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Cabinet approves extension of EPF contributions by the government until August

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The Union Cabinet on July 8 approved, among many other things, the proposal to extend the scheme for payment of the employer and employee's provident fund (PF) contribution for three months until August. Under this, the government will make the entire 24 percent contribution towards Employees' Provident Fund (EPF).

The move will offer huge relief to around 3.67 lakh employers and 72.22 lakh employees.

The proposal for extension of this scheme had been announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in May. She had, at the time, announced that the scheme under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMKGY) would be extended for another three months till August.

Addressing media persons following a Cabinet meeting earlier on July 8, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said the decision has been taken in order to facilitate a higher take-home salary for employees and to provide them a breather in payment of PF dues.

Under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan package, the payment of 12 percent of employer and 12 percent employee contribution was made into EPF accounts by the Centre. The benefit was earlier available for the months of March, April and May.

For the salary months of June, July and August, the scheme will cover all the establishments having up to 100 employees, with 90 percent of such employees earning a monthly wage less than Rs 15,000.

The idea behind the move, according to the government, is to offer support to workers and businesses who continue to face financial hardships in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown that followed.

Govt to push domestic companies to make cranes for cargo handling; to replace imports worth Rs 1,000 crore

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The shipping ministry will push domestic companies to manufacture cranes used for cargo handling at ports to replace annual imports worth Rs 1,000 crore of such equipment as well as work towards increasing the country's share in global shipping recycling business to 60 percent, according to Union Minister Mansukh L Mandaviya.

The efforts are aimed at boosting ports-led industries and make India as a key destination for recycling warships and other ships under 'Aatma Nirbhar Bharat', the Shipping Minister said.

Under the 'Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan' or 'Self-reliant India Mission', global tenders up to Rs 200 crore were recently disallowed.

"We will aggressively work towards 'Aatma Nirbhar Bharat' by promoting port-led industries and industrialisation. We will boost ship repair and recycling facilities.

"And among many such initiatives, we have decided to procure 'Made in India' cranes for cargo handling at ports. So far, India used to buy cranes worth abut Rs 1,000 crore annually," Mandaviya told PTI in an interview.

He also said that so far there is no crane manufacturer here but Indian companies can very well build these under 'Make in India' either independently or through the joint venture route.

India has a 7,500-kilometre coastline and the cargo handled by the country's top 12 major ports had risen marginally to nearly 705 million tonnes (MT) over the 699.10MT cargo handled in 2018-19.

Besides, procuring cranes locally, importance will be given to attaining self-reliance in port infrastructure development, jetty, terminal construction and cruise terminal, he added.

This will also boost employment by creating demand for the skilled manpower, he said, adding that plans are afoot to double the ship repair business in the next two years.

"About 30,000 vessels come to Indian ports with cargo per annum. Their maintenance is compulsory in 3-5 years. We are working towards boosting ship repair facility set up. We are aggressively working towards this. At present India repairs only about 1,200 ships per annum," he said.

The country will strive for about 60 percent of the global ship recycling business share. Within two years, the share would reach 50 percent, he added.

India's share in global ship recycling business at present is 40 percent.

"European Union and Japan have started sending their ships for recycling to India. At present a total of 300 to 400 ships come to India for recycling. The trend has been encouraging but COVID-19 has impacted it but still we expect about 350 ships for recycling including from EU and Japan," the Minister said.

According to him, Gujarat's Alang, the world's biggest shipyard, is ready to cater to projected increase in the number of ships for recycling.

Currently, India recycles around about 400 of the 1,000 ships which are demolished per annum globally. However, countries like Japan, Europe and the US were not sending their ships for recycling to the country in the absence of ratification of a global convention. The scenario changed with the Recycling of Ships Act, 2019, the Minister said.

The Act ratifies the Hong Kong convention and facilitating environment friendly recycling process of ships and adequate safety of the yard workers.

"The US and other countries do not send their ships to India for recycling but now that we have ratified the Hong Kong conventions, we expect the numbers to swell," the Minister said.

India, Bangladesh, China and Pakistan account for recycling about 90 percent of the global ships.

