The Indian banking sector has witnessed wide ranging changes under the influence of the financial sector reforms initiated during the early 1990s. The approach to such reforms in India has been one of gradual and non-disruptive progress through a consultative process. The emphasis has been on deregulation and opening up the banking sector to market forces. The Reserve Bank has been consistently working towards the establishment of an enabling regulatory framework with prompt and effective supervision as well as the development of technological and institutional infrastructure. Persistent efforts have been made towards adoption of international benchmarks as appropriate to Indian conditions. While certain changes in the legal infrastructure are yet to be effected, the developments so far have brought the Indian financial system closer to global standards.
In the pre-reforms phase, the Indian banking system operated with a high level of statutory preemptions, in the form of both the Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) and the Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR), reflecting the high level of the country’s fiscal deficit and its high degree of monetisation. Efforts in the recent period have been focused on lowering both the CRR and SLR. The statutory minimum of 25 per cent for the SLR was reached as early as 1997, and while the Reserve Bank continues to pursue its medium-term objective of reducing the CRR to the statutory minimum level of 3.0 per cent, the CRR of the Scheduled Commercial Banks (SCBs) is currently placed at 5.0 per cent of NDTL (net demand and time liabilities). The legislative changes proposed by the Government in the Union Budget, 2005-06 to remove the limits on the SLR and CRR are expected to provide freedom to the Reserve Bank in the conduct of monetary policy and also lend further flexibility to the banking system in the deployment of resources.
Interest Rate Structure
Deregulation of interest rates has been one of the key features of financial sector reforms. In recent years, it has improved the competitiveness of the financial environment and strengthened the transmission mechanism of monetary policy. Sequencing of interest rate deregulation has also enabled better price discovery and imparted greater efficiency to the resource allocation process. The process has been gradual and predicated upon the institution of prudential regulation of the banking system, market behaviour, financial opening and, above all, the underlying macroeconomic conditions. Interest rates have now been largely deregulated except in the case of: (i) savings deposit accounts; (ii) non-resident Indian (NRI) deposits; (iii) small loans up to Rs.2 lakh; and (iv) export credit. After the interest rate deregulation, banks became free to determine their own lending interest rates. As advised by the Indian Banks’ Association (a self-regulatory organisation for banks), commercial banks determine their respective BPLRs (benchmark prime lending rates) taking into consideration: (i) actual cost of funds; (ii) operating expenses; and (iii) a minimum margin to cover regulatory requirements of provisioning and capital charge and profit margin. These factors differ from bank to bank and feed into the determination of BPLR and spreads of banks. The BPLRs of public sector banks declined to 10.25-11.25 per cent in March 2005 from 10.25-11.50 per cent in March 2004. With a view to granting operational autonomy to public sector banks, public ownership in these banks was reduced by allowing them to raise capital from the equity market of up to 49 per cent of paid-up capital. Competition is being fostered by permitting new private sector banks, and more liberal entry of branches of foreign banks, joint-venture banks and insurance companies. Recently, a roadmap for the presence of foreign banks in India was released which sets out the process of the gradual opening-up of the...