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After 39 years, Vishwanathan leaves RBI due to ill-health

Mumbai, Mar 31 (PTI) N S Vishwanathan, the senior-most deputy governor of the Reserve Bank, demitted office three months ahead of his extended tenure on Tuesday on health grounds after serving the nation's monetary authority for 39 years.

His departure comes at critical time for the central bank and also for the country given the crisis arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Citing deteriorating health, the 62-year-old Vishwanathan had on March 6 requested the central bank to relieve his from duties by the end of the month.

With this, he becomes the second deputy governor to leave under Shatikanta Das who took over as the governor in December 2018. Deputy governor Viral Acharya left in June 2019, six months ahead of his tenure.

In his farewell note sent to colleagues and the rest of the RBI family, Vishwanathan said, 'For someone who has been with the Bank for nearly 39 years, the thought that I would, in a couple of hours from now, become an ‘ex-RBI official’ leaves a very eerie feeling. I am at the same time elated because there is still ‘RBI’ in that term.' Vishwanathan, born in June 1958 in a middle-class Kerala family, did his Masters in economics from the Bangalore University. He joined RBI as a Grade B officer in November 1981 and went to become the deputy governor on June 28, 2016 under Governor Raghuram Rajan. He was heading the all-important department of banking supervision, and replaced H R Khan.

Vishwanathan went onto serve the bank under governors Urjit Patel and Shaktikanta Das and was given a one-year extension last year till July 3, 2020.

He was a director on the board of Punjab National Bank from September 2012 to May 2013, a nominee director at Dena Bank from May 2011 to September 2012 and chief general manager of vigilance at IFCI. In April, he became an executive director of the Bank.

He was also a director of supervision at the Bank of Mauritius, the central bank of the island nation.

Admitting that there have been moments of disappointments, misses and frustration, Vishwanathan however said 'high points have, outnumbered, outclassed and outlasted the low points, by far', as per the farewell note seen by PTI.

Describing RBI is an outstanding institution, he said he has seen the bank scaling new heights and thus growing in stature over the years.

PTI had on March 7 reported that the Reserve Bank had accepted Vishwanathan’s request to be relieved by March 31, even though, despite ill health, he was planning to serve the bank till end-April, but his deteriorating health did not allow him to.

Vishwanathan has been in-charge of the key supervisory and regulatory functions at the Mint Road and it was this powerful position that led the government to offer him an extension given the problems in the banking system.

The RBI's supervisory and regulatory powers came under criticism after IL&FS, one of the largest NBFCs, went belly up in September 2018. And then came the scam at the city-based PMC Bank in September 2019. Both incidents dented the image of RBI's regulatory prowess.

As deputy governor, Vishwanathan was heading the departments of banking regulation, co-operative banking regulation, non-banking regulation, Deposit Insurance & Credit Guarantee Corporation, the financial stability unit, and departments of inspection, risk monitoring and also the secretary's department.

An RBI observer said his departure will pose a challenge for the central bank to navigate the key supervisory and regulatory functions in one of its most difficult times.

He was one of the key supporters for governor Patel in getting the crippled state-run banks under prompt corrective action framework, as also sending the largest defaulters for bankruptcy through the February 2018 circular, struck down by the Supreme Court last April. PTI BEN SHW ABM ABM