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Today the word ‘Wilful defaulter’ is the humming word of every Indians, since the bank declared Mr. Vijay Malya as wilful defaulter.

Can a bank declare any one as defaulter?

No, the bank cannot exercising the same on its own, but they can exercise by following the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines issued vide circular dt: 01/07/2014.   

Who can exercise the power under Circular 01/07/2014?

All scheduled commercial banks (excluding Regional Rural Banks and Local Area Banks) and All India Notified Financial Institutions (FI).

Object of the circular:

For cautioning banks and financial institutions so as to ensure that further bank finance is not made available to them.

Against whom it will apply?

It will apply against a ‘unit’

The term ‘unit’ appearing therein has to be taken to include individuals, juristic persons and all other forms of business enterprises, whether incorporated or not. In case of business enterprises (other than companies), banks/FIs may also report (in the Director column) the names of those persons who are in charge and responsible for the management of the affairs of the business enterprise.

The term ‘lender’ appearing in the circular covers all banks/FIs to which any amount is due, provided it is arising on account of any banking transaction, including off balance sheet transactions such as derivatives, guarantee and Letter of Credit.

Definition of ‘Wilful default’

(a) The unit has defaulted in meeting its payment / repayment obligations to the lender even when it has the capacity to honour the said obligations.

(b) The unit has defaulted in meeting its payment / repayment obligations to the lender and has not utilised the finance from the lender for the specific purposes for which finance was availed of but has diverted the funds for other purposes.

(c) The unit has defaulted in meeting its payment / repayment obligations to the lender and has siphoned off the funds so that the funds have not been utilised for the specific purpose for which finance was availed of, nor are the funds available with the unit in the form of other assets.

(d) The unit has defaulted in meeting its payment / repayment obligations to the lender and has also disposed off or removed the movable fixed assets or immovable property given by him or it for the purpose of securing a term loan without the knowledge of the bank/lender.

Definition of ‘diversion of fund’

(a) utilisation of short-term working capital funds for long-term purposes not in conformity with the terms of sanction;

(b) deploying borrowed funds for purposes / activities or creation of assets other than those for which the loan was sanctioned;

(c) transferring borrowed funds to the subsidiaries / Group companies or other corporates by whatever modalities;

(d) routing of funds through any bank other than the lender bank or members of consortium without prior permission of the lender;

(e) investment in other companies by way of acquiring equities / debt instruments without approval of lenders;

(f) shortfall in deployment of funds vis-à-vis the amounts disbursed / drawn and the difference not being accounted for.

Definition of ‘Siphoning fund’

if any funds borrowed from banks / FIs are utilised for purposes un-related to the operations of the borrower, to the detriment of the financial health of the entity or of the lender.

The decision as to whether a particular instance amounts to siphoning of funds would have to be a judgement of the lenders based on objective facts and circumstances of the case.

Can a single incident / default declare as wilful default?

No, the identification of the wilful default should be made keeping in view the track record of the borrowers and should not be decided on the basis of isolated transactions/incidents. The default to be categorised as wilful must be intentional, deliberate and calculated.

What is the limit to declare a unit as wilful defaulter?

As of now, there is no limit fixed in the circular but the default amount is Rs. 25 Lakh and more, the banks and FIs should report the cases to RBI.

Is there any mechanism for identification of wilful defaulter?


(a) The evidence of wilful default on the part of the borrowing company and its promoter/whole-time director at the relevant time should be examined by a Committee headed by an Executive Director and consisting of two other senior officers of the rank of General Manager (GM)/Deputy General Manager (DGM).

(b) If the Committee concludes that an event of wilful default has occurred, it shall issue a Show Cause Notice to the concerned borrower and the promoter/whole-time director and call for their submissions and after considering their submissions issue an order recording the fact of wilful default and the reasons for the same. An opportunity should be given to the borrower and the promoter/whole-time director for a personal hearing if the Committee feels such an opportunity is necessary.

(c) The Order of the Committee should be reviewed by another Committee headed by the Chairman / Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Managing Director (MD) and consisting, in addition, of two independent directors of the Bank and the Order shall become final only after it is confirmed by the said Review Committee.

(d) As regard a non-promoter/non-whole time director, it should be kept in mind that Section 2(60) of the Companies Act, 2013 defines an officer who is in default to mean only the following categories of directors:

Whole-time director

(i) where there is no key managerial personnel, such director or directors as specified by the Board in this behalf and who has or have given his or their consent in writing to the Board to such specification, or all the directors, if no director is so specified;

(ii) every director, in respect of a contravention of any of the provisions of this Act, who is aware of such contravention by virtue of the receipt by him of any proceedings of the Board or participation in such proceedings and who has not objected to the same, or where such contravention had taken place with his consent or connivance.

Therefore, except in very rare cases, a non-whole time director should not be considered as a wilful defaulter unless it is conclusively established that

I. he was aware of the fact of wilful default by the borrower by virtue of any proceedings recorded in the Minutes of the Board or a Committee of the Board and has not recorded his objection to the same in the Minutes, or,

II. the wilful default had taken place with his consent or connivance.

A similar process as detailed in sub paras (a) to (c) above should be followed when identifying a non-promoter/non-whole time director as a wilful defaulter.

What is the legal status of the guarantee furnished by individuals, group of companies & non group of companies for the wilful defaulter?

