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A Bank’s Comrade: An Overview of the SARFAESI Act

The Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002 ('SARFAESI Act') stands as a pivotal legislative measure introduced by the Indian Parliament to address the persistent issue of non-performing assets ('NPAs') within the banking sector. By enabling banks and financial institutions to recover debts efficiently without court intervention, the Act streamlines asset recovery and reduces procedural delays. This article explores the SARFAESI Act’s evolution, its critical mechanisms, and its significant impact on the financial landscape, demonstrating its role in enhancing the operational efficiencies of financial institutions while balancing borrower protections.

Introduction

The SARFAESI Act was enacted by the Parliament of India to address the mounting issue of NPAs, arising within the banking sector in India. This legislative framework of the aforementioned Act enabled the banks and financial institutions to efficiently manage and recover bad debts independently, an issue, which posed significant challenges.

Before the enactment of the SARFAESI Act, the recovery of bad debts in India was primarily governed by civil litigation and the Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions (‘RDDBFI’) Act, 1993. Civil litigation was slow, resource-intensive, and often resulted in uncertain outcomes due to procedural delays. The RDDBFI Act introduced Debt Recovery Tribunals (‘DRTs’) for the purpose of expediting debt recovery. However, owing to jurisdictional limits and resource limitations, the DRTs became overburdened and thus, ineffective over time. Mechanisms for securitization and asset reconstruction were fragmented and lacked a comprehensive statutory framework. Enforcing mortgages by foreclosing on properties and taking back assets used as collateral was a complicated and slow process. Alternative mechanisms like Lok Adalats and Corporate Debt Restructuring, unfortunately, had limited effectiveness. These challenges led to procedural delays, and low recovery rates, thereby further adversely impacting the banking sector's financial stability. The need for a more robust and streamlined recovery mechanism culminated in the enactment of the SARFAESI Act, which significantly reformed the debt recovery landscape by providing financial institutions with effective tools to enforce security interests and recover bad debts efficiently.

The SARFAESI Act was designed with the primary objective of empowering banks and financial institutions with the ability to enforce security interests without the need for court intervention. This was intended to expedite the recovery process, minimize litigation, and enhance the overall financial stability of lending institutions. The Act applies to all financial institutions, including public and private sector banks, Non-Banking Financial Companies (‘NBFCs’), and Asset Reconstruction Companies (‘ARCs’). Its introduction marked a paradigm shift in the approach towards debt recovery, positioning itself as one of the most potent tools for financial institutions to combat the issue of bad debts.

Salient Features of the Act

The SARFAESI Act encompasses several key features aimed at streamlining the process of debt recovery and asset reconstruction. These features include:

  1. Securitization of Financial Assets: The Act facilitates the creation of ARCs that specialize in the acquisition and management of NPAs. Financial institutions can sell their NPAs to these ARCs, which then undertake the task of asset reconstruction and recovery.

  2. Enforcement of Security Interests: Secured creditors are empowered to take possession of the secured assets and thereafter sell them, without the court’s permission and/or intervention, ensuring a faster and more efficient recovery process.

  3. Simplified Recovery Procedures: The Act provides a clear and structured procedure for issuing notices, taking possession of assets, and conducting sales. This reduces delays and minimizes the potential litigation.

  4. Provisions for Appeals: Borrowers are granted the right to appeal against the actions of secured creditors, ensuring a balanced approach and safeguarding their rights.

  5. Establishment of Central Registry: The Act mandates the establishment of a Central Registry to maintain records of securitization, reconstruction, and the creation of security interests. This enhances transparency and reduces the risk of fraud.

The Applicability of the SARFAESI Act

The SARFAESI Act addresses several critical issues that plagued the Indian financial sector prior to its enactment:

  1. High Incidence of NPAs: The Act provides mechanisms for the efficient recovery of bad debts, thereby reducing the volume of NPAs and improving the financial health of financial institutions.

  2. Inefficient Judicial Processes: By allowing enforcement actions without court intervention, the Act significantly reduces the time and cost associated with litigation.

  3. Misuse of Borrowed Funds: The stringent recovery measures under the Act serve as a deterrent against the misappropriation of funds by borrowers.

  4. Asset Reconstruction: The establishment of ARCs facilitates the restructuring of distressed assets, enabling better management and recovery.