India's share at present stands around 40 percent or about 70 lakh gross tonnage of ships per annum which is bound to go to at least 60 percent given 95 of the 131 plots at Alang (are) developing these as per Hong Kong conventions, paving way for ships from Europe, Japan, US and other countries to be recycled here, he said.

The Act is expected to raise the brand value of ship recycling yards located at Alang in Gujarat, Mumbai Port, Kolkata Port and Azhikkal in Kerela and will also enhance availability of steel.

Another area of focus will be increasing the number of seafarers as India with 12 percent of the world's population has just about 7 percent of the seafarers market.

On the other hand, countries like Philippines with just 2 percent of the world's population has grabbed 20 percent global share.

"The number of seafarers in 2014 was 94,000 which has reached 2.4 lakh now. We want to take it to 5 lakh in five years," he said.

India has 12 major ports -- Deendayal (erstwhile Kandla), Mumbai, JNPT, Mormugao, New Mangalore, Cochin, Chennai, Kamarajar (earlier Ennore), V O Chidambaranar, Visakhapatnam, Paradip and Kolkata (including Haldia) under the control of the Centre. These major ports handle about 60 percent of the country's total cargo traffic.

Retail inflation for industrial workers eases to 5.1% in May

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The retail inflation for industrial workers dipped to 5.1 percent in May due to lower prices of certain food items and kerosene oil.  The retail inflation for industrial workers is measured through Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers (CPI-IW).

"Inflation based on all items stood at 5.10 percent for May, 2020 as compared to 5.45 percent for the previous month (April 2020) and 8.65 percent during the corresponding month ( May 2019) of the previous year," a labour ministry statement said.

Similarly, as per the data, food inflation stood at 5.88 percent against 6.56 percent in the previous month and 5.21 percent in May 2019.

The All-India CPI-IW for May 2020 increased by 1 point and stood at 330. On 1-month percentage change, it increased by 0.30 percent between April and May, 2020 compared to 0.64 percent increase between the same months of the previous year.

The maximum upward pressure in current index came from Food group contributing 0.67 percentage points rise to the total change.

At commodity level, Arhar Dal, Masur Dal, Moong Dal, Urd Dal, Groundnut Oil, Mustard Oil, Fish Fresh, Goat Meat, Poultry (Chicken), Milk, Cabbage, French Bean, Green Coriander Leaves, Potato, Country Liquor, Refined Liquor, Cooking Gas, Petrol, etc. are responsible for the increase in index, the data showed.

However, this increase was checked by Rice, Wheat, Garlic, Onion, Bitter Gourd, Coconut, Gourd, Lady Finger, Mango, Parval, Tomato, Torai, Banana, Kerosene Oil, etc, putting downward pressure on the index, it stated.

At centre level, Warangal, Chhindwara and Ahmedabad recorded the maximum increase of 6 points each. Among others, 4 points increase was observed in 6 centres, 3 points in 11 centres, 2 points in 9 centres and 1 point in 8 centres.

On the contrary, Doom-Dooma Tinsukia recorded the maximum decrease of 10 points followed by Salem (9 points), Munger-Jamalpur (8 points) and Lucknow (7 points).

Among others, 5 points decrease was observed in 1 centre, 4 points in another 1 centre, 3 points in 6 centres, 2 points in 9 centres and 1 point in another 9 centres. Rest of 11 centres' indices remained stationary.

The indices of 33 centres are above All-India Index and 45 centres' indices are below national average.

The Labour Bureau, an attached office of the Ministry of Labour & Employment, has been compiling CPI-IW every month on the basis of the retail prices of select items collected from 289 markets spread over 78 industrially important centres in the country.

The index is released on the last working day of succeeding month.

Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar said ,"The fall in inflation during the month in general and food in particular due to free supply of cereals to households across the country under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) during lockdown had put less burden on the pockets of 130 crore people in the country."

Lauding the efforts of the Labour Bureau, he said, "Our labour bureau is doing a great job by bringing out the inflation data during these challenging times under lockdown. This will help policy makers."

The hike in dearness allowance and dearness relief for over one crore central government employees and pensioners is worked out on the basis of CPI-IW.

