Infra funds to get a push with escrow first charge
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In a bid to attract long-term debt to time-consuming road projects, the government is set to give infrastructure debt funds (IDFs) designated to refinance bank loans to such projects the facility of first charge on escrow accounts of terminated projects. The finance ministry has also stipulated that bonds issued by a concessionaire to an IDF to raise funds for a project must be redeemed well in advance of the completion of the concession period — half the amount after completion of 75% of the period, three-fourths by 85% and the remainder no later than two years before the concession period expires.
The new model tripartite agreement between the National Highways Authority of India, the road builder and IDFs also bestows on these funds the title of "senior lender" and gives them all rights and privileges as enjoyed by the lead bank. The moves are aimed at encouraging banks and financial institutions to launch IDFs, which are expected to play a key role in addressing the asset-liability mismatch between available bank funds and road projects where funding is required for long periods, as much as 25 years in some cases. IDFs help free up bank funding for newer projects.
According to a finance ministry notification, "The authority (NHAI) shall, instead of depositing the termination payment in the escrow account of the project, redeem the bonds by making payments due and payable to the debt fund, and the balance, if any, shall be paid into the escrow account."
Hobbled by land and forest clearance issues, several long-gestation road projects have failed to meet deadlines while some have missed revenue targets. With banks turning wary of lending to such projects, companies have been avoiding them of late.
Domestic and foreign lenders want clarity on IDF rules before putting money into infrastructure, a sector estimated to require $1 trillion in five years.
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