Kar HC | Court directs RBI to monitor implementation of the Circular relating to regulatory package during COVID times

Karnataka High Court: Suraj Govindaraj, J., dealt with a petition which was filed in order to enforce the regulatory package announced by the RBI by issuing directions to the RBI to  monitor the implementation of the Circular, including verification  of whether there are Board-approved policies formulated by each of the lenders, direct all the banks to submit the Board-approved policies for approval to the RBI, to approve such board-approved policy, verify if such a board-approved policy contains objective criteria, set up a proper and effective grievance redressal forum for any aggrieved borrower to approach on account of the  improper or non-implementation of the Policy and/or Circular etc.

The Petitioner had availed term loan facilities from respondents namely HDFC Bank Limited, Federal Bank and Aditya Birla Finance Limited. The Petitioner has been in the business of running an Information Technology Park, a 5 star Hotel, both of which have been constructed on the land belonging to the Petitioner. In order to service the aforesaid loan, there was an agreement arrived at between lenders that the revenue from the lease rentals of the Technology Park would be credited into Escrow Account and revenue from the  Petitioner’s hotel business would be credited into another Escrow Account. Respondents were entitled to appropriate the Equated Monthly Installment payable on the loans due to them from the Escrow Account where the lease rentals were deposited; the excess rental was to be released from the Escrow Account to the current account of the Petitioner for utilization by the Petitioner to meet its expenses. Similarly, the revenue arising out of the hotel business was to be deposited in the Escrow Account relating to the hotel business, from and out of which, the Petitioner was entitled to draw monies to its current account on a daily basis for use in connection with its hotel business and from the balance, make payment of the equated monthly installment on the loan borrowed on account of the hotel business to respondent on the due date that was 13th of every month. The RBI had set out the various development and regulatory policies to address the stress in the financial condition caused by COVID-19 so as to ease the financial stress which included relaxing  the repayment pressures on the borrowers and by improving access to the working capital by such borrowers. On the basis of which the petitioners had filed the present petition. The Respondents had filed objections contending that the Petitioner had suppressed the material facts in that the Petitioner was receiving rentals from the Technology Park, merely because income/revenue was not being received from the hotel, the Petitioner would not be eligible for any moratorium and the circular issued by the RBI was not mandatory in nature, only directory.

The Court while answering if the writ of Mandamus could be issued against a private bank to implement the circular issued by RBI, held that the writ would be maintainable for the enforcement of public duty. Answering next two questions of whether the circular was mandatory, directory or discretionary and whether grant of moratorium was at the discretion of the bank the Court said that the circular was no doubt discretionary but as far as the power to grant or not a moratorium by a bank, it is mandatory for the Bank to ensure the continuity of viable businesses, in that, the non-grant of a moratorium should not result in adversely affecting the survival and continuity of a viable business and because of the nature of the circular being discretionary any directions cannot be issued to the respondents 1 & 2 to for implementation of the circular.

The Court while disposing of the petition directed the respondents to grant the petitioner with the moratorium period and restrained them from either jointly or severally recovering the loan repayment installments/EMI due in respect of loan accounts of the petitioner during the period of moratorium. It further directed to reverse the recovery of loan repayment installments/EMI already affected and transfer the same to the Current Account of the Petitioner. [Velankani Information Systems Ltd. v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine Kar 835 , decided on 08-07-2020]

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