Steel imports worth Rs 20,000 crore avoided due to DMISP policy: Dharmendra Pradhan

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The country has avoided steel imports worth over Rs 20,000 crore following DMISP policy since its launch in 2017, Union Steel Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said on Monday. In 2017, the government launched the National Steel Policy (NSP) with an aim to scale up India's steel making capacity to 300 million tonnes by 2030 with an additional investment of Rs 10 lakh crore.

The government also rolled out the domestically manufactured iron and steel products policy (DMISP) policy to boost the use of domestic steel products in government organisations.

"From a small capacity of 22 million tonne (MT) in FY 1991-92, India has now become the second largest steel producer in the world with a production of 111 MT in 2019, surpassing Japan and the US.

"Through the DMISP Policy, we are giving a boost to domestic sourcing of iron and steel products by central government organisations by mandating preference. Through this DMISP Policy, steel imports worth over Rs 20,000 crore have so far been avoided," Pradhan said.

The minister also said the government's thrust on infrastructure development will have a positive bearing on driving steel consumption in the country.

The national infrastructure plan of Rs 102 lakh crore will generate steel demand across sectors like civil aviation, roads, railways, energy etc, and the government will continue to promote maximum usage of home-made steel in projects that would come in these industries, he added.

The ministry has also envisaged setting up of steel clusters to enhance the downstream ecosystem in the steel sector. This will significantly enhance employment opportunities in the sector. This move would also encourage the MSMEs in the steel sector to produce more value-added products.

Pradhan was speaking during the launch of India's first continuous galvanized rebar (CGR) manufacturing facility in Mandi Gobindgarh, Punjab, set up by Madhav Alloys with support from International Zinc Association.

In the virtual event, he also emphasised on the importance of the usage of zinc in the steel sector.

Under the galvanisation process, a protective zinc coating applied to iron or steel, to prevent rusting.

India, Pradhan said, is the fourth largest producer of zinc in the world and contributes around 6 per cent to the global production. Approximately 75 per cent of the zinc used in the country finds application in galvanising of steel products like sheets, pipes, structural, wires etc.

"With our (government's) focus on large-scale expansion in infrastructure sectors and driving steel intensity, the demand for galvanised steel is set to rise," he added.

Pradhan further said the facility launched on Monday is the country's first CGR facility in India and will support the much awaited need of supplying galvanised rebar to the construction industry.

Big Story | Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in talks with RBI for loan recast, credit scheme for borrowers & more

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In what could come as a huge relief to borrowers, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has pointed out that the Centre is in talks with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on a one-time restructuring of loans to provide relief to companies that are reeling under stress due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Centre is also looking at why the benefits of repo rate reductions were not being passed on to customers.  The finance Minister has also indicated that the benefits of the emergency credit line guarantee scheme would now be extended to individual borrowers.

Moneycontrol's Sakshi Batra shares more details on the issues addressed by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and what borrowers can expect from it.


CBSE Class 12 Board Exam 2020: Cancellation seems to be best option right now

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In March 2020, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) announced the postponement of the board examinations for Class XII and Class X (only in North-East Delhi) due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. More than three months later, it is still uncertain whether the examinations will be postponed or cancelled.

The Supreme Court has adjourned hearing on the CBSE Board Examination scrapping matter to June 25. About 1.2 million students appeared for the CBSE Class XII examinations in February and March.

Though it was widely anticipated that the human resource development ministry (MHRD) would come to a consensus by the end of May, the matter has been delayed. This has caused unnecessary delays for students seeking admission to higher education institutes.

Officials told Moneycontrol that neither the ministry nor the board anticipated that the COVID-19 pandemic would continue even in July. Till now, India has reported 456,183 COVID-19 cases with 14,476 deaths.

An immediate decision is necessary to preserve the academic future and career prospects of students. Another postponement in conducting the examinations would only prove costly. With no clarity in sight on when India will seek a COVID-19 peak, the better option would be to cancel the examinations.

CBSE’s counterpart Council for Indian School Certification Examinations (CISCE) has taken a decision to let students choose. For the ICSE, ISC exams. Here, students have been given an option--either write the examinations for missed subjects in July 2020 or be given a grade, based on their pre-board performance in those subjects.

