Not so long ago, Chanda Kochhar grabbed headlines for all the right reasons. In the business press, she was put on the cover of magazines by editors with the same alacrity as top Bollywood starlets. Fawning stories and topping lists of India’s most powerful women in business was what you read. On television it was not much better. Chanda Kochhar was held up to many young women starting out their careers as an icon, she was the undisputed star of the ICICI Bank’s women leaders, one who had revolutionised retail banking. Under former Chairman K.V. Kamath’s leadership, the private bank had promoted a host of women to top roles and Kochhar took the top job when Kamath moved on from an executive role. With her office and its adjoining garden overlooking a vast expanse of Mumbai’s new financial district at Bandra-Kurla Complex, nothing it seemed could go wrong.
Until it did. There were always murmurs about how Kochhar had approved some questionable loans and how her husband and his family were working as financial advisors to ‘help’ companies get favourable loan deals from ICICI Bank. But these murmurs were passed off as comments by jealous rivals, both in other banks and within the financial behemoth itself. The problem with murmurs is that they often have an element of truth to them but when the going is good, nobody really bothers. After all, ICICI Bank was a large profitable entity and under Kochhar’s leadership had become larger, stronger and made its investors a lot of money. But when the Indian economy began to unravel under the weight of non-performing assets, it became clear that it was not only public sector banks that had lent out money in questionable circumstances but private ones too. While ICICI Bank tightened its belts, the murmurs against Kochhar began to grow stronger and stronger until people started putting two and two together and the matter exploded in the pages of the media. After initially defending Kochhar, ICICI Bank and its board decided to let her go. This was part of a larger bloodbath among private bank leadership in India.
The Chanda Kochhar case is yet to be proven by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and a chargesheet does not in any way prove guilt. But the facts do appear to be very damning. If for nothing else, it shows that Kochhar’s husband got a quid pro quo from the Videocon Group’s Venugopal Dhoot for approving a bank loan.This case just highlights that corruption and a lack of personal ethics as well as a lack of understanding of the concept of conflict of interest are not limited to the government and public sector entities alone. Corruption continues to be a problem across Indian society and continues to spread. And it must be tackled, if India is to truly rise up any ease-of-doing business rankings.
Writer and Courtesy: The Pioneer