From drone-based videos to satellite images of infrastructure projects, state-run IIFCL has started using a clutch of tools as part of a new web-based mechanism, becoming the country’s first lender to introduce real-time, remote monitoring system for key projects, the company’s managing director PR Jaishankar told FE.
The move will enable the infrastructure lender to scrutinise fund utilisation on a real-time basis, bolster an “early warning system”, expedite decision-making and identify outliers that can be used for policy updates and risk mitigation, Jaishankar, who joined IIFCL last year, said in an interview.
The move comes at a time when the government has stepped up focus on implementing infrastructure projects on time, with an aim to reverse a slide in growth and boost jobs. As of April, 401 infrastructure projects, each worth Rs 150 crore or more, had been hit by cost overruns of over Rs 4.06 lakh crore owing to delays and other reasons, showed the MOSPI data.
Usually, lenders rely on independent engineers roped in by them to physically visit the project site and submit reports. But this process typically consumes time (at times months), and given the subjectivity in analysis, multiple stakeholders in projects where several lenders are involved make the process cumbersome.
Asked if the new development finance institution, announced in the Budget for FY22, will subsume IIFCL, Jaishankar said he “wouldn’t like to speculate”.
However, he added that the country’s infrastructure financing requirements are so vast that several DFIs and other similar institutions will be needed to work in tandem. “I don’t see competition with the DFI but complementarities,” he said.
Jaishankar said the second Covid wave (from March) has raised challenges for IIFCL but its impact won’t be substantial.
The state-run infrastructure lender’s standalone net profit rose to Rs 286 crore in FY21 from Rs 51 crore in the previous year (when it actually witnessed an operational loss). Its provision coverage also improved to 61% as of March 2021 from 50% a year before. Gross non-performing asset ratio declined to 13.9% in FY21 from 19.7% in the previous fiscal. Similarly, net NPA ratio, too, improved dramatically to 5.4% from 9.8%. Jaishankar hopes to continue the robust performance in improving asset quality in FY22 as well. Recovery saw a massive 90% year-on-year rise in FY21 to `625 crore, boosting the state-run lender’s profitability, he added.
Importantly, IIFCL sanctioned loans worth a record Rs 20,892 crore in FY21 despite the pandemic, against the previous record of about Rs 9,000 crore and up 124% from FY20. Its disbursement also hit a record Rs 9,460 crore last fiscal, up 57% from a year earlier. Its loan assets grew 9% to `36,689 crore in FY21.
Jaishankar also highlighted the need for innovative products in the infrastructure financing space, especially after the government unveiled the National Infrastructure pipeline. This is where IIFCL could be a leader given its expertise, he said, stressing that his company had already stepped up focus on R&D and innovation.
With the economy battered by the pandemic, a government task force on the NIP had in April 2020 firmed up a road map for capital investments of Rs 111 lakh crore in infrastructure up to FY25, pledging 71% of the expenditure for energy, roads, urban development and railways.
Elaborating on the new, real-time monitoring system, Jaishankar said: “The intention is to monitor the physical progress of funded projects on a single screen, remotely, by the means of reports and interactive dashboards, supported by drone-based videos, geo-satellite images and on-site photographs of actual construction site.”