Just under a month after the meeting with Reserve Bank of India (RBI) board of directors following a prolonged spat with Modi government, the central bank governor, Urjit Patel, resigned from his post, “effective immediately”, citing ‘personal reasons’.
Patel has become the first governor since 1990 to step down before the end of his term. Patel had taken over the reins of the RBI from Raghuram Rajan in September 2016 and his 3-year term was to continue till September 2019.
The sudden development comes after a spat with the government – barely resolved in a meeting of the board last month – over how much autonomy the RBI should have as the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to reduce curbs on lending and to gain access to the RBI’s surplus reserves.
On Nov 19, a RBI board meeting of more than nine hours in Mumbai ended on a conciliatory note, with the central bank agreeing to set up a panel on sharing surplus reserves, restructure loans of small businesses up to Rs. 25 crore and easing lending restrictions on some state-owned banks.
Resigning his post today, Patel said: “On account of personal reasons, I have decided to step down from my current position effective immediately. It has been my privilege and honour to serve in the Reserve Bank of India in various capacities over the years.”
“The support and hard work of RBI staff, officers and management has been the proximate driver of the Bank’s considerable accomplishments in recent years. I take this opportunity to express gratitude to my colleagues and Directors of the RBI Central Board, and wish them all the best for the future,” the statement further added.
Speculation of Patel’s exit had gained steam after differences between the RBI and the government spilled out in the open following a hard-hitting speech by RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya, where he had stressed on the need to ensure the independence of the central bank. The speech was delivered with the backing of Patel, suggested the footnotes in Acharya’s speech.
The RBI and the government have been at loggerheads since October. According to reports, the Modi government was ramping up pressure on the bank on three key issues that included excess reserves in the bank which the government wanted for its purposes.
The RBI has an excess reserve of Rs. 3.6 lakh crore, which, the government reportedly wanted to use for development. The bank contended that keeping extra reserves are essential for possible emergencies or extraordinary situations.
Reacting to Patel’s announcement, the Congress tweeted, “Another one bites the dust. This is the result of the ‘chowkidar’s assault on democratic institutions.”