Examining the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018

August 10th, 2018 Roopal Suhag No comments

The Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 was introduced in Lok Sabha in January 2018. The Bill replaces the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Previously in 2015, a Bill had been introduced to replace the 1986 Act. The 2015 Bill acknowledged that the rapid change in consumer markets, introduction of practices such as misleading advertisements, and new modes of transactions (online, teleshopping, etc.) had necessitated the need for a new law. The Bill was subsequently referred to a Standing Committee, which recommended several changes to it. The Bill was withdrawn and replaced with the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018. The Bill is listed for passage in the ongoing Monsoon Session. In this post, we analyse the Bill in its current form.

How is the 2018 Bill different from the 1986 Act?

The Bill adds various provisions for consumer protection that were absent in the 1986 Act. Key among them are the provisions on product liability and unfair contracts. Under product liability, when a consumer suffers an injury, property damage or death due to a defect in a product or service, he can file a claim for compensation under product liability. The Bill outlines cases in which the product manufacturer, service provider and seller will be held guilty under product liability. Under the proposed law, to claim product liability, an aggrieved consumer has to prove any one of the conditions mentioned in the Bill with regard to a manufacturer, service provider and seller, as the case may be.

An unfair contract has been defined as a contract between a consumer and manufacturer/ service provider if it causes significant change in consumer rights. Unfair contracts cover six terms, such as payment of excessive security deposits in an arrangement, disproportionate penalty for a breach, and unilateral termination without cause. The consumer courts being set up under the Bill will determine contract terms to be unfair and declare them null and void.

What are the different bodies being set up under the Bill?

The Bill sets up Consumer Protection Councils as advisory bodies, who will advise on protection and promotion of consumer rights. However, it does not make it clear who these Councils will render advise to. Under the 1986 Act, the Consumer Protection Councils have the responsibility to protect and promote consumer rights.

To promote, protect, and enforce consumer rights, the Bill is setting up a regulatory body, known as the Central Consumer Protection Authority. This Authority can also pass orders to prevent unfair and restrictive trade practices, such as selling goods not complying with standards, and impose penalties for false and misleading advertisements.

The Bill also sets up the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions (known as consumer courts) at the district, state and national levels. These Commissions will adjudicate a broad range of complaints, including complaints on defective goods and deficient services of varying values. These Commissions are also present under the 1986 Act. However, their pecuniary jurisdiction (amount up to which they can hear complaints) has been revised under the Bill. The Bill also adds a provision for alternate dispute redressal mechanism. As part of this, mediation cells will be attached with the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions.

What are the penal provisions under the Bill?

The Bill increases penalties for different offences specified in it. It also adds penalties for offences such as issuing misleading advertisements, and manufacturing and selling adulterated or spurious goods. For example, in case of false and misleading advertisements, the Central Consumer Protection Authority can impose a penalty of up to Rs 10 lakh on a manufacturer or an endorser. For a subsequent offence, the fine may extend to Rs 50 lakh.  The manufacturer can also be punished with imprisonment of up to two years, which may extend to five years for every subsequent offence. The Authority can also prohibit the endorser of a misleading advertisement from endorsing any particular product or service for a period of up to one year.  For every subsequent offence, the period of prohibition may extend to three years.  There are certain exceptions when an endorser will not be held liable for such a penalty.

Are there any issues to think about in the Bill?

The 2018 Bill is a marked improvement over the 2015 Bill and addresses several issues in the 2015 Bill. However, two major issues with regard to the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions remain. We discuss them below.

First issue is with regard to the composition of these Commissions. The Bill specifies that the Commissions will be headed by a ‘President’ and will comprise other members.  However, the Bill delegates the power of deciding the qualifications of the President and members to the central government.  It also does not specify that the President or members should have minimum judicial qualifications.  This is in contrast with the existing Consumer Protection Act, 1986, which states that the Commissions at various levels will be headed by a person qualified to be a judge.  The 1986 Act also specifies the minimum qualification of members.

Under the current Bill, if the Commissions were to have only non-judicial members, it may violate the principle of separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary.  Since these Commissions are adjudicating bodies and will look at consumer dispute cases, it is unclear how a Commission that may comprise only non-judicial members will undertake this function.