Further, the SARFAESI Act applies to all financial institutions, including banks, ARCs, and NBFCs, empowering them to enforce security interests in secured assets. The Act covers the following aspects:

  1. Securitization Transactions: Involving the sale and transfer of financial assets to ARCs.

  2. Enforcement of Security Interests: Allowing secured creditors to take possession of and sell secured assets.

  3. Management of NPAs: Providing mechanisms for the acquisition and reconstruction of distressed financial assets through ARCs.

  4. Appeal Mechanisms: Ensuring a fair process by providing borrowers with the right to appeal against enforcement actions.

Enforceability of Security Interests

The SARFAESI Act provides a structured process for the enforcement of security interests by secured creditors. Upon default by the borrower, the creditor can initiate recovery proceedings without court intervention, ensuring a faster and more efficient process. The Act empowers creditors to take possession of secured assets and proceed with their sale or lease to recover the outstanding dues.

The recovery process under the SARFAESI Act is detailed and structured to ensure transparency and fairness. The key steps involved are:

  1. S.13(2) - Demand Notice: The secured creditor must issue a demand notice to the defaulting borrower, requiring the discharge of liabilities within 60 days. The notice should specify the amount due and the actions that the creditor intends to take in case of non-compliance.

  2. S.13(4) - Possession Notice: If the borrower fails to comply with the demand notice within the stipulated period, the creditor can take possession of the secured assets and issue a possession notice. This notice should inform the borrower about the taking over of the asset and provide details about the next steps.

Furthermore, the sale of immovable assets under the SARFAESI Act is governed by rs. 8 and 9 of the Security Interest (Enforcement) Rules, 2002 (‘Rules’).

  1. R. 8: This rule outlines the procedure for taking possession of the immovable property, including the requirement to issue a public notice about the intended sale. The notice must be published in two leading newspapers, one of which should be in the local language, and affixed on the property and other conspicuous places.

  2. R. 9: This rule specifies the detailed process for the sale of the asset, including its valuation, auction, and issuance of a sale certificate to the buyer. The sale should be conducted in a transparent manner, ensuring that the highest possible value is realized for the asset.

The SARFAESI Act allows for various methods of selling secured assets to ensure maximum transparency and fair market value realization. These methods include:

  1. Public Auctions: An open bidding process that allows multiple participants to bid for the asset, ensuring competitive pricing.

  2. Private Treaties: Direct negotiations between the secured creditor and a buyer, facilitating a quicker sale process.

  3. Inviting Tenders: Soliciting bids through public notices to attract potential buyers, ensuring a wide reach and competitive offers.

Provisions of Appeal Available to the Borrower

The SARFAESI Act provides borrowers with the right to appeal against the actions of secured creditors, ensuring a fair and balanced approach to debt recovery.

  1. S. 17: This section allows the borrower to file an appeal before the DRT against measures taken by the secured creditor under s. 13(4). The appeal must be filed within 45 days from the date on which the measure was taken. The DRT has the authority to examine whether the secured creditor has complied with the provisions of the Act and the Rules, and it can grant relief if the borrower's rights have been violated.

  2. S. 18: If the borrower is aggrieved by the decision of the DRT, they can further appeal to the Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunal (‘DRAT’). The appeal to the DRAT must be filed within 30 days of the DRT’s order. Additionally, borrowers can approach the High Courts through writ petitions under a. 226 of the Constitution of India for any violation of their fundamental rights.

Borrowers can appeal on various grounds, including:

  1. Procedural Irregularities: Non-compliance with the procedures laid down in the Act and the Rules.

  2. Improper Notice: Failure to issue a proper demand notice or possession notice, which is mandatory under the Act.

  3. Incorrect Valuation: Disputes regarding the valuation of the secured assets, may result in an unfair sale price.

  4. Arbitrary Actions: Actions by the secured creditor that are arbitrary, unreasonable, or not in accordance with the law.

Judicial Analysis and Development of the Act

Several landmark decisions which have shaped the SARFAESI Act to its present structure and standing, have been discussed herein below.

