One of the adverse trends observable in the corporate private sector of India is the growing incidence of sickness. It is causing considerable concern to planners and policymakers. It is also putting a severe strain on the economic system, particularly on the banks.
There are various criteria of sickness. According to the criteria accepted by the Reserve Bank of India “a sick unit is one which has reported cash loss for the year of its operation and in the judgment of the financing bank is likely to incur cash loss for the current year as also in the following year.”
A major symptom of sickness is a steady fall in debt-equity ratio and an imbalance in the financial position of the unit. Simply put, a sick unit is one which is unable to support itself through the operation of internal resources (that is, earnings plough-back). As a general rule, the sick units continue to operate below the break-even point (at which total revenue = total cost) and are, thus, forced to depend on external sources for funds of their long-term survival.
Industrial sickness creates various socio-economic problems. When an industrial unit falls sick those who depend on it have to face an uncertain future. They fear loss of jobs. Even if they do not lose jobs they do not get their wages and compensation in time and are, thus, forced to live in extreme hardship.
Of course, sickness is not a special problem of India. It is, undoubtedly, a global phenomenon. Even in industrially advanced countries there are numerous cases of bankruptcy or liquidation. These sick units are nursed back to health through mergers, amalgamations, takeovers, purchase of assets, or outright nationalisation. When the-problem becomes really alarming or unmanageable, the unit is permitted to die its natural death.
Industrial sickness has become a major problem of the India’s corporate private sector. Of late, it has assumed serious proportions. A close look reveals that there are, at least, five major causes of industrial sickness, viz., promotional, managerial, technical, financial and political.
An industrial unit may become sick at its nascent stage or after working for quite some time. For instance, two major traditional industries of India, viz., cotton textiles and sugar, have fallen sick largely due to short-sighted financial and depreciation policies. Heavy capital cost escalation arising out of price inflation accentuates the problem. The historical method of cost depreciation is highly inadequate when assets are to be replaced at current cost during inflation.
Moreover, since the depreciation funds are often used to meet working capital needs, it does not become readily available for replacement of worn-out plant and equipment. The end result is that the industrial unit is constrained to operate with old and obsolete equipment, its profitability is eroded and, sooner or later, the unit is driven out of the market by the forces of competition.
In Dec. 1980 the total number of sick units was 24,550, involving outstanding bank credit of Rs. 1,809 crores. As at the end of March 2000, the total number of sick units stood at 307,399 involving an outstanding bank credit of about Rs. 23,656 crores. Of these 14,793 were potentially viable, 278,423 were non-viable and the viability of the remaining 14,183 has not been decided.
Three major industries affected by industrial sickness are jute, engineering goods and textiles. Some of the industries such as the real estate, light consumer goods, automobile, diamonds and many others are reeling under the impact of steep fall in demand, inadequate supply of finance, large proportion of non-performing assets and constraints of finance due to huge amounts of funds getting blocked in ageing receivables.
A number of measures have been taken to tackle the problem of industrial sickness. The importance of detection of sickness at the incipient stage has been emphasised by the RBI. The policy framework in respect of measures to deal with the problem of industrial sickness has been laid down in the guidelines issued on October 1981 (which were subsequently modified in February 1982) for guidance of administrative ministries of the Central Government, State Governments and financial institutions.
The salient features of these guidelines are the following:
- The administrative ministries in the Government will have specific responsibility for prevention and remedial action in relation to sickness in industrial sector within their respective charges. They will have a central role in monitoring sickness and coordinating action for revival and rehabilitation of sick units. In suitable cases, they will also establish standing committees for major industrial sectors where sickness is widespread;
- The financial institutions will strengthen the monitoring system so that it is possible to take timely corrective action to prevent incipient sickness. They will obtain periodical returns from the assisted units and from the Directors nominated by them on the Boards of such units. These will be analysed by the Industrial Development Bank of India and results of such analyses conveyed to the financial institutions concerned and the Government.
- The financial institutions and banks will initiate necessary corrective action for sick or incipient sick unit based on a diagnostic study. In case of growing sickness, the financial institutions will also consider taking of management responsibility where they are confident of restoring a unit to health. The Ministry of Finance will have to issue suitable guidelines for management;
- Where the banks and financial institutions are unable to prevent sickness or ensure revival of a sick unit, they will deal with their outstanding dues to the unit in accordance with the normal banking procedures. However, before doing so, they will report the matter to the Government which will decide whether the unit should be nationalised or whether any other alternative- including workers’ participation in management— can revive the undertaking.
- Where it is decided to nationalise the undertaking, its management may be taken over under the provisions of the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951, for a period of six months to enable the Government to take necessary steps for nationalisation.
Establishment of BIFR
The Central Government has set up a Board for Industrial and Financial Re-construction (BIFR) with effect from 12 January 1987 in pursuance of enactment of the Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provision) Act, 1985. This is a major step for intervening at an early stage and detecting, preventing, as well as taking ameliorative, remedial and such other measures which to be taken with respect to sick and potentially viable companies.
The role of the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) needs a re-look in the face of a steep rise in the number of industries turning sick. BIFR was constituted to facilitate the revival of industries deemed sick. When an industry turns sick, BIFR acts as an operating agency (generally the lead financial institution having the largest loan exposure among the creditors) to devise a revival strategy proposal.
Progress in the right disposal of sick company cases registered with BIFR has been slow on account of the conflicting interests between the companies and the creditors (banks and financial institutions, government bodies/agencies) and certain lacunae in the SIC A Act. The rehabilitation schemes met with 40-45% failure, as a result of which many of the cases had to be reopened.
The rate of registration/sickness increased substantially during 1997-98 due to (a) the recessionary trends prevalent in industry, (b) poor financial market conditions, and (c) the tough stance taken by banks/financial institutions (FIs) towards defaulters/potentially sick companies under their non-performing assets (NPA) accounts for rescheduling of repayments, etc.