Second issue is with regard to the method of appointment of members of the Commissions. The Bill permits the central government to notify the method of appointment of members of the Commissions.  It does not require that the selection involve members from the higher judiciary.  It may be argued that allowing the executive to determine the appointment of the members of Commissions could affect the independent functioning of the Commissions.  This provision is also at variance with the 1986 Act.  Under the Act, appointment of members to these Commissions is done through a selection committee.  These section committees comprise a judicial member.

As mentioned previously, the Commissions are intended to be quasi-judicial bodies, while the government is part of the executive.  There may be instances where the government is a party to a dispute relating to deficiency in service provided by a government enterprise, for e.g., the Railways.  In such a case, there would be a conflict of interest as the government would be a party to the dispute before the Commissions and will also have the power to appoint members to the Commission.

Amendments to the IBC: Implications for real estate allottees

July 26th, 2018 Prachee Mishra No comments

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 was enacted to provide a time-bound process to resolve insolvency among companies and individuals.  Insolvency is a situation where an individual or company is unable to repay their outstanding debt.  Last month, the government promulgated the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 amending certain provisions of the Code.  The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Second Amendment) Bill, 2018, which replaces this Ordinance, was introduced in Lok Sabha last week and is scheduled to be passed in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament.  In light of this, we discuss some of the changes being proposed under the Bill and possible implications of such changes.

What was the need for amending the Code?

In November 2017, the Insolvency Law Committee was set up to review the Code, identify issues in its implementation, and suggest changes.  The Committee submitted its report in March 2018.  It made several recommendations, such as treating allottees under a real estate project as financial creditors, exempting micro, small and medium enterprises from certain provisions of the Code, reducing voting thresholds of the committee of creditors, among others.  Subsequently, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018, was promulgated on June 6, 2018, incorporating these recommendations.

What amendments have been proposed regarding real estate allottees?

The Code defines a financial creditor as anyone who has extended any kind of loan or financial credit to the debtor.  The Bill clarifies that an allottee under a real estate project (a buyer of an under-construction residential or commercial property) will be considered as a financial creditor.  These allottees will be represented on the committee of creditors by an authorised representative who will vote on their behalf.

This committee is responsible for taking key decisions related to the resolution process, such as appointing the resolution professional, and approving the resolution plan to be submitted to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).  It also implies that real estate allottees can initiate a corporate insolvency resolution process against the debtor.

Can the amount raised by real estate allottees be considered as financial debt?

The Insolvency Law Committee (2017) had noted that the amount paid by allottees under a real estate project is a means of raising finance for the project, and hence would classify as financial debt.  It had also noted that, in certain cases, allottees provide more money towards a real estate project than banks.  The Bill provides that the amount raised from allottees during the sale of a real estate project would have the commercial effect of a borrowing, and therefore be considered as a financial debt for the real estate company (or the debtor).

However, it may be argued that the money raised from allottees under a real estate project is an advance payment for a future asset (or the property allotted to them).  It is not an explicit loan given to the developer against receipt of interest, or similar consideration for the time value of money, and therefore may not qualify as financial debt.

Do the amendments affect the priority of real estate allottees in the waterfall under liquidation?

During the corporate insolvency resolution process, a committee of creditors (comprising of all financial creditors) may choose to: (i) resolve the debtor company, or (ii) liquidate (sell) the debtor’s assets to repay loans.  If no decision is made by the committee within the prescribed time period, the debtor’s assets are liquidated to repay the debt.  In case of liquidation, secured creditors are paid first after payment of the resolution fees and other resolution costs.  Secured creditors are those whose loans are backed by collateral (security).  This is followed by payment of employee wages, and then payment to all the unsecured creditors.

While the Bill classifies allottees as financial creditors, it does not specify whether they would be treated as secured or unsecured creditors.  Therefore, their position in the order of priority is not clear.

What amendments have been proposed regarding Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)?

Earlier this year, the Code was amended to prohibit certain persons from submitting a resolution plan.  These include: (i) wilful defaulters, (ii) promoters or management of the company if it has an outstanding non-performing asset (NPA) for over a year, and (iii) disqualified directors, among others.  Further, it barred the sale of property of a defaulter to such persons during liquidation.  One of the concerns raised was that in case of some MSMEs, the promoter may be the only person submitting a plan to revive the company.  In such cases, the defaulting firm will go into liquidation even if there could have been a viable resolution plan.