Considering that several higher education institutions have begun the admission process for undergraduate programmes, it is crucial that CBSE students get their marksheets on time.

Delhi University (DU), for instance, has already opened online admissions for the undergraduate courses. Those awaiting results have to choose the ‘results awaited’ option while applying. But what happens in case the CBSE Class XII examinations are further delayed?

DU may not be able to wait indefinitely till the results are announced, since the academic calender will then get delayed. Students of individual state boards stand to benefit since most results have already been declared.

Health risks would make it unviable to hold board examinations in July 2020. Even for CISCE, those opting to write exams are taking a high risk.

Say CBSE were to conduct examinations as per the original schedule between July 1-15, 2020. Who will be responsible if a student, invigilator or school staff test COVID-19 positive? Other students would have to be quarantined and the exam centre would have to be shut for cleaning. These students would then end by missing the exams, again.

Now what if the CBSE board examinations were postponed to October or November? The pandemic situation could have improved by then. But again, if the COVID-19 peak isn’t reached by then, another round of uncertainty would kick in for students.

This would mean that these CBSE students would have to basically miss one year because no higher education institute would be ready to accept students so late. International education aspirants would also have missed out on the opportunity for applying for programmes in US and Europe by then.

A few institutes in places like New Zealand and Singapore have accepted Indian students on ‘provisional’ basis for undergraduate degree courses. This is on the condition that students submit their board exam marksheets by October end 2020. Any delay in submission would mean that the admission is automatically cancelled by the concerned institutes.

HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank had earlier said in June that options like online examinations may also need to be considered by the concerned educational institutions for final exams. However, but happens to students who don’t have laptops/tablets to write exams? And what happens in case there is a power outage causing internet connectivity issues in remote areas of the country? And how will cheating be curbed during the exam?

Considering these scenarios, board exam cancellation seems to be the best option for CBSE right now. What will be keenly watched is the process of marking students for the pending subjects.

A swift decision by the board to cancel examinations for the remaining subjects would save 2020 academic year from going waste for Indian students.

COVID-19 impact | BFSI sector at an inflection point

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The COVID-19 disruption has brought a fresh slew of challenges for the banking and financial services sector. Over the last two years, BFSI was impacted by the sub optimal GDP growth followed by the liquidity crisis. The ongoing COVID pandemic has fanned expected decline in credit growth due to the overall economic slowdown, lockdown impact on income profile, asset quality deterioration in the medium term and increase in credit costs impacting earnings.

In the NBFC space, many business models require a complete re-look. Since cash collections were almost impossible at the beginning of the lock-down, disbursements also took a huge hit. Fear of job losses, damage to certain segments viz. tourism, recreation and related industries etc., added to asset quality woes. However, fiscal support from the government to the affected workers/businesses has offset some of the damages.

To contain the decline in growth and mitigate the adverse impact, the Government had stepped up initiatives with Rs 21 lakh crore economic package, which included RBI’s Rs 8 lakh crore worth of liquidity measures. Unveiled in five tranches, this included Rs 3.70 lakh crore support for MSMEs, Rs 75,000 crore for NBFCs and Rs 90,000 crore for power distribution companies, increased allocation for MGNREGS, tax relief to certain sections among the various measures announced. These steps though positive, addressed more of the supply side concerns while the demand side still requires attention. RBI has taken significant measures to improve liquidity, but risk aversion has ensured that financial conditions have remained tight.

There are, however, silver linings which have emerged. After demonetisation in 2016, this is the second major push towards digitisation of payment habits in India. While most banks have already moved towards technology in a big way in the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to stay indoors and move towards digital money payments. This will not only help in easing in newer transacting avenues but also lead the industry towards a leaner cost efficient structure.

In the current risk-off environment where valuations are getting cheaper, capital and liquidity are important and the ability of banks to not only withstand near term stress but also the follow-on impact of this funding and demand shortage will be key to watch. In this context, banks with a combination of comfortable funding, high provision coverage, limited issues in asset quality and excess capital are better placed to withstand current stress.

