A wilful defaulter is an entity or a person that has not paid the loan back despite the ability to repay it. The RBI has been initiating every effort to ensure that wilful default should not adversely affect the health of the banking system. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is in the process of modifying the definition of wilful defaulters to restrict the penalty only against the directors (apart from promoters) who are actually seen as culpable or actively participating in wilful default.

Pursuant to the instructions of the Central Vigilance Commission for collection of information on wilful defaults of Rs. 25 lakh and above by RBI and dissemination to the reporting banks and FIs, a scheme was framed by RBI with effect from 1st April 1999 under which the banks and notified All India Financial Institutions were required to submit to RBI the details of the wilful defaulters. Wilful default broadly covered the following:

  1.  Deliberate non-payment of the dues despite adequate cash flow and good networth;
  2.  Siphoning off of funds to the detriment of the defaulting unit;
  3.  Assets financed either not been purchased or been sold and proceeds have been misutilised;
  4.  Misrepresentation / falsification of records;
  5.  Disposal / removal of securities without bank's knowledge;
  6.  Fraudulent transactions by the borrower.

Accordingly, banks and FIs started reporting all cases of wilful defaults, which occurred or were detected after 31st March 1999 on a quarterly basis. It covered all non-performing borrowal accounts with outstanding (funded facilities and such non-funded facilities which are converted into funded facilities) aggregating Rs. 25 lakh and above identified as wilful default by a Committee of higher functionaries headed by the Executive Director and consisting of two GMs/DGMs. Banks/FIs were advised that they should examine all cases of wilful defaults of Rs 1.00 crore and above for filing of suits and also consider criminal action wherever instances of cheating/fraud by the defaulting borrowers were detected. In case of consortium/multiple lending, banks and FIs were advised that they report wilful defaults to other participating/financing banks also. Cases of wilful defaults at overseas branches are required to be reported if such disclosure is permitted under the laws of the host country.

Guidelines issued on wilful defaulters: Further, considering the concerns expressed over the persistence of wilful default in the financial system in the 8th Report of the Parliament's Standing Committee on Finance on Financial Institutions, the Reserve Bank of India, in consultation with the Government of India, constituted in May 2001 a Working Group on Wilful Defaulters (WGWD) under the Chairmanship of Shri S. S. Kohli, the then Chairman of the Indian Banks' Association, for examining some of the recommendations of the Committee. The Group submitted its report in November 2001. The recommendations of the WGWD were further examined by an In House Working Group constituted by the Reserve Bank. Accordingly, the Scheme was further revised by RBI on May 30, 2002.

In view of the above, the RBI on July 01, 2015 issued a master circular No. DBR.No.CID.BC.22/20.16.003/2015-16 providing directions to the banks/financial institutions on identifying and dealing with 'wilful defaulters'.

Definition of wilful default: The term ‘lender’ appearing in the circular covers all banks/FIs to which any amount is due, provided it is arising on account of any banking transaction, including off balance sheet transactions such as derivatives, guarantee and Letter of Credit.

The term ‘unit’ appearing therein has to be taken to include individuals, juristic persons and all other forms of business enterprises, whether incorporated or not. In case of business enterprises (other than companies), banks/FIs may also report (in the Director column) the names of those persons who are in charge and responsible for the management of the affairs of the business enterprise.

The term "wilful default" has been redefined in supersession of the earlier definition as under:

A "wilful default" would be deemed to have occurred if any of the following events is noted: -

(a) The unit has defaulted in meeting its payment / repayment obligations to the lender even when it has the capacity to honour the said obligations.

(b) The unit has defaulted in meeting its payment / repayment obligations to the lender and has not utilised the finance from the lender for the specific purposes for which finance was availed of but has diverted the funds for other purposes.

(c) The unit has defaulted in meeting its payment / repayment obligations to the lender and has siphoned off the funds so that the funds have not been utilised for the specific purpose for which finance was availed of, nor are the funds available with the unit in the form of other assets.

(d) The unit has defaulted in meeting its payment / repayment obligations to the lender and has also disposed off or removed the movable fixed assets or immovable property given by him or it for the purpose of securing a term loan without the knowledge of the bank/lender.

The identification of the wilful default should be made keeping in view the track record of the borrowers and should not be decided on the basis of isolated transactions / incidents. The default to be categorised as wilful must be intentional, deliberate and calculated.

