Business tycoons Mehul Choksi, the Jhunjhunwala brothers, and Vijay Mallya are among the prominent individuals linked to companies named by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in a list of the top 50 wilful defaulters accused of scamming the country's banks.
In a Right to Information or RTI response to activist Saket Gokhale released on Tuesday, the RBI said that outstanding loans amounting to Rs 68,607 crore taken out by the 50 firms have been written off till September 30, 2019.
A "write-off" is an accounting term used to denote assets whose value becomes zero. Written-off loans refer to debt that has been factored as a loss even though the lender may continue attempts to recover it.
Fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi's company Gitanjali Gems tops the list of these defaulters with Rs 5,492 crore. Choksi's other firms Gili India and Nakshatra Brands also have loans of Rs 1,447 and Rs 1,109 crore respectively written off.
He is followed by REI Agro with Rs 4,314 crore and Winsome Diamonds with Rs 4,076 crore.
Rotomac Global Private Limited owes Rs 2,850 crore which have been written off followed by Kudos Chemie Ltd with Rs 2,326 crore, Ruchi Soya Industries Limited, now owned by Yoga guru Ramdev's Patanjali, with Rs 2,212 crore and Zoom Developers Pvt Ltd with Rs 2,012 crore.
Vijay Mallya's Kingfisher Airlines figures in the list at number 9, with outstanding of Rs 1,943 crore which have been written off by the banks.
Forever Precious Jewellery and Diamonds Private Limited has loans of Rs 1,962 crore written off while Deccan Chronicle Holdings Limited have Rs 1,915 crore written off loans.
REI Agro of Jhunjhunwala brothers is already being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate or ED. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and ED are also probing alleged frauds by the owners of Winsome Diamonds.
Vikram Kothari's Rotomac is the fourth in the list. He and his son Rahul Kothari were arrested by the CBI in 2018.
The list was cited by the Congress on Tuesday to attack the government. Party leader Rahul Gandhi accused the government of "hiding" the names because they included "friends" of the ruling BJP.
"I asked a simple question in parliament - tell me the names of 50 biggest bank scammers. Finance Minister refused to reply. Now RBI has put names of Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and other BJP friends in the list. This is why they hid the truth from parliament," Mr Gandhi tweeted in Hindi along with a video.
संसद में मैंने एक सीधा सा प्रश्न पूछा था- मुझे देश के 50 सबसे बड़े बैंक चोरों के नाम बताइए।— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) April 28, 2020
वित्तमंत्री ने जवाब देने से मना कर दिया।
अब RBI ने नीरव मोदी, मेहुल चोकसी सहित भाजपा के ‘मित्रों' के नाम बैंक चोरों की लिस्ट में डाले हैं।
इसीलिए संसद में इस सच को छुपाया गया। pic.twitter.com/xVAkxrxyVM
In his application, RTI activist Saket Gokhale had sought the list of defaulters as on February 16, but the RBI said the requested information is not available. The RBI also said the data was provided by banks and that information on borrowers abroad is exempted from public disclosure.
This is why Finance Minister @nsitharaman tried to escape from a straight & clear question asked by Rahul Gandhi.— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) April 28, 2020
Sadly - the truth can never stay hidden too long.
Massive kudos to RG for calling the govt's bluff way back in March!
PS: Here's the list if anyone missed it ???? https://t.co/OA4moYdTYzpic.twitter.com/JsaoBewhBT
The Indian banking system is reeling under over 10 lakh crore in bad debt, according to news agency Reuters, that has been brought into sharp focus after a number of incidents of billionaires fleeing the country to escape prosecution in recent years and disastrous financial crises at high-profile institutions.
(With inputs from PTI)