18/06/2016 6:21 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST

RBI Chief Raghuram Rajan To Step Down In September

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013 file photo, newly appointed Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Raghuram Rajan attends a press conference at the RBI headquarters in Mumbai, India. Rajan leads his first monetary policy review Friday as the country looks to the respected former IMF chief economist to rescue Asia's third-largest economy from slow growth, high inflation and a weakened currency. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan, who has faced criticism from members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party for not lowering interest rates enough, said on Saturday he would step down when his term ends on Sept. 4.

In an unexpected move Rajan, a former chief economist at the IMF who has been popular with foreign investors for his efforts to tackle inflation and clean up massive bad loans at state-run banks, said he planned to return to academia.

"I am an academic and I have always made it clear that my ultimate home is in the realm of ideas," Rajan said in a letter to staff released by the central bank.

Rajan, who is on leave from the University of Chicago, joined the RBI in September 2013, when the country was facing its worst currency crisis since the 1990s.

Since then he has been credited with helping to stabilize the currency, restore foreign investors' faith in Indian policymaking and lowering inflation and the current account deficit sharply.

While he has won widespread accolades from investors, he has been facing stiff opposition back home from sections of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Neither the prime minister's office nor the finance ministry spokesman had any immediate comment on Rajan's decision.

In the letter, Rajan expressed pride at the RBI's accomplishments during his tenure, though he said more needed to be done, including the creation of a monetary policy committee to set interest rates and the clean-up of the banking sector.

"While I was open to seeing these developments through, on due reflection, and after consultation with the government, I want to share with you that I will be returning to academia when my term as Governor ends on Sept. 4, 2016. I will, of course, always be available to serve my country when needed."

Government officials had previously told Reuters that Modi's administration would re-appoint the governor, should he wish to stay on. Rajan has previously declined to say whether he would accept such a re-appointment.

Analysts said markets would likely react negatively on Monday, at a time when global factors such as Britain's referendum on European Union membership are already weighing. Current RBI Deputy Governor Urjit Patel, State Bank of India chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya, the finance ministry's Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian and the government's Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das have previously been named by analysts as potential replacements should Rajan depart.

Read the full text of the letter below:

Dear Colleagues,

I took office in September 2013 as the 23rd Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. At that time, the currency was plunging daily, inflation was high, and growth was weak. India was then deemed one of the “Fragile Five”. In my opening statement as Governor, I laid out an agenda for action that I had discussed with you, including a new monetary framework that focused on bringing inflation down, raising of Foreign Currency Non-Resident (B) deposits to bolster our foreign exchange reserves, transparent licensing of new universal and niche banks by committees of unimpeachable integrity, creating new institutions such as the Bharat Bill Payment System and the Trade Receivables Exchange, expanding payments to all via mobile phones, and developing a large loan data base to better map and resolve the extent of system-wide distress. By implementing these measures, I said we would “build a bridge to the future, over the stormy waves produced by global financial markets”.

Today, I feel proud that we at the Reserve Bank have delivered on all these proposals. A new inflation-focused framework is in place that has helped halve inflation and allowed savers to earn positive real interest rates on deposits after a long time. We have also been able to cut interest rates by 150 basis points after raising them initially. This has reduced the nominal interest rate the government has to pay even while lengthening maturities it can issue – the government has been able to issue a 40 year bond for the first time. Finally, the currency stabilized after our actions, and our foreign exchange reserves are at a record high, even after we have fully provided for the outflow of foreign currency deposits we secured in 2013. Today, we are the fastest growing large economy in the world, having long exited the ranks of the Fragile Five.

We have done far more than was laid out in that initial statement, including helping the government reform the process of appointing Public Sector Bank management through the creation of the Bank Board Bureau (based on the recommendation of the RBI-appointed Nayak Committee), creating a whole set of new structures to allow banks to recover payments from failing projects, and forcing timely bank recognition of their unacknowledged bad debts and provisioning under the Asset Quality Review (AQR). We have worked on an enabling framework for National Payments Corporation of India to roll out the Universal Payment Interface, which will soon revolutionize mobile to mobile payments in the country. Internally, the RBI has gone through a restructuring and streamlining, designed and driven by our own senior staff. We are strengthening the specialization and skills of our employees so that they are second to none in the world. In everything we have done, we have been guided by the eminent public citizens on our Board such as Padma Vibhushan Dr. Anil Kakodkar, former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Padma Bhushan and Magsaysay award winner Ela Bhatt of the Self Employed Women’s Association. The integrity and capability of our people, and the transparency of our actions, is unparalleled, and I am proud to be a part of such a fine organization.

I am an academic and I have always made it clear that my ultimate home is in the realm of ideas. The approaching end of my three year term, and of my leave at the University of Chicago, was therefore a good time to reflect on how much we had accomplished. While all of what we laid out on that first day is done, two subsequent developments are yet to be completed. Inflation is in the target zone, but the monetary policy committee that will set policy has yet to be formed. Moreover, the bank clean up initiated under the Asset Quality Review, having already brought more credibility to bank balance sheets, is still ongoing. International developments also pose some risks in the short term.

While I was open to seeing these developments through, on due reflection, and after consultation with the government, I want to share with you that I will be returning to academia when my term as Governor ends on September 4, 2016. I will, of course, always be available to serve my country when needed.

Colleagues, we have worked with the government over the last three years to create a platform of macroeconomic and institutional stability. I am sure the work we have done will enable us to ride out imminent sources of market volatility like the threat of Brexit. We have made adequate preparations for the repayment of Foreign Currency Non-Resident (B) deposits and their outflow, managed properly, should largely be a non-event. Morale at the Bank is high because of your accomplishments. I am sure the reforms the government is undertaking, together with what will be done by you and other regulators, will build on this platform and reflect in greater job growth and prosperity for our people in the years to come. I am confident my successor will take us to new heights with your help. I will still be working with you for the next couple of months, but let me thank all of you in the RBI family in advance for your dedicated work and unflinching support. It has been a fantastic journey together!

With gratitude

Yours sincerely

Raghuram G. Rajan

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