Retail sector viz. mortgages/ autos/ unsecured credit is likely to slowly gather pace once situation eases, given low underlying leverage with Indian consumers, easy access to credit and release of pent-up demand. A one-time loan restructuring relief will go a long way towards ensuring credit availability in this segment is not hampered. However, problems in MSME that Covid-19 imposes could take time to resolve, though the government measures will cushion some of the impacts. The MSME industry has faced headwinds from 2016 via demonetization, GST implementation and 2018 liquidity crisis to name a few. COVID-19 will add further stress to this sector, as many of these are in supply chains of larger corporations.

But the underlying important question is which sector will be amongst the first to bounce back when the economy normalises. Since financials are a proxy to a country’s economic growth, they will have to be among the first movers. In the past few years, we witnessed the listing of insurance, asset management companies which reflect the widening of the financial space in the country. The target of a $5 trillion economy cannot be achieved without a robust banking and financial services system and the present economic environment could provide the 'window of opportunity', albeit with caution.

Government scheme loans have higher NPAs, corporate loans 'under control', says SBI chief Rajnish Kumar

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Small-ticket government scheme loans have a higher number of bad loans than corporate loans, State Bank of India (SBI) Chairman Rajnish Kumar said,

Speaking at the Bharat Chamber of Commerce’s e-session on the banking system, he said corporate bad loans are now "under control"

“NPAs in Kisan Credit Card (KCC) loans are at par with Mudra loans. In Mudra loans, the gross NPA was close to 15 percent. However, with a new digital model in place, NPAs stood at close to 10 per cent," he pointed out.

Singh also spoke about loan moratoriums, noting that enthusiasm for the scheme was subdued as borrowers feared "cost implications" and "increased liability" at this point of time.

Commenting on loans disbursed to medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs), Singh said SBI has over the past 15 days disbursed 60 percent of the loans sanctioned to 2 lakh MSMEs, adding: “Our data analysis shows that MSMEs are managing this crisis very well.”

He also noted that businesses are "near to normal" after Unlock 1.0 – operating at 75-85 percent capacity and some industries also experiencing growth in exports.

"But more investment in the infrastructure sector was needed for growth to come back. Sectors like aviation, tourism and hospitality remained under stress," he said.

He added that while the Centre's fiscal stimulus package has created a "favourable investment environment", recovery has been slow. He added that when investment in roads and renewable energy picks up growth would "come back to growth quickly".

Government scheme loans have higher NPAs, corporate loans 'under control', says SBI chief Rajnish Kumar

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Small-ticket government scheme loans have a higher number of bad loans than corporate loans, State Bank of India (SBI) Chairman Rajnish Kumar said,

Speaking at the Bharat Chamber of Commerce’s e-session on the banking system, he said corporate bad loans are now "under control"

“NPAs in Kisan Credit Card (KCC) loans are at par with Mudra loans. In Mudra loans, the gross NPA was close to 15 percent. However, with a new digital model in place, NPAs stood at close to 10 per cent," he pointed out.

Singh also spoke about loan moratoriums, noting that enthusiasm for the scheme was subdued as borrowers feared "cost implications" and "increased liability" at this point of time.

Commenting on loans disbursed to medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs), Singh said SBI has over the past 15 days disbursed 60 percent of the loans sanctioned to 2 lakh MSMEs, adding: “Our data analysis shows that MSMEs are managing this crisis very well.”

He also noted that businesses are "near to normal" after Unlock 1.0 – operating at 75-85 percent capacity and some industries also experiencing growth in exports.

"But more investment in the infrastructure sector was needed for growth to come back. Sectors like aviation, tourism and hospitality remained under stress," he said.

He added that while the Centre's fiscal stimulus package has created a "favourable investment environment", recovery has been slow. He added that when investment in roads and renewable energy picks up growth would "come back to growth quickly".

Rs 3 lakh crore MSME loan scheme: PSBs struggle to improve actual disbursals; will private banks come on board?

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A month after Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman launched the mega Rs 3 lakh crore loan scheme for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), the response remain muted. There is a significant difference between amount sanctioned and the actual amount disbursed so far.