The Bill amends the criteria which prohibits certain persons from submitting a resolution plan.  For example, the Code prohibits a person from being a resolution applicant if his account has been identified as a NPA for more than a year.  The Bill provides that this criterion will not apply if such an applicant is a financial entity, and is not a related party to the debtor (with certain exceptions).  Further, if the NPA was acquired under a resolution plan under this Code, then this criterion will not apply for a period of three years (instead of one).  Secondly, the Code also bars a guarantor of a defaulter from being an applicant.  The Bill specifies that such a bar will apply if such guarantee has been invoked by the creditor and remains unpaid.

In addition to amending these criteria, the Bill also states that the ineligibility criteria for resolution applicants regarding NPAs and guarantors will not be applicable to persons applying for resolution of MSMEs.  The central government may, in public interest, modify or remove other provisions of the Code while applying them to MSMEs.

What are some of the other key changes being proposed?

The Bill also makes certain changes to the procedures under the Code.  Under the Code, all decisions of the committee of creditors have to be taken by a 75% majority of the financial creditors.  The Bill lowers this threshold to 51%.  For certain key decisions, such as appointment of a resolution professional, approving the resolution plan, and making structural changes to the company, the voting threshold has been reduced from 75% to 66%.

The Bill also provides for withdrawal of a resolution application, after the resolution process has been initiated with the NCLT.  Such withdrawal will have to be approved by a 90% vote of the committee of creditors.

Monsoon Session 2018: What to Expect

July 17th, 2018 Sanat Kanwar No comments

The Monsoon Session of Parliament begins tomorrow and will continue till August 10, 2018.  It is scheduled to have 18 sittings during this period.  This post outlines what is in store in the upcoming session.

The session has a packed legislative agenda.  Presently, there are 68 Bills pending in Parliament.  Of these, 25 have been listed for consideration and passage.  In addition, 18 new Bills have been listed for introduction, consideration, and passage.  This implies that Parliament has the task of discussing and deliberating 43 Bills listed for passage in an 18-day sitting period.  Key among them include the Bills that are going to replace the six Ordinances currently in force.  The government is going to prioritize the passage of these six Bills to ensure that the Ordinances do not lapse.

Besides the heavy legislative agenda, the session will also witness the election of a new Deputy Chairman for the Upper House.  Former Deputy Chairman, P.J. Kurien’s term ended on July 1, 2018.  The upcoming election has generated keen interest, and will be closely watched.  The role of the Deputy Chairman is significant, as he quite frequently oversees the proceedings of the House.  The Deputy Chairman is responsible for maintaining order in the house and ensuring its smooth functioning.  The preceding Budget Session was the least productive since 2000 due to disruptions.  Rajya Sabha spent only 2 hours and 31 minutes discussing legislative business, of which 3 minutes were spent on government Bills.  In this context, the role of the Deputy Chairman is important in ensuring productivity of the house.

Another key player in ensuring productivity of Parliament is the Speaker of the Lower House.  In Budget Session 2018, the Speaker was unable to admit a no confidence motion.  This failure was based on her inability to bring the house in order.  Repeated disruptions led to the passage of only two Bills in Lok Sabha.  The same session also saw disruptions by certain MPs demanding special category status for Andhra Pradesh.  Between the last session and the upcoming session, a key development includes the resignation of five YRSC members, reducing the strength of MPs from Andhra Pradesh to 20.  In light of this, one has to wait to see whether the demand for special category status for Andhra Pradesh will be raised again.

Coming to the legislative agenda, of the six Bills that aim to replace Ordinances, key include: (i) the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018, (ii) the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018, (iii) the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2018, and (iv) the Commercial Courts (Amendment) Bill, 2018.  The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill aims to confiscate the properties of people who have absconded the country in order to avoid facing prosecution for economic offences.  The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018 was introduced in Lok Sabha in March 2018.  Subsequently, an Ordinance was promulgated on April 21, 2018.  The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill increases the punishment for rape of women, and introduces death penalty for rape of minor girls below the age of 12.  The Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Amendment) Bill aims to address existing challenges in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.  It amends the Code to include homebuyers as financial creditors in the insolvency resolution process.