While dealing with wilful default of a single borrowing company in a Group, the banks /FIs should consider the track record of the individual company, with reference to its repayment performance to its lenders. However, in cases where guarantees furnished by the companies within the Group on behalf of the wilfully defaulting units are not honoured when invoked by the banks /FIs, such Group companies should also be reckoned as wilful defaulters.

In connection with the guarantors, banks have raised queries regarding inclusion of names of guarantors who are either individuals (not being directors of the company) or non-group corporates in the list of wilful defaulters. It is advised that in terms of Section 128 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, the liability of the surety is co-extensive with that of the principal debtor unless it is otherwise provided by the contract. Therefore, when a default is made in making repayment by the principal debtor, the banker will be able to proceed against the guarantor/surety even without exhausting the remedies against the principal debtor. As such, where a banker has made a claim on the guarantor on account of the default made by the principal debtor, the liability of the guarantor is immediate. In case the said guarantor refuses to comply with the demand made by the creditor/banker, despite having sufficient means to make payment of the dues, such guarantor would also be treated as a wilful defaulter. It is clarified that this treatment of non-group corporate and individual guarantors would apply only prospectively and not to cases where guarantees were taken prior to this circular. Banks/FIs may ensure that this position is made known to all prospective guarantors at the time of accepting guarantees.

Whether the auditor has any role in this regard?


In case any falsification of accounts on the part of the borrowers is observed by the banks / FIs, and if it is observed that the auditors were negligent or deficient in conducting the audit, they should lodge a formal complaint against the auditors of the borrowers with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) to enable the ICAI to examine and fix accountability of the auditors. Pending disciplinary action by ICAI, the complaints may also be forwarded to the RBI (Department of Banking Supervision, Central Office) and Indian Bank Association (IBA) for records. IBA would circulate the names of the Chartered Accountant (CA) firms against whom many complaints have been received amongst all banks who should consider this aspect before assigning any work to them. RBI would also share such information with other financial sector regulators/Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) / Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).

With a view to monitoring the end-use of funds, if the lenders desire a specific certification from the borrowers’ auditors regarding diversion / siphoning of funds by the borrower, the lender should award a separate mandate to the auditors for the purpose. To facilitate such certification by the auditors the banks and FIs will also need to ensure that appropriate covenants in the loan agreements are incorporated to enable award of such a mandate by the lenders to the borrowers / auditors.

In addition to the above, banks are advised that with a view to ensuring proper end-use of funds and preventing diversion/siphoning of funds by the borrowers, lenders could consider engaging their own auditors for such specific certification purpose without relying on certification given by borrower’s auditors. However, this cannot substitute bank’s basic minimum own diligence in the matter.

Penal measures

The following measures will be initiated / taken against the wilful defaulter 

a) No additional facilities should be granted by any bank / FI to the listed wilful defaulters. In addition, the entrepreneurs / promoters of companies where banks / FIs have identified siphoning / diversion of funds, misrepresentation, falsification of accounts and fraudulent transactions should be debarred from institutional finance from the scheduled commercial banks, Development Financial Institutions, Government owned NBFCs, investment institutions etc. for floating new ventures for a period of 5 years from the date the name of the wilful defaulter is published in the list of wilful defaulters by the RBI.

b) The legal process, wherever warranted, against the borrowers / guarantors and foreclosure of recovery of dues should be initiated expeditiously. The lenders may initiate criminal proceedings against wilful defaulters, wherever necessary.

c) Wherever possible, the banks and FIs should adopt a proactive approach for a change of management of the wilfully defaulting borrower unit.

d) A covenant in the loan agreements with the companies in which the banks/FIs have significant stake, should be incorporated by the banks/FIs to the effect that the borrowing company should not induct on its board a person whose name appears in the list of Wilful Defaulters and that in case, such a person is found to be on its board, it would take expeditious and effective steps for removal of the person from its board. It would be imperative on the part of the banks and FIs to put in place a transparent mechanism for the entire process so that the penal provisions are not misused and the scope of such discretionary powers are kept to the barest minimum. It should also be ensured that a solitary or isolated instance is not made the basis for imposing the penal action.

Can the banks / FIs initiate criminal action against the Wilful defaulter?


It is essential to recognise that there is scope even under the existing legislations to initiate criminal action against wilful defaulters depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case under the provisions of Sections 403 and 415 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860. Banks / FIs are, therefore, advised to seriously and promptly consider initiating criminal action against wilful defaulters or wrong certification by borrowers, wherever considered necessary, based on the facts and circumstances of each case under the above provisions of the IPC to comply with our instructions and the recommendations of Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).

It should also be ensured that the penal provisions are used effectively and determinedly but after careful consideration and due caution. Towards this end, banks / FIs are advised to put in place a transparent mechanism, with the approval of their Board, for initiating criminal proceedings based on the facts of individual case.

What are JPC’s recommendations?

a. It is essential that offences of breach of trust or cheating construed to have been committed in the case of loans should be clearly defined under the existing statutes governing the banks, providing for criminal action in all cases where the borrowers divert the funds with malafide intentions.

b. It is essential that banks closely monitor the end-use of funds and obtain certificates from the borrowers certifying that the funds have been used for the purpose for which these were obtained.

c. Wrong certification should attract criminal action against the borrower.

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