Notwithstanding the Constitutional impropriety in the wake of the 97th Constitutional Amendment Act 2012 that should take effect from February 14 2013 in the States, Andhra Pradesh in the name of democracy, forgotten for two and half years, conducted the Elections to the Cooperative Societies in the State.
All the newly enrolled members were voters to the extent of 100 percent while the active members, that is, those who availed services from the cooperative societies for which they were members, who constituted around 40% muted the queue at the election booths. The candidates report having spent lakhs of rupees to win the election and are eager to run up to the Chairman and Board positions to recover their expenses.
A day after the elections one District Collector, a functional Registrar of Cooperative Societies, made an anguished public announcement that the applications for gas and public distribution would not be accepted if they bear the account numbers of the cooperative banks! The Government any way does not allow deposits of public institutions to be kept with the Cooperative Banks – urban or rural! This is the trust that the Government has in the system to which it enthusiastically conducted the Elections. The Government feels that these institutions are fragile and have weak governance. Democracy makes it weak in governance?
Public memory lives short – the debacle of Charminar Cooperative Bank, Prudential Cooperative Bank, and a few more in the State and elsewhere alerted the financial regulator to put in a strong coordinated mechanism to revive the Urban Cooperative Banks through the Task Force on Cooperative Urban Banks. While there is no such mechanism for the District Central Cooperative Banks, with lackadaisical implementation of Vaidyanathan Committee recommendations that called for professionalization in all the States, the non-professional Chairpersons now elected would like to make a fast buck in credit sanctions and releases for the large number of vulnerable farmers, small business owners, weavers, and artisans apart from the greedy real estate builders. Most of those elected keep their own deposits with the commercial banks, both of their own and of their families!! These trusted ‘public servants’ have to revive the trust in the cooperative banking.
Over and above this, the DCCBs are today licensed by the RBI unlike in the past and this would require strict conformance to statutory ratios, liquidity norms, a strong relationship with the Apex Bank and credit and financial discipline. They can no longer indulge in the luxury of postponing their annual closing in their books to window dress their recoveries. The RBI after a few warnings and punishments to the errand would not hesitate closing down such banks. Even the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank today is in trouble for getting its license.
Government does not trust cooperatives but conducts elections for political mileage:
The Chairpersons of the Commercial Banks, with private and local area banks being no exception, are selected following certain due diligence and fit and proper criteria to hold such positions. In the case of DCCBs, now licensed, the Chairpersons are elected through the ballot.
If the Chairpersons of these cooperative banks were to be transparent and knowledgeable, they should be on the roll-call of the Bank. It is desirable to put them on monthly salary and defined perks with certain boundaries of personal expenses. This would make them accountable to the institution. None of them shall have any personal security guards at the expense of the Bank. They should be trained to read the Bank’s Books of accounts and balance sheets. They should submit their statement of election expenses; should declare their personal and family assets and liabilities in a sealed cover to the CEO of the Bank. . They should take oath before assuming their position as Chairman regarding a well defined code of conduct to be prescribed by the RBI.
Public money has proved a bane at the hands of a political executive, in most cooperative institutions and institutional mechanisms should be put in place to prevent abuse of power and resources.
(The Author is also Member, RBI Expert Committee on Short Term Cooperative Credit Restructuring; can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)