There are some Bills that have been passed by one house but are pending in the other, and some that are pending in both the houses.  These cut across various sectors, including social reform, education, health, consumer affairs, and transport.  Some key reformative legislation currently pending include the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, and the Triple Talaq Bill.  The Triple Talaq Bill, passed on the day of introduction in Lok Sabha, is pending in Rajya Sabha.  When introduced in Rajya Sabha, the opposition introduced a motion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee.  In the forthcoming session, it remains to be seen whether the Bill will be sent to a Select Committee for detailed scrutiny or will be passed without reference to a Committee.  Other pending legislation include the the National Medical Commission Bill, 2017, the RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017, the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 and the Specific Relief (Amendment) Bill, 2017.

Of the 18 new Bills listed for introduction, all have been listed for consideration and passage as well.  These include the Trafficking of Persons Bill, 2018, the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, and amendments to the RTI Act.  Since they have been listed for passage, it remains to be seen whether these Bills are scheduled to be scrutinized by a Parliamentary Committee.  In the 16th Lok Sabha, only 28% of the Bills introduced in Lok Sabha have been referred to Committees.  This number is low in comparison to 60% and 71% of the introduced Bills being referred to Committees in the 14th and 15th Lok Sabha, respectively.  Committees ensure that Bills are closely examined.  This facilitates informed deliberation on the Bill, and strengthens the legislative process.

Besides taking up the legislative agenda, an important function of Parliament is to discuss issues of national importance and hold the government accountable.  In the previous session, the issue of irregularities in the banking sector was repeatedly listed for discussion.  However, due to disruptions, it was not taken up.  Budget Session 2018 saw the lowest number of non- legislative debates since the beginning of the 16th Lok Sabha.  In the upcoming session, it is likely that members will raise various issues for discussion.  It remains to be seen whether Parliament will function smoothly in order to power through its agenda, and fulfil its obligation to hold the government accountable.

 

Explained: Recent changes in MSPs

July 16th, 2018 Suyash Tiwari No comments

Recently, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved an increase in the Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for Kharif crops for the 2018-19 marketing season.  Subsequently, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) released its price policy report for Kharif crops for the marketing season 2018-19.

The central government notifies MSPs based on the recommendations of the CACP.  These recommendations are made separately for the Kharif marketing season (KMS) and the Rabi marketing season (RMS).  Post harvesting, the government procures crops from farmers at the MSP notified for that season, in order to ensure remunerative prices to farmers for their produce.

In this blog post, we look at how MSPs are determined, changes brought in them over time, and their effectiveness for farmers across different states.

How are Minimum Support Prices determined?

The CACP considers various factors such as the cost of cultivation and production, productivity of crops, and market prices for the determination of MSPs.  The National Commission on Farmers (Chair: Prof. M. S. Swaminathan) in 2006 had recommended that MSPs must be at least 50% more than the cost of production.  In this year’s budget speech, the Finance Minister said that MSPs would be fixed at least at 50% more than the cost of production.

The CACP calculates cost of production at three levels: (i) A2, which includes cost of inputs such as seeds, fertilizer, labour; (ii) A2+FL, which includes the implied cost of family labour (FL); and (iii) C2, which includes the implied rent on land and interest on capital assets over and above A2+FL.

Table 1 shows the cost of production as calculated by the CACP and the approved MSPs for KMS 2018-19.  For paddy (common), the MSP was increased from Rs 1,550/quintal in 2017-18 to Rs 1,750/quintal in 2018-19.  This price would give a farmer a profit of 50.1% on the cost of production A2+FL.  However, the profit calculated on the cost of production C2 would be 12.2%.  It has been argued that the cost of production should be taken as C2 for calculating MSPs.  In such a scenario, this would have increased the MSP to Rs 2,340/quintal, much above the current MSP of Rs 1,750/quintal.

Figure 1

Which are the major crops that are procured at MSPs?

Every year, MSPs are announced for 23 crops.  However, public procurement is limited to a few crops such as paddy, wheat and, to a limited extent, pulses as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 2

The procurement is also limited to a few states.  Three states which produce 49% of the national wheat output account for 93% of procurement.  For paddy, six states with 40% production share have 77% share of the procurement.  As a result, in these states, farmers focus on cultivating these crops over other crops such as pulses, oilseeds, and coarse grains.