Diversion of Funds: The term ‘diversion of funds’ referred to above, should be construed to include any one of the under noted occurrences:

(a) utilisation of short-term working capital funds for long-term purposes not in conformity with the terms of sanction;

(b) deploying borrowed funds for purposes / activities or creation of assets other than those for which the loan was sanctioned;

(c) transferring borrowed funds to the subsidiaries / Group companies or other corporate by whatever modalities;

(d) routing of funds through any bank other than the lender bank or members of consortium without prior permission of the lender;

(e) investment in other companies by way of acquiring equities / debt instruments without approval of lenders;

(f) shortfall in deployment of funds vis-à-vis the amounts disbursed / drawn and the difference not being accounted for.

Siphoning of Funds: The term ‘siphoning of funds’, referred to above, should be construed to occur if any funds borrowed from banks / FIs are utilised for purposes unrelated to the operations of the borrower, to the detriment of the financial health of the entity or of the lender. The decision as to whether a particular instance amounts to siphoning of funds would have to be a judgment of the lenders based on objective facts and circumstances of the case.

Cut-off Limits: While the penal measures indicated below would normally be attracted by all the borrowers identified as wilful defaulters or the promoters involved in diversion / siphoning of funds, keeping in view the present limit of Rs. 25 lakh fixed by the Central Vigilance Commission for reporting of cases of wilful default by the banks / FIs to RBI, any wilful defaulter with an outstanding balance of Rs. 25 lakh or more, would attract the penal measures stipulated below. This limit of Rs. 25 lakh may also be applied for the purpose of taking cognisance of the instances of siphoning / diversion of funds.

End-Use of Funds: In cases of project financing, the banks / FIs seek to ensure end use of funds by, inter alia, obtaining certification from the Chartered Accountants for the purpose. In case of short-term corporate / clean loans, such an approach ought to be supplemented by 'due diligence' on the part of lenders themselves, and to the extent possible, such loans should be limited to only those borrowers whose integrity and reliability are above board. The banks and FIs, therefore, should not depend entirely on the certificates issued by the Chartered Accountants but strengthen their internal controls and the credit risk management system to enhance the quality of their loan portfolio.

The requirement and related appropriate measures in ensuring end-use of funds by the banks and FIs should form a part of their loan policy document.. The following are some of the illustrative measures that could be taken by the lenders for monitoring and ensuring end-use of funds:

(a) Meaningful scrutiny of quarterly progress reports / operating statements / balance sheets of the borrowers;

(b) Regular inspection of borrowers’ assets charged to the lenders as security;

(c) Periodical scrutiny of borrowers’ books of accounts and the ‘no-lien’ accounts maintained with other banks;

(d) Periodical visits to the assisted units;

(e) System of periodical stock audit, in case of working capital finance;

(f) Periodical comprehensive management audit of the ‘credit’ function of the lenders, so as to identify the systemic-weaknesses in their credit administration.

(It may be kept in mind that this list of measures is only illustrative and by no means exhaustive.)

Penal Measures: The following measures should be initiated by the banks and FIs against the wilful defaulters identified as per the definition indicated at above:

  1. No additional facilities should be granted by any bank / FI to the listed wilful defaulters. In addition, such companies (including their entrepreneurs / promoters) where banks / FIs have identified siphoning / diversion of funds, misrepresentation, falsification of accounts and fraudulent transactions should be debarred from institutional finance from the scheduled commercial banks, Financial Institutions, NBFCs, for floating new ventures for a period of 5 years from the date of removal of their name from the list of wilful defaulters as published/disseminated by RBI/CICs.
  2. The legal process, wherever warranted, against the borrowers / guarantors and foreclosure for recovery of dues should be initiated expeditiously. The lenders may initiate criminal proceedings against wilful defaulters, wherever necessary.
  3. Wherever possible, the banks and FIs should adopt a proactive approach for a change of management of the wilfully defaulting borrower unit.
  4. A covenant in the loan agreements, with the companies to which the banks / FIs have given funded / non-funded credit facility, should be incorporated by the banks / FIs to the effect that the borrowing company should not induct on its board a person whose name appears in the list of Wilful Defaulters and that in case, such a person is found to be on its board, it would take expeditious and effective steps for removal of the person from its board.

It would be imperative on the part of the banks and FIs to put in place a transparent mechanism for the entire process so that the penal provisions are not misused and the scope of such discretionary powers are kept to the barest minimum. It should also be ensured that a solitary or isolated instance is not made the basis for imposing the penal action.

Guarantees furnished by individuals, group companies & non-group companies: While dealing with wilful default of a single borrowing company in a Group, the banks / FIs should consider the track record of the individual company, with reference to its repayment performance to its lenders. However, in cases where guarantees furnished by the companies within the Group on behalf of the wilfully defaulting units are not honoured when invoked by the banks / FIs, such Group companies should also be reckoned as wilful defaulters.

Books Written by Abinash Mandilwar