In the case of Mardia Chemicals v. Union of India[i], the constitutional validity of the SARFAESI Act was challenged before the Apex court primarily on the ground that the other laws having similar effects already existed. Moreover, the provisions under ss. 13 and 17 were contended to be unreasonable and arbitrary, thus unconstitutional. The Supreme Court (‘SC’) while upholding the validity of the act observed that though the few provisions of the act are stringent and harsh in nature, it cannot be held as unconstitutional merely on this ground, especially in view of the object that the Act seeks to achieve. The constitutional validity of ss. 13, 17, 18 and 19 was further reaffirmed by the Gujrat High Court in MR utensils v. UOI[ii].

The scope of the SARFAESI Act was widened by the Hon’ble SC in Pandurang Ganpati Chaugule and Others v. Vishwarao Patil Murgud Sahakari Bank Ltd.[iii], wherein it was observed that cooperative societies should also be recognised as banks under the Act. Further, in the Transcore vs. Union of India case, the SC ruled that the SARFAESI Act also applies to non-banking financial companies (‘NBFCs’). This decision further broadened the Act’s scope, allowing NBFCs to utilize the same rights and powers that the banks have, and use, to recover debts from defaulting borrowers.

Moreover, in the case of Harshad Govardhan Sondagar vs. International Assets Reconstruction Company Ltd.[iv], the SC while highlighting the need for procedural fairness and transparency under the SARFAESI Act, observed that the banks must respect the rights of borrowers and follow the established procedure during the enforcement of their security interests. The court ruled that banks are required to adhere to due process, issue proper notices, and give borrowers a chance to be heard, before taking possession or selling the mortgaged properties.

In the case of United Bank of India vs. Satyawati Tondon[v], the SC, furthering the interests of the banks, as well as the objective of the SARFAESI Act held that the banks have the authority to start proceedings in any location, where the borrower or the secured asset is situated, regardless of where the bank's branch is situated. By virtue of the aforementioned decision, the banks could make an independent decision regarding the location of the forum for initiating action, thus, streamlining and enhancing the efficiency of the process.

In Swiss Ribbons Pvt. Ltd. vs. Union of India[vi], the SC upheld the constitutional validity of the SARFAESI Act’s provisions for initiating insolvency proceedings against defaulting borrowers. The Court clarified that the SARFAESI Act and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (‘IBC’) operate in distinct but harmonious spheres, ensuring both can function without conflict.

Additionally, the SC in the case of Phoenix ARC (P) Ltd. v. Vishwa Bharati Vidya Mandir[vii], while addressing the maintainability of a writ petition (‘WP’) under a. 226 of the Constitution of India against an ARC held that halting SARFAESI Act proceedings via interim orders, especially for large sums, is impermissible. Moreover, it also ruled that ARCs, being private financial institutions, are not subject to writ petitions as they lack public functions.

Conclusions and Critical Analysis

The SARFAESI Act, while being a powerful tool for financial institutions, has been criticized for being draconian and biased against borrowers. The Act provides substantial powers to creditors, which, if misused, can lead to harassment and unfair treatment of borrowers. Critics argue that the Act tilts the balance in favour of financial institutions, often disregarding the genuine difficulties faced by borrowers.

However, proponents of the Act emphasize the necessity of such powers to ensure financial discipline and stability. They argue that the Act is designed to protect the interests of both creditors and borrowers by providing a structured and transparent recovery process, along with adequate safeguards for borrowers through the appeal mechanisms. The ability to quickly recover dues and reduce NPAs is essential for the health of the banking sector and the overall economy.

In conclusion, the SARFAESI Act remains a critical legislative measure for financial institutions in India, facilitating efficient debt recovery while safeguarding the rights of borrowers. Despite criticisms of being draconian, the Act’s provisions and judicial interpretations ensure a balanced approach to the enforcement of security interests. The Act has significantly contributed to the reduction of NPAs and the improvement of financial discipline, making it an indispensable tool for the banking sector. However, continuous oversight and judicial scrutiny are essential to prevent misuse and ensure that the rights of borrowers are adequately protected

 




End Notes

[i] 2004 SCC OnLine SC 454

[ii] 2002 SCC OnLine Guj 367

[iii] (2020) 9 SCC 215

[iv] 2014 SCC OnLine SC 295

[v] 2010 SCC OnLine SC 776

[vi] 2019 SCC OnLine SC 73

[vii] 2022 SCC OnLine SC 44






Authored by Pranav Dabas, Advocate at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.

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