PSBs may not meet agri-lending target

Leading public sector banks (PSBs) in the country, including State Bank of India, Union Bank of India and Bank of Baroda, will need at least 2-3 years to meet the agri-lending targets stipulated by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

RBI has said lending to the agri-segment should constitute 18% of the total loan book of a bank, but most PSBs are short of their targets. RBI has set targets for direct and indirect agriculture credit components at 13.5% and 4.5%, respectively. Direct finance includes short, medium and long-term loans given for agriculture and allied activities directly to individual farmers, self-help groups or joint liability groups of individual farmers. Indirect finance includes lending to corporates, partnership firms and institutions for taking up agriculture or allied activities.

By September end, SBI's disbursement was 12% of its total advances. The corresponding number for Bank of Baroda stood at 15.43% and 9.86% for Union Bank of India. Allahabad Bank and Central Bank of India's total agri-loan book size was 11% and 12%, respectively, of their total advances by the end of September.

Among all PSBs, only Punjab National Bank and Andhra Bank with 17.87% and 17.02%, respectively, are on track to achieve RBI's target by the end of the FY2013.

"In last 3-4 years, demand for corporate credit has been very high and that probably has brought down the percentage of agri-loan book in PSBs," said Rajan Dhawan, executive director of Bank of Baroda.

SBI's top executives have said meeting the agriculture loan target would be challenging and may take 2-3 years, even as they look for new ways on increasing its direct exposure to farmers and also look at alternative lending models. The Union finance minister P Chidambaram during a meeting with public sector lenders last week urged bank executives to give a greater thrust towards meeting their priority lending targets including agricultural loan target of 18%.

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