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Mudda panel grapples with Nirav Modi’s Rs 11,300 crore fraud in face of over two lakh farmer suicides, wonders if authorities can bring unscrupulous businessmen like him to book and recover money belonging to taxpayer

For perspective: 270,000 Indian farmers killed themselves in the past 15 years; there were 3,000 suicides in 2015 when a study found 80 percent suicides were driven by unpaid loans. The average value of their loan was Rs 2 lakh. The #NiravModi fraud is worth Rs 11,300 crore. Nirav Modi, or NiMo, as he is being referred to in the media, is currently holed up in a New York City hotel, having flown on January 6, and the Indian government is saddled with the not-so-easy task of finding him. It has lodged a multi-agency probe against him and revoked his passport. But is that enough to bring him to book, especially as there is a high possibility of him having got hold of Belgian papers, his son being a citizen of that country?

Saturday’s Mudda grappled with this paradox with anchor Akshay Singh leading a discussion among farmers’ representative Chaudhary Pushpendra Singh, banker Ashwani Rana, economist Akash Jindal, Congressperson Surendra Rajput, BJP spokesperson Tuhin Sinha and journalist Govind Pant Raju.

Rana made the opening remarks. “It is a systemic lapse. From time to time, the RBI sends us guidelines to strengthen the system. But there is a pressure from higher-ups to favour certain loan takers. Even when it comes to NPAs or non-performing assets, there has been pressure on lower officials until the notification of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code by the incumbent government,” he said.

If a farmer takes a loan of Rs 50,000, goons are sent to his home to recover the money, even when it is no fault of his for being late in returning the money with the crops failing due to natural inclemencies, Pushpendra Singh said.

Sinha harked back to 2013, when he said an Allahabad bank employee was deprived of his rightful promotion and the government appointee put in his place gave out such loans. “Our government, on the other hand, has saved Rs 50,000 crore through direct transfer of benefits and saved more by apprehending the LED scam. We have also brought about other reforms. Even in Vijay Mallya’s case, loans were given out under political pressure by the UPA government. This rot began in 2011 and the UPA government is responsible for it,” he said.

“This money belongs to my rickshaw driver friend, my factory worker friend and my farmer friend. Even if they drink a cup of tea, they are taxed for it. Even the NPAs are taxpayer money. Now we are going to have bail-ins. The hardworking and honest citizen’s money is no longer safe in the bank. This is truly alarming,” he said.

Is the attaching of their property worth Rs 5,000 crore a way out, Akshay asked. A shaky Sinha avoided a direct reply.

Rajput then spoke up, slamming the common practice of whataboutery in public debates. When Sinha angrily responded to his use of the word, shikhandi, never mind the fashionable transgender rights, Singh interjected, “The audience is clever. Don’t divert attention from the topic.”

Rajput said the UPA government put Harshad Mehta in jail, but Lalit Modi, Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya are all scot free during the NDA tenure.

“Please do not bring party politics in the matter. These scams took place even as the country was reeling under the effects of demonetisation. Please prosecute the guilty and clean up the system,” Raju advised.

The loan recovery procedure is the same for everyone. Even it is a small loan, the loan will become an NPA in 90 days. This rule has come about under the present government. On the other hand, indira Gandhi’s nationalisation of banks was responsible for turning them into instruments of state corruption, Rana said.

“The common man is getting penalised because of the system of bail-out now in place, wherein we pay high taxes to the government to account for the unrecovered NPAs. Now, the government is pondering about introducing bail-in. Till date, there has been negligible recovery of these loans or money lost to scams. The finance ministry is answerable,” he added.

We are examining these clauses. Please be assured that we will not table the bill in that form, Tuhin said in reply.

“With our huge percentage of NPAs and write-offs of loans, we are fast becoming a PIGS country, similar to Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain, the sick men of Europe,” Pushpendra Singh observed.

Why did Gitanjali Gems attend Davos? We should keep fraudsters and unscrupulous businessmen such as these away from the prime minister, Rajput said.

—Compiled by Sucheta Dasgupta

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