NEW DELHI: Government on Monday approved five projects with a grant of Rs 175 crore…
NEW DELHI: The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Wednesday, approved various measures to revive the construction sector which has been under stress. Under the proposal put forward by NITI Aayog and approved by the CCEA, the government agencies would pay 75% of the arbitral award amount to an escrow account against margin free bank guarantee, in those cases where the award is challenged. The department of financial services on consultation with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has also been asked to evolve a suitable one-time scheme for addressing stressed bank loans in the construction sector.
The escrow account can be used to repay bank loans or to meet commitments in ongoing projects. Senior government officials described it as a major step which will allow the recovery of loans by banks and allow construction companies to speed up execution of ongoing projects. It will also increase the ability of construction companies to bid for new contracts and the resulting competition will be beneficial in containing the costs of public works. This measure will provide a stimulus to the construction industry and to employment.
Government departments and PSUs have also been instructed to transfer cases under arbitration to the amended Arbitration Act which has an expedited procedure, with the consent of the contractors. In the long run, other measures are also under consideration, including changes to bid documents and model contracts, and increased use of conciliation. NITI will also examine the idea of creating “claim take out funds” financed by private sector investors, while the Department of Financial Services will examine a suitable scheme for addressing stressed bank loans in the construction sector.
Government sources said the move came in the backdrop of the need to have a slew of short-term and long-term initiatives to address the issues ailing the construction sector.
In recent years, the construction sector has been affected by the large number of projects which got stalled during the period of stagnation between 2011 and 2014. The banking sector also has a large exposure to construction, estimated at over Rs. 3 lakh crores. 45% of the bank loans in the sector are under stress.
Studies have shown that a key factor behind the difficulties facing the construction sector is the dependancy of claims from Government bodies. An estimated Rs. 70,000 crore is tied up in arbitration. Over 85% of the claims raised against Government bodies are still pending of which 11% is pending with the Government agencies, 64% with arbitrators and 8.5% with courts. The average settlement time for claims is estimated at more than seven years. A majority of arbitration awards have gone against the Government agencies. In the case of the National Highways Authority, out of a total of 347 arbitral awards, 38 went in favour of the authority and 309 went in favour of the contractor/concessionaire. Out of the arbitral awards in NHAI cases, more than 90% were unanimous awards in which all arbitrators including the one appointed by NHAI had concurred in the decision. In many cases, arbitration awards are contested in the courts, even though a large majority of arbitration decisions are upheld by the courts.
However, of late, the construction sector has been several challenges leading to decline in the overall investments and growth. The issues ailing the sector was discussed with the representatives of construction companies, banks, NHAI, concerned Departments/ Ministries. Based on detailed discussions, larger economic importance and multi-sectoral nature of the issues, NITI Aayog put forward the proposal to suggest various initiatives required for addressing the issues ailing the construction industry.