Burden of Bad Loans

The economy shrank by nearly one-fourth during the first three months of this fiscal year. Much of this was due to the harsh lockdown initiated in March. Roughly three-fourths of the economy was practically shut for a month, after which there were a series of renewed lockdowns with partial relaxations. For this quarter, the economy suffered a triple shock, like demand, supply and finance collapsed. Unemployment rose close to 30 per cent in April, rendering nearly 122 million people jobless. In cities, whose workforce consists of 40 per cent migrants on an average, the toll on livelihoods was severe. With the loss of jobs and income, it soon became a food crisis for many urban households, necessitating emergency measures from state governments. The Central government’s initial relief package was to enhance food security by doubling the rations and extending this up to November.

The big 20-lakh-crore package announced by the Central government in May consisted largely of liquidity support. For instance, micro, small and medium enterprises are eligible to guaranteed loans up to Rs 3 lakh crore. Of this amount, roughly half has been sanctioned and loans are being disbursed. It is no wonder that the demand for loans is muted since small businesses already hit by zero demand are not keen to take on any additional debt burden. But those small businesses which have a cash management mismatch, i.e., they have pending invoices that have not been paid by their customers, are quite willing to take loan support to tide over their crisis. In effect, such small businesses face a problem of illiquidity; not of insolvency.

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