Assuring that honest commercial decisions taken by bankers will be protected, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday said the government has decided to take measures to assuage concerns over harassment by investigative agencies. In a meeting with heads of the public sector banks (PSBs), also attended by the CBI Director, she assured the bankers that a distinction would be made between genuine commercial failures and culpability.
"Banks have gone through a slightly worrying period wherein decision making was getting difficult because of fear of 3Cs. There was concern and bona fide decisions are not being made by banks because of what they would say undue harassment, uncalled for harassment happens because of these agencies pursuing on cases," Sitharaman said.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) are commonly referred as 3Cs. "So, on that we've had a quite a few decisions, and quite a few exchanges of engagement with the banks in the presence of the CBI director to help easing out the process. Some of the confusion, apprehension have been explained by the CBI director," she said.
The CBI will have discussions, and workshops with the bank officials from the level of vigilance officers, senior managers to general managers to explain and eliminate apprehension from their minds, she added. The minister also said that the similar exercise will be done with other investigative agencies like Enforcement Directorate, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, and Customs to allay fears from their mind.
Sitharaman also directed public sector bank heads to clear long pending vigilance cases against their officials for alleged malpractices. The banks should form a panel headed by General Manager and it should either take decision to pursue the case with timeline or close the file of long pending vigilance cases, she instructed.
It was decided that the CBI will develop a mechanism -- as recently introduced for income tax notices -- so that its notices carry a registration number to avoid any scope for unauthorised communication and consequent harassment.
In line with tax department, she said, the CBI can look at documentation identification number to check unnecessary harassment from official of the investigative agency. "While pursuing criminal action against those responsible, the agency shall be sensitive to the distinction between genuine commercial failures and culpability. It was also noted that there is need for preserving the value of the business enterprise by treating it on a separate footing from culpability of individuals, if any," she said.
During the meeting she assured bankers that prudent commercial decision-making would be protected. It was also decided that PSBs may report instances of fraud through e-filing of FIRs on a designated email address of CBI so as to avoid scope of any arbitrage due to information asymmetry.
The CBI would establish a dedicated phone number on which any person could give information regarding any undue harassment by the investigative machinery, she added. The banks were also advised to ensure rigor and adherence to objective standards in selection of forensic auditors and devising objective SOPs (standard operating procedures) for carrying out of forensic audit.
To this end, the Indian Banks' Association was requested to strengthen the forensic auditor empanelment process and put in place robust arrangements for assessing adherence to standards by forensic auditors.