Due to limitations on the procurement side (both crop-wise and state-wise), all farmers do not receive benefits of increase in MSPs.  The CACP has noted in its 2018-19 price policy report that the inability of farmers to sell at MSPs is one of the key areas of concern.  Farmers who are unable to sell their produce at MSPs have to sell it at market prices, which may be much lower than the MSPs.

How have MSPs for major crops changed over time?

Higher procurement of paddy and wheat, as compared to other crops at MSPs tilts the production cycle towards these crops.  In order to balance this and encourage the production of pulses, there is a larger proportional increase in the MSPs of pulses over the years as seen in Figure 2.  In addition to this, it is also used as a measure to encourage farmers to shift from water-intensive crops such as paddy and wheat to pulses, which relatively require less water for irrigation.

Figure 3

What is the effectiveness of MSPs across states?

The MSP fixed for each crop is uniform for the entire country.  However, the production cost of crops vary across states.  Figure 3 highlights the MSP of paddy and the variation in its cost of production across states in 2018-19.

Figure 4

For example, production cost for paddy at the A2+FL level is Rs 702/quintal in Punjab and Rs 2,102/quintal in Maharashtra.  Due to this differentiation, while the MSP of Rs 1,750/quintal of paddy will result in a profit of 149% to a farmer in Punjab, it will result in a loss of 17% to a farmer in Maharashtra.  Similarly, at the C2 level, the production cost for paddy is Rs 1,174/quintal in Punjab and Rs 2,481/quintal in Maharashtra.  In this scenario, a farmer in Punjab may get 49% return, while his counterpart in Maharashtra may make a loss of 29%.

Figure 5

Figure 4 highlights the MSP of wheat and the variation in its cost of production across states in 2017-18. In the case of wheat, the cost of production in Maharashtra and West Bengal is much more than the cost in rest of the states.  At the A2+FL level, the cost of production in West Bengal is Rs 1,777/quintal.  This is significantly higher than in states like Haryana and Punjab, where the cost is Rs 736/quintal and Rs 642/quintal, respectively.  In this case, while a wheat growing farmer suffers a loss of 2% in West Bengal, a farmer in Haryana makes a profit of 136%.  The return in Punjab is even higher at 1.5 times or more the cost of production.

 

 

Food Processing Infrastructure in India

Recently, there have been reports of price crashes and distress sales in case of farm produce, such as tomatoes, mangoes, and garlic.  In some cases, farmers have dumped their produce on roads.  Produce such as fruits and vegetables are perishable and therefore have a short shelf life.  Further, due to inadequate storage facilities and poor food processing infrastructure farmers have limited options but to sell the produce at prevailing market prices.  This can lead to distress sales or roadside discards (in some cases to avoid additional cost of transportation).

Food processing allows raw food to be stored, marketed, or preserved for consumption later.  For instance, raw agricultural produce such as fruits may be processed into juices, jams, and pickles.  Activities such as waxing (for preservation), packaging, labelling, or ripening of produce also form part of the food processing industry.

Between 2001-02 and 2016-17, production of food grains grew annually at 1.7% on average.  Production of horticulture crops surpassed food grains with an average growth rate of 4.8%.  While production has been increasing over the years, surplus produce tends to go waste at various stages such as procurement, storage, and processing due to lack of infrastructure such as cold storages and food processing units.

Source: Horticulture Statistics at a Glance 2017, Union Budget 2018-19; PRS.

Source: Horticulture Statistics at a Glance 2017, Union Budget 2018-19; PRS.

 

Losses high among perishables such as fruits and vegetables

Crop losses ranged between 7-16% among fruits and around 5% among cereals in 2015.  The highest losses were witnessed in case of guava, followed by mango, which are perishable fruits.  Perishables such as fruits and vegetables are more prone to losses as compared to cereals.  Such crop losses can occur during operations such as harvesting, thrashing, grading, drying, packaging, transportation, and storage depending upon the commodity.

It was estimated that the annual value of harvest and post-harvest losses of major agricultural products at the national level was Rs 92,651 crore in 2015.  The Standing Committee on Agriculture (2017) stated that such wastage can be reduced with adequate food processing facilities.

Sources: Annual Report 2016-17, Ministry of Food Processing Industries; PRS.

