Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today put private sector debtors on notice saying they will have to pay their dues to banks or allow somebody else to step in and take control of the business.

Using the new bankruptcy law, the central bank has prodded banks to initiate insolvency proceedings against 12 large corporate defaulter to resolve Rs 2 lakh crore or almost a fourth of the country’s bad debt.

More defaulters are being notified for action.

Jaitley said the government was open to providing more capital to banks but cleaning up stressed loans was bigger priority.

“Through the bankruptcy law, I think this is the first time that debtors in India are being taken to task,” he said at the Economist Summit here.

Stating that results of the proceedings against major debtors would dictate how the banking situation improves, he said the process process will take time. “You can’t have a surgical solution to this,” he said.

Raising resources

“A very easy solution to suggest is tax payers must pay because the private sector has defaulted,” the finance minister said, adding bank recapitalisation—where the government puts in more capital in public sector banks to shore up their books—effectively amounted to that. “Therefore, I think let’s try and make the private sector pay for their debts or allow somebody else to step in,” he said.

He said that the governmenthas already put in Rs 70,000 crore in banks as capital and is “open” to putting in more money. “There is also a possibility of some banks raising resources from markets,” he said.

“We are also at an active stage going for consolidation. We don’t need so many public sector banks. We need fewer but stronger banks,” the minister said.

The Union Cabinet had last week decided to speed up mergers among 21 public sector banks (PSBs) to scale efficiencies and improve the quality of corporate governance. However, the absent fresh capital infusions from the government, had cast doubts if such mergers would improve PSBs’ weak capitalisation.

Jaitley said that putting in more money at a later stage is a possibility.

The government owns majority stakes in 21 banks and merger of some of them is being considered for broader economic revival. These lenders hold around 74 per cent of all deposits.

On interest rates, Jaitley said that every finance minister wants interest rates to go down. “That’s been constantly the desire of everyone. But then at the end of the day, the regime and the system we have is that the finance ministry or North Block does not have the last word in this. Therefore we will live with the regime that we have,” he said.

The Reserve Bank sets benchmark borrowing and repurchase rates, which are used as a reference by banks to decide on interest rates.