The Justice Srikrishna report is the final nail in Chanda Kochhar’s banking career. A commission of inquiry does not have the rigour of a trial court, but the highly regarded judge has irrevocably strengthened the public perception about a serious conflict of interest between the role of the Padma Bhushan awardee as the custodian of public money and inappropriate lending predicated on a quid pro quo. Whether the CBI will go the whole hog in the case, given the split in the higher echelons of the government over a wide-brush case against bankers, remains to be seen.
But the brazenness displayed by Kochhar and before that of the ICICI board comprising the stars of Indian private banking hints that the breadth and seriousness of the crimes may be more than that uncovered so far. The whistleblower’s revelations might as well have died a natural death; after all the CBI’s preliminary probe had hardly made glacial progress for two years and burst into life after a new officer was entrusted with the probe. While the investigation will plod its course, there is a need for an examination of reform options to infuse greater accountability even among the monitors for even the RBI in 2016 could not detect anything amiss in the bank’s dealings and let the alleged misconduct go unpunished.
Moreover, the banks are now manufacturing myriad financial products and it is even more crucial to firmly tackle both personal as well as structural inadequacies that could lead to erosion of public trust. Currently accounting for 30 per cent of business, private banking has a huge growth potential. Chanda Kochhar’s alleged breach of faith must not be allowed to taint the entire sector. In this respect, if Chanda is convicted, it would be very necessary to take a second look at the national honour bestowed on her. In the past, former Haryana DGP RPS Rathore had the police medal withdrawn on conviction for moral turpitude. There is no reason for an example to be made of a black sheep in the banking industry, if that is, indeed, the case.