : The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to the Centre and Reserve Bank of India on a plea challenging the levy of interest on loan during the stipulated moratorium period.

A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, S.K. Kaul and M.R. Shah asked the Centre and RBI to file their response within a week.

The plea has been filed by a borrower, who is aggrieved by the March 27 RBI notification. This notification allows interest on the loan to be levied during the moratorium period, which has been extended up to August 31.

Senior advocate Rajiv Dutta, representing the petitioner, contended before the bench that the moratorium has been extended to 6 months, from the initial 3 months. Dutta argued that the final accounting for his client, regarding the interest should be done after the decision of the top court on the matter.

The plea argues the interest on loan during moratorium is unconstitutional, as during lockdown, people’s income has already shrunk and people are under financial crisis.

Dutta, seeking relief, insisted that his client should not be penalized, and interest should not be added to the loan amount during this period,” argued Dutta.

He also informed the apex court that replies were being filed without any formal notice being issued. The bench took this argument into consideration and issued formal notice.

On March 27, the RBI had ordered a 3-month moratorium on the payment of all kinds of installments — EMIs or credit cards or outstanding term loans — for the period between March 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020.

The plea argues the outright “capriciousness” and “arbitrariness” of the RBI notification as it acts as a burden on borrowers like the petitioner, which violates principles of natural justice.

On May 8, the apex court had allowed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta time to seek instructions from RBI and the Centre on the issue.

“While granting the relief of moratorium during the lockdown to borrowers, the action of imposition of interest during the moratorium period is completely devastating, wrong and, in a way, has taken away the benefit of imposing moratorium. This has caused hindrance in right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution, 1950 in furtherance of right to life, including right to livelihood, which is a pre-requisite to the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 to people of India”, said the plea.

The petitioner said in the present scenario, when all the means of livelihood have been curtailed by the Centre by imposition of complete lockdown pan India, due to worldwide outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic and the petitioner being a citizen of India has no way to continue his work and earn livelihood, imposition of interest during the moratorium will defeat the purpose of permitting moratorium on loans.

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India’s GDP likely to contract 5% in FY 2020-21: Crisil

“We estimate the fiscal cost of this package at 1.2 per cent of GDP, which is lower than what we had assumed in our earlier estimate (when we foresaw a growth in GDP),” it said.

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National debt under Modi govt surges

New Delhi, May 26 : Days after the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said that India’s GDP growth for the financial year 2020-21 may remain in the negative territory, CRISIL has projected that the country’s economy contract by 5 per cent this fiscal, downgrade from its previous estimate of 1.8 per cent growth.

In a report, Crisil said that although non-agricultural GDP is expected to contract 6 per cent, agriculture could cushion the blow by growing at 2.5 per cent.

It said “things have only gone downhill since” its previous forecast of 1.8 per cent growth on April 28.

The report noted that as per the available data, in the past 69 years, India has seen a recession only thrice, in fiscal years 1958, 1966 and 1980. The reason was the same each time, a monsoon shock that hit agriculture, then a sizeable part of the economy.

“The recession staring at us today is different. For one, agriculture could soften the blow this time by growing near its trend rate, assuming a normal monsoon. Two, the pandemic-induced lockdowns have affected most non-agriculture sectors,” it said, adding that the global disruption also has upended whatever opportunities India had on the exports front.

Laying down the factors for the downward revision GDP outlook, Crisil said that latest studies by the Public Health Foundation of India and the World Health Organization suggest the pandemic spread could peak by mid-July, implying that even if the nationwide lockdown is lifted after May 31, states with high and rising COVID-19 cases could continue with restrictions, which will be a drag on the economy.

It, however, said that on the positive side the Indian Meteorological Department expects the southwest monsoon this year to be 96-104 per cent of the long-period average, which augurs well for agriculture and crude oil prices are expected to average $30 per barrel in fiscal 2021, cushioning the economy.

Talking of the economic package recently announced by the Centre, it said that the package has some short-term measures to cushion the economy, but sets its sights majorly on reforms, most of which will have payoffs only over the medium term (more details in the next section).

“We estimate the fiscal cost of this package at 1.2 per cent of GDP, which is lower than what we had assumed in our earlier estimate (when we foresaw a growth in GDP),” it said.

It said that successive lockdowns have a non-linear and multiplicative effect on the economy and a two-month lockdown will be more than twice as debilitating as a one-month imposition, as buffers keep eroding.

Partial relaxations continue to be a hindrance to supply chains, transportation and logistics, it said, adding that unless the entire supply chain is unlocked, the impact of improved economic activity will be subdued.

“Therefore, despite the stringency of lockdown easing a tad in the third and the fourth phases, their negative impact on GDP is expected to massively outweigh the benefits from mild fiscal support and low crude oil prices, especially in the April-June quarter. Consequently, we expect the current quarter’s GDP to shrink 25 per cent on-year,” it said.

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Bharti Telecom sells 2.75% Airtel stake, raises Rs 8,433 cr

Bharti Group and Singtel, as Bharti Airtel’s largest shareholders, remain committed to the business and long-term prospects of Bharti Airtel, it said.

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New Delhi, May 26 : Bharti Telecom has sold 2.75 per cent stake in Bharti Airtel to institutional investors through an accelerated book building process in the secondary market, raising Rs 8,433 crore.

The allocation was done to over 50 accounts with the top 10 getting two-third of it, Bharti Telecom said in a statement, here on Tuesday.

The sale proceeds would be used to repay promoter holding company’s debt, it said.

Bharti Group and Singtel, as Bharti Airtel’s largest shareholders, remain committed to the business and long-term prospects of Bharti Airtel, it said.

“The strong and wide response received from a diverse mix of investors across geographies, even during challenging global macro-economic conditions, shows the competitive strength and the long-term prospects of Bharti Airtel,” said Harjeet Kohli, Group Director, Bharti Enterprises.

“On the back of such a strong demand from international and domestic investors, the amount raised was increased to $1.15 billion,” he said.

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