Sources: Annual Report 2016-17, Ministry of Food Processing Industries; PRS.

 

Inadequate food processing infrastructure

As previously discussed, perishables such as fruits and vegetables are more prone to damages as compared to cereals.  Due to inadequate processing facilities in close proximity, farmers may be unable to hold their produce for a long time.  Hence, they may be forced to sell their produce soon after harvest, irrespective of the prevailing market situations.  Expert committees have recommended that agri-logistics such as cold chain infrastructure and market linkages should be strengthened.

Cold chain infrastructure: Cold chain infrastructure includes processing units, cold storages, and refrigerated vans.  As of 2014, out of a required cold storage capacity of 35 million metric tonnes (MT), almost 90% (31.8 million MT) of the capacity was available (see Table 1).  However, cold storage needs to be coupled with logistical support to facilitate smooth transfer of harvested value from farms to distant locations.  This includes: (i) pack-houses for packaging and preparing fresh produce for long distance transport, (ii) refrigerated transport such as reefer vehicles, and (iii) ripening chambers to ripen raw produce before marketing.  For instance, bananas which are harvested raw may be ripened in these chambers before being marketed.

While there are sufficient cold storages, there are wide gaps in the availability of other associated infrastructure.  This implies that even though almost 90% (32 million tonnes) of cold storage capacity is available, only 15% of the required refrigerated transport exists.  Further, the shortfall in the availability of infrastructure necessary for safe handling of farm produce, like pack-houses and ripening chambers, is over 90%.

Table 1:  Gaps in cold chain infrastructure (2014)

Facility Required Available Gap % gap
Cold storage
(in million MT)

35.1

31.8 3.2

9.3%

Pack-houses

70,080

249 69,831

99.6%

Reefer vehicles

61,826

9,000 52,826

85.4%

Ripening chambers

9,131

812 8,319

91.1%

Source: Standing Committee on Agriculture 2018; PRS.

 

To minimise post-harvest losses, the Standing Committee (2017) recommended that a country-wide integrated cold chain infrastructure network at block and district levels should be created.  It further recommended that a Cold Chain Coordination and Monitoring Committee should be constituted at the district-level.  The Standing Committee also recommended that farmers need to be trained in value addition activities such as sorting, grading, and pre-cooling harvested produce through facilities such as freezers and ripening chambers.

Between 2008 and 2017, 238 cold chain projects were sanctioned under the Scheme for Integrated Cold Chain and Value Addition Infrastructure.  Grants worth Rs 1,775 crore were approved for these projects.  Of this amount, Rs 964 crore (54%) has been released as of January 2018.  Consequently, out of the total projects sanctioned, 114 (48%) are completed.  The remaining 124 projects are currently under implementation.

Transport Facilities:  Currently, majority of food grains and certain quantities of tea, potato, and onion are transported through railways.  The Committee on Doubling Farmers Income had recommended that railways needs to upgrade its logistics to facilitate the transport of fresh produce directly to export hubs.  This includes creation of adjoining facilities for loading and unloading, and distribution to road transport.

Mega Food Parks: The Mega Food Parks scheme was launched in 2008.  It seeks to facilitate setting up of food processing units.  These units are to be located at a central processing centre with infrastructure required for processing, packaging, quality control labs, and trade facilitation centres.

As of March 2018, out of the 42 projects approved, 10 were operational.  The Standing Committee on Agriculture noted certain reasons for delay in implementation of projects under the scheme.  These include: (i) difficulty in getting loans from banks for the project, (ii) delay in obtaining clearances from the state governments and agencies for roads, power, and water at the project site, (iii) lack of special incentives for setting up food processing units in Mega Food Parks, and (iv) unwillingness of the co-promoters in contributing their share of equity.

Further, the Standing Committee stated that as the scheme requires a minimum area of 50 acres, it does not to promote smaller or individual food processing and preservation units.  It recommended that smaller agro-processing clusters near production areas must be promoted.  The Committee on Doubling Farmers Income recommended establishment of processing and value addition units at strategic places.  This includes rural or production areas for pulses, millets, fruits, vegetables, dairy, fisheries, and poultry in public private-partnership mode.

