RBI’s Proposed Framework to Administer Project Financing
May 22, 2024

Why in News?

The RBI's recent draft guidelines on project financing - Draft Prudential Framework for Income Recognition, Asset Classification and Provisioning pertaining to Advances - Projects Under Implementation, Directions, 2024 - have caused much anxiety among lenders.

What’s in Today’s Article?

  • Need for the Project Financing Framework
  • What Causes Time and Cost Overruns and How do it Affect Lenders?
  • What are the New RBI Rules on Project Finance?
  • Why are these Draft Rules Opposed?

Need for the Project Financing Framework:

  • Long gestation periods of infrastructure projects:
    • Hence, there is a higher probability of these projects not being financially viable.
    • The government's budgetary resources might not always be sufficient to cover all of the projects' investment requirements.
  • These projects require a loan with a longer tenure:
    • Public-private partnerships (PPP) and project funding from domestic financial institutions become viable options as a result.
    • For some projects with longer payback periods, the latter is especially important.
  • Time/ cost-overruns in the implementation of these projects: For example,
    • As per the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s March review of 1,837 projects, 779 of them were delayed and 449 faced cost overruns.
    • Cost overruns stood at ₹5.01 lakh crores when compared with their original cost.

What Causes Time and Cost Overruns and How do it Affect Lenders?

  • The reasons for the time overruns include delays in land acquisition; obtaining forest/environment clearances; changes in scope (and size); and delays in tendering, ordering and obtaining equipment; etc.
  • The main causes of cost overruns are under-estimation of original cost, high cost of environmental safeguards and rehabilitation measures for those displaced and spiralling land acquisition costs.
  • These factors operate as deterrents for banks, who would have recorded the project's risks at a particular cost on their records.
  • The increased uncertainty brought about by these procedural and legal variables influences banks' and investors' risk appetite to fund for infrastructure development.
  • Hence, to strengthen the existing regulatory framework for long gestation period financing, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issued draft regulations for consultation.
    • The regulations endeavour to provide a “harmonised prudential framework” for financing projects.

What are the New RBI Rules on Project Finance?

  • It pertains to the prudential framework for financing projects in the infrastructure, non-infrastructure and commercial real estate sectors.
  • It provides for higher provisioning, which means setting aside or providing funds as a percentage of a loan.
    • The central bank aims to increase standard asset provisioning to 1-5% of loans from the current 0.4%, in a phased manner.
    • A bank has to set aside a much higher 5% of the loan exposure during the construction phase, which goes down as the project becomes operational.
    • Once the project reaches the operational phase, the provisions can be reduced to 2.5% of the funded outstanding and then further down to 1% if certain conditions are met.
    • This is a protection against possible accounting shocks in case the loan turns bad.
  • The framework requires that before a financial statement is finalised, all necessary prerequisites (environmental, regulatory and legal clearances relevant to the project) must be met.
  • It also proposes to revise the criteria for changing the date of commencement of commercial operations (DCCO) of such projects, so that the DCCO must be clearly spelt out.
  • The banks will have to classify a loan as non-performing if the project is delayed beyond six months of the original stipulated deadline or date of commencement of commercial operations.
  • The proposed guidelines also spell out details on stress resolution, specify the criteria for upgrading accounts, and invoke recognition.
  • It expects lenders to maintain project-specific data in an electronic and easily accessible format.
  • The RBI also proposed that the original or revised repayment tenor should not exceed 85% of the economic life of the project.

Why are these Draft Rules Opposed?

  • Many think the higher provisioning for standard assets will hit the business of banks and NBFCs as well as the viability and health of infrastructural projects.
  • Banks and NBFCs might transfer part of the heightened costs to borrowers through increased interest rates and thus derailing capital expenditure momentum India has built over the past several years.
  • Sectors such as renewable energy that operate at slim margins will be hit the hardest if interest rates rise.