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Priority Sector Lending

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RBI: Priority Sector Lending
RBI: Priority Sector Lending

Background Priority Sector Lending

  • At a meeting of the National Credit Council held in July 1968, it was emphasised that commercial banks should increase their involvement in the financing of priority sectors, viz., agriculture and small scale industries.
  • The description of the priority sectors was later formalised in 1972 on the basis of the report submitted by the Informal Study Group on Statistics relating to advances to the Priority Sectors constituted by the Reserve Bank in May 1971.
  • On the basis of this report, the Reserve Bank prescribed a modified return for reporting priority sector advances and certain guidelines were issued in this connection indicating the scope of the items to be included under the various categories of priority sector.
  • Although initially there was no specific target fixed in respect of priority sector lending, in November 1974 the banks were advised to raise the share of these sectors in their aggregate advances to the level of 33 1/3 per cent by March 1979.
  • At a meeting of the Union Finance Minister with the Chief Executive Officers of public sector banks held in March 1980, it was agreed that banks should aim at raising the proportion of their advances to priority sectors to 40 per cent by March 1985.
  • Subsequently, on the basis of the recommendations of the Working Group on the Modalities of Implementation of Priority Sector Lending and the Twenty Point Economic Programme by Banks, all commercial banks were advised to achieve the target of priority sector lending at 40 per cent of aggregate bank advances by 1985.
  • Sub-targets were also specified for lending to agriculture and the weaker sections within the priority sector. Since then, there have been several changes in the scope of priority sector lending and the targets and sub-targets applicable to various bank groups.
  • On the basis of the recommendations of the Internal Working Group, set up in Reserve Bank to examine, review and recommend changes, if any, in the existing policy on priority sector lending including the segments constituting the priority sector, targets and sub-targets, etc. and the comments/suggestions received thereon from banks, financial institutions, public and the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA), it has been decided to include only those sectors that impact large segments of population & the weaker sections, and which are employment-intensive, as part of the priority sector.

What is priority-sector lending?

  • Banks were assigned a special role in the economic development of the country, besides ensuring the growth of the financial sector. The banking regulator, the Reserve Bank of India, has hence prescribed that a portion of bank lending should be for developmental activities, which it calls the priority sector.

The minimum limits

  • The limits are prescribed according to the ownership pattern of banks. While for local banks, both the public and private sectors have to lend 40 % of their net bank credit, or NBC, to the priority sector as defined by RBI, foreign banks have to lend 32% of their NBC to the priority sector.

Net Bank Credit

  • The net bank credit should tally with the figure reported in the fortnightly return submitted under Section 42 (2) of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934. However, outstanding deposits under the FCNR (B) and NRNR schemes are excluded from net bank credit for computation of priority sector lending target/subtargets.

The specific targets within the priority sector

  • Domestic banks have to lend 18 % of NBC to agriculture and 10 % of the NBC has to be to the weaker section. However, foreign banks have to lend 10 % of NBC to the small-scale industries and 12 % of their NBC as export credit. However, for the balance, there are a vast number of sectors that banks can lend as priority sector. The Reserve Bank has a detailed note of what constitutes a priority sector, which also includes housing loans, education loans and loans to MFIs, among others.

The experience so far

  • It has been observed that while banks often tend to meet the overall priority sector targets, they sometimes tend to miss the sub-targets. This is particularly true in case of domestic banks failing to meet their sub-targets for agricultural advances. One of the reasons banks often site for not lending to this sector is that recovery is often difficult.

Penal action in case of non-achievement of priority sector lending target by a bank

  • Domestic banks having a shortfall in lending to priority sector/ agriculture are allocated amounts for contribution to the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) established in NABARD. In case of foreign banks operating in India, which fail to achieve the priority sector lending target or sub-targets, an amount equivalent to the shortfall is required to be deposited with SIDBI for one year.


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