Examining the National Medical Commission Bill, 2017

May 3rd, 2018 Nivedita Rao 3 comments

The National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill, 2017 was introduced in Lok Sabha in December, 2017.  It was examined by the Standing Committee on Health, which submitted its report during Budget Session 2018.  The Bill seeks to regulate medical education and practice in India.  In this post, we analyse the Bill in its current form.

How is medical education and practice regulated currently?

The Medical Council of India (MCI) is responsible for regulating medical education and practice.  Over the years, there have been several issues with the functioning of the MCI with respect to its regulatory role, composition, allegations of corruption, and lack of accountability.   For example, MCI is an elected body where its members are elected by medical practitioners themselves, i.e. the regulator is elected by the regulated.  In light of such issues, experts recommended nomination based constitution of the MCI instead of election, and separating the regulation of medical education and medical practice.  They suggested that legislative changes should be brought in to overhaul the functioning of the MCI.

To meet this objective, the Bill repeals the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and dissolves the current Medical Council of India (MCI) which regulates medical education and practice.

Who will be a part of the NMC?

The NMC will consist of 25 members, of which at least 17 (68%) will be medical practitioners.  The Standing Committee has noted that the current MCI is non-diverse and consists mostly of doctors who look out for their own self-interest over larger public interest.   In order to reduce the monopoly of doctors, it recommended that the MCI should include diverse stakeholders such as public health experts, social scientists, and health economists.  In other countries, such as the United Kingdom, the General Medical Council (GMC) responsible for regulating medical education and practice consists of 12 medical practitioners and 12 lay members (such as community health members, and administrators from the local government).

How will the issues of medical misconduct be addressed?

The State Medical Council will receive complaints relating to professional or ethical misconduct against a registered doctor.  If the doctor is aggrieved by the decision of the State Medical Council, he may appeal to the Ethics and Medical Registration Board, and further before the NMC.  Appeals against the decision of the NMC will lie before the central government.  It is unclear why the central government is an appellate authority with regard to such matters.

It may be argued that disputes related to ethics and misconduct in medical practice may require judicial expertise.  For example, in the UK, the GMC receives complaints with regard to ethical misconduct and is required to do an initial documentary investigation.  It then forwards the complaint to a Tribunal, which is a judicial body independent of the GMC.  The adjudication and final disciplinary action is decided by the Tribunal.

What will the NMC’s role be in fee regulation of private medical colleges?

In India, the Supreme Court has held that private providers of education have to operate as charitable and not for profit institutions.   Despite this, many private education institutions continue to charge exorbitant fees which makes medical education unaffordable and inaccessible to meritorious students.  Currently, for private unaided medical colleges, the fee structure is decided by a committee set up by state governments under the chairmanship of a retired High Court judge.  The Bill allows the NMC to frame guidelines for determination of fees for up to 40% of seats in private medical colleges and deemed universities.  The question is whether the NMC as a regulator should regulate fees charged by private medical colleges.

A NITI Aayog Committee (2016) was of the opinion that a fee cap would discourage the entry of private colleges, therefore, limiting the expansion of medical education.  It also observed that it is difficult to enforce such a fee cap and could lead medical colleges to continue charging high fees under other pretexts.

Note that the Parliamentary Standing Committee (2018) which examined the Bill has recommended continuing the current system of fee structures being decided by the Committee under the chairmanship of a retired High Court judge.  However, for those private medical colleges and deemed universities, unregulated under the existing mechanism, fee must be regulated for at least 50% of the seats.  The Union Cabinet has approved an Amendment to increase the regulation of fees to 50% of seats.

How will doctors become eligible to practice?

The Bill introduces a National Licentiate Examination for students graduating from medical institutions in order to obtain a licence to practice as a medical professional.

However, the NMC may permit a medical practitioner to perform surgery or practice medicine without qualifying the National Licentiate Examination, in such circumstances and for such period as may be specified by regulations.  The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has clarified that this exemption is not meant to allow doctors failing the National Licentiate Examination to practice but is intended to allow medical professionals like nurse practitioners and dentists to practice.  It is unclear from the Bill that the term ‘medical practitioner’ includes medical professionals (like nurses) other than MBBS doctors.

Further, the Bill does not specify the validity period of this licence to practice.  In other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, a licence to practice needs to be periodically renewed.  For example, in the UK the licence has to be renewed every five years, and in Australia it has to renewed annually.