In fact, on a cumulative basis, only half of the amount sanctioned is disbursed till 16 June. PSB bankers are now on an overdrive to make the scheme work under directions of the government. However, low demand scenario is limiting the actual disbursals. Banks are also concerned about the likelihood of these loans going bad in a slowing economy.

Under the scheme, existing MSME borrowers of PSBs can get additional funds of upto 20 percent of their loan outstanding as on February 29. Government will provide complete guarantee to banks on these loans including the interest amount. This was announced as part of the Rs 20 lakh crore economic package to fight Covid-19 induced economic slowdown.

State-run banks, which are under heavy pressure to disburse loans, have disbursed Rs18, 306 crore against the sanctioned amount of Rs36,486 crore till 16 June. The sanctioned amount is about 12 percent of the total scheme mount (Rs 3 lakh crore) and the disbursed amount, roughly about 6 percent. “What is working against the scheme is the poor demand scenario. Why would companies borrow now if there is no business?,” said a banker on condition of anonymity.

Who gave how much?

Among the public sector banks, State Bank of India (SBI), country’s top lender by assets, has done maximum cumulative sanctions till June 16, at Rs 15,317 crore. Against this, the bank has disbursed Rs9,489 crore loans. SBI has disbursed this amount to 91690 accounts. The next big sanction amount is from Bank of Baroda, which has sanctioned Rs4,560 crore loans of which Rs1,255 crore is disbursed. Canara Bank has cumulatively sanctioned Rs3,683 crore loans of which disbursed amount is Rs1,619 crore loans. Punjab National Bank has cumulatively sanctioned Rs 3371 crore loans of which Rs1187 crore has been disbursed.

Except these banks, all other PSBs have sanctioned less than Rs 3000 crore and, logically, disbursed even lesser amount. The lowest cumulative sanction figure is by Punjab and Sind Bank at Rs 200 crore, which so far disbursed Rs 157 crore. Among the states, the highest amount disbursed is in Tamil Nadu--around Rs 2251 crore against total sanctions of Rs 3616 crore. The lowest is in Lakshadweep, at Rs25 lakhs against sanctions of Rs41 lakhs.

Private banks not on board yet

The MSME loan scheme was originally meant for PSBs. However, the government now wants private sector banks too to come on board. These lenders are yet to come on to the picture. Recently during a review of the scheme, the finance ministry is reportedly asked bankers on the possibility of participating private banks in the scheme.

Some of the larger lenders like HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank has exposure to MSME clients and small businesses. However, private banks are generally not keen to push loans aggressively to MSMEs at this stage since they don’t see viability in the present scenario.

“This is a good business, no doubt. But here also the problem is the demand,” said a official with a private bank. “Right now, there is no activity outside. Very difficult to push loans unless there are quality borrowers come to us for capital,” said the banker who didn’t want to be named.

Scheme turning to a loan mela?

However, for public sector banks do not have the luxury not to lend under a government scheme. According to senior bankers and industry officials, banks are on an overdrive to push the scheme. Officers are told to get maximum number of loan sanctions done from all eligible borrowers even though many of these sanctions do not translate into actual sanctions.

Banks are, hence, making phone calls to all MSME borrowers and offering loans under pressure from the top management. Some banks have a system of pre-sanctioned loans as well. This is despite the worry that many of these loans may not come back. Companies are not yet back on track after the prolonged lockdown since there is no demand for non-essential goods yet. Absence of workforce is also creating problems for MSMEs and SMEs (small and medium enterprises) to get back to normal activity.

“Private banks will be very cautious in lending to MSMEs even if they are asked to because there is very less demand for working capital. These banks will have to answer their shareholders about their credit decisions later,” said Siddarth Purohit, analyst at SMC Global Securities.

Some banks are also encouraging customers to use the scheme to pay up earlier dues. This would mean that customers are not getting any fresh money in hand to revive their business. Also, the 20 percent limit is a constraint to borrow enough money to meet their business needs. Small MSMEs typically borrow Rs 2-Rs 10 lakhs. If the borrower outstanding amount as on February 29 is too low, then the eligible amount will not be enough to meet their business needs.

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