NHAI to aid companies with arbitration award

NHAI alone is to clear claims of over Rs 50,000 crore to road developers, despite the government agency losing cases in arbitration.

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Government- Constrofacilitator

NEW DELHI: Government after dilly-dallying for years due to resistance from ministries dealing with infrastructure, the finance ministry has moved a plan to make it easier for companies to get 75% of the arbitration award in case of construction projects that were facing disputes. 

National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) alone is to clear claims of over Rs 50,000 crore to road developers, despite the government agency losing cases in arbitration. The amount could easily top Rs 1 lakh crore if the claims related to railways and power is included, officials said.

While a policy had been put in place three years ago, the awards are still not being made as the government agencies insist on bank guarantees equal to the 75% payout. Now, the finance ministry has moved a cabinet note to do away with this contentious issue, which companies said is resulting in payments being held back. 

For companies, there is the additional issue of banks levying interest on the amount that is under dispute. Government officials said the finance ministry has suggested that the interest burden should be borne by the agency that holds back payments, a move that will put the burden on NHAI, railways and the power sector PSUs. 

Payment to these companies will not only increase liquidity in the system but will also help some of the companies repay loans to banks. Several construction companies have turned NPAs as disputes with the government agencies have lingered on for years. 

Till February, NHAI had not paid claims in 25 out of the 78 cases where the arbitration award was in favour of the contractors, who have been unable to submit bank guarantees. In some cases, the highway developers have been waiting for more than two-and-a-half years to get the guarantee. 

Till February end, the NHAI had released nearly Rs 2,660 crore to road builders under this mechanism.Industry insiders said the 75% payment scheme has not been successful since the Indian Bank Association (IBA) came out with stringent guideline for giving bank guarantee.  P C Grover, director general of NH Builders Federation said that initially, only a couple of big companies got the benefit. Banks got reluctant to give bank guarantee until they had 100% margin for such payments. So, now even reputed firms are unable to get the bank guarantee. Smaller developers have hardly got any benefit. The federation has suggested to banks that they should take into account of the projects being undertaken by a developer in any state while giving the bank guarantee. 

Source: Economic Times

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