Infrastructure sector set to receive

April 26, 2010

More bank credit will soon flow to build infrastructure in the country with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Tuesday reducing the level of provision against substandard loans to the sector from 20 per cent to 15 per cent.

The central bank’s decision to treat annuities and toll collection rights under build-operate-transfer (BOT) road and highway projects as tangible securities has also come as a major relief to infrastructure companies.

Banks and institutional lenders said the move on provisioning would enable lenders to loosen their purse strings for the infrastructure sector where long gestation projects often end up with issues that are beyond the control of both the lender and the borrower.

“There are many uncertainties in the infrastructure sector. Often there are delays due to reasons such as obtaining environment clearances and delay in equipment supplies that lead to assets becoming substandard. The RBI move will definitely encourage banks to go ahead and provide more advances to the infrastructure sector since it will provide a comfort factor,” SS Kohli, chairman and managing director of India Infrastructure Finance Company (IIFCL), the government’s flagship infrastructure finance company, told Financial Chronicle.

SBI chairman O P Bhatt said the announcement on infrastructure lending would help banks to finance such projects. “The treatment of annuities as tangible securities under BOT scheme will help attract private equity and give a boost to infrastructure sector,” he added.

UCO Bank chairman and managing director SK Goel echoed the view. “RBI move will reduce the burden of banks since loans to infrastructure projects often become substandard due to technical reasons. With only 15 per cent provisioning requirement, banks will be encouraged to lend more,” he said.

CMD of Bank of Maharashtra (BoM), Allen C A Pereira, said banks have been raising concerns over project delays and asset-liability mismatches in their infrastructure portfolio.

“Infrastructure projects are long gestation projects and several times things do not work out the way it was originally planned. Therefore, there was a strong case for easier provisioning norms for substandard assets. The RBI move is to ensure that banks do not suffer,” Tourism Finance Corporation of India CMD Archana Capoor said.

According to the planning commission, projected investment in infrastructure such as ports, airports, railways, power, irrigation, water supply and sanitation during the 11th plan (2007-11) is Rs 20,54,205 crore. The huge demand for funds can be gauged from the fact that the road ministry alone plans to award projects to build around 18,000 km during this financial year worth more than Rs 1,50,000 crore. Of this, 65 per cent of projects would be on BoT toll basis, 20 per cent on annuity and remaining 15 per cent on engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) model.

However, bankers said the RBI move was not to make banks meet their overall credit growth target when of offtake to sectors such as real estate has slumped. “These issues are not linked. The slowdown in overall lending and to the housing sector may be due to other reasons. Housing loan borrowers may be adopting a wait-and-watch approach,” Pereira of BoM said.

UCO Bank’s Goel agreed: “This is purely to encourage flow of funds to infrastructure sector. Overall credit growth and trends for specific sectors cannot be linked.”

Meanwhile, infrastructure companies have welcomed the decision to treat annuities and toll collection rights under BOT projects as tangible securities, saying the decision would give private road developers easier access to funds at lower interest rates.

At present, in BOT road projects, there is nothing that can be considered as tangible asset. This is because the concessionaire has to transfer the land either to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) or the state government after about 30 years of the agreement. Toll collection is also uncertain and therefore treated as an intangible asset. This makes it difficult for developers to obtain loans under the secured category.

“Now that the RBI has allowed annuity and toll collection rights as tangible securities, where there are provisions to compensate the project sponsor if a certain level of traffic is not achieved, it will make banks pro-active to lend to the sector,” Issac A George, chief financial officer of GVK Power and Infrastructure, said.

In its credit policy, RBI said annuity and toll collection rights should be treated as tangible securities subject to the condition that banks’ right to receive them is legally enforceable and irrevocable.

“Most banks offer loans to road developers under secured categories. However, there are lots of provisions and agreements that the parties work out among themselves. The developers also pay a higher interest rate of up to one and a half per cent for unsecured loans. The RBI announcement will help developers to save the additional interest cost and avoid legal troubles,” said Vishwas Udgirkar, an executive director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The move is also expected to lower the cost of road projects. “The RBI move to treat annuities and toll collection rights as tangible securities will create a healthy market for securitisation of toll portfolio, thereby reducing the cost of road projects after construction,” said Hemant Kanoria, chairman and managing director of Srei Infrastructure Finance.


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