What are the issues around the bridge course for AYUSH practitioners to prescribe modern medicine?

The debate around AYUSH practitioners prescribing modern medicine

There is a provision in the Bill which states that there may be a bridge course which AYUSH practitioners (practicing Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) can undertake in order to prescribe certain kinds of modern medicine.  There are differing views on whether AYUSH practitioners should prescribe modern medicines.

Over the years, various committees have recommended a functional integration among various systems of medicine i.e. Ayurveda, modern medicine, and others.  On the other hand, experts state that the bridge course may promote the positioning of AYUSH practitioners as stand-ins for allopathic doctors owing to the shortage of doctors across the country.  This in turn may affect the development of AYUSH systems of medicine as independent systems of medicine.

Moreover, AYUSH doctors do not have to go through any licentiate examination to be registered by the NMC, unlike the other doctors.  Recently, the Union Cabinet has approved an Amendment to remove the provision of the bridge course.

Status of other kinds of medical personnel

As of January 2018, the doctor to population ratio in India was 1:1655 compared to the World Health Organisation standard of 1:1000.  The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare stated that the introduction of the bridge course for AYUSH practitioners under the Bill will help fill in the gaps of availability of medical professionals.

If the purpose of the bridge course is to address shortage of medical professionals, it is unclear why the option to take the bridge course does not apply to other cadres of allopathic medical professionals such as nurses, and dentists.  There are other countries where medical professionals other than doctors are allowed to prescribe allopathic medicine.  For example, Nurse Practitioners in the USA provide a full range of primary, acute, and specialty health care services, including ordering and performing diagnostic tests, and prescribing medications.  For this purpose, Nurse Practitioners must complete a master’s or doctoral degree program, advanced clinical training, and obtain a national certification.

What impacts petroleum prices?

April 25th, 2018 Vatsal Khullar 3 comments

Over the last few days, the retail prices of petrol and diesel have touched an all-time high.  In Delhi, petrol was selling at 74.6/litre on April 25, 2018, while diesel was at 66/litre.

Petroleum products are used as raw materials in various sectors and industries such as transport and petrochemicals.  These products may also be used in factories to operate machinery or generators.  Any fluctuation in the price of petrol and diesel impacts the production and transport costs of various items.  When compared to other neighbouring countries, India has the highest prices for petrol and diesel.

Note: Prices as on April 1, 2018. Prices for India pertain to Delhi. Sources: Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas; PRS.

Note: Prices as on April 1, 2018. Prices for India pertain to Delhi.
Sources: Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas; PRS.

How is the price of petrol and diesel fixed?

Historically, the price of petrol and diesel in India was regulated, i.e. the government was involved in the deciding the retail price.  The government deregulated the pricing of petrol in 2010 and diesel in 2014.  This allowed oil marketing companies to determine the price of these products, and revise them every fortnight.

Starting June 16, 2017, prices for petrol and diesel are revised on a daily basis.  This was done to with the idea that daily revision will reduce the volatility in retail prices, and protect the consumer against sharp fluctuations.  The break-up of retail prices of petrol and diesel in Delhi on April 25, 2018 can be found below.  As seen in the table, over 50% of the retail price of petrol comprises central and states taxes and the dealer’s commission.  In case of diesel, this amount is close to 40%.

Table 1: Break-up of petrol and diesel prices in Delhi (on April 25, 2018)

Component

Petrol

Diesel

Rs/litre % of retail price
Rs/litre

% of retail price

Price Charged to Dealers 35.7 48% 38.4 58%
Excise Duty (levied by centre) 19.5 26% 15.3 23%
Dealer Commission 3.6 5% 2.5 4%
VAT (levied by state) 15.9 21% 9.7 15%
Retail Price 74.6 100% 65.9 100%
Source: Price Build-up of Petrol and Diesel at Delhi effective April 25, 2018; Indian Oil Corporation Limited.

 

Does India produce enough petroleum to support domestic consumption?

India imports 84% of the petroleum products consumed in the country.  This implies that any change in the global prices of crude oil has a significant impact on the domestic price of petroleum products.  In 2000-01, net import of petroleum products constituted 75% of the total consumption in the country.  This increased to 95% in 2016-17.  The figure below shows the amount of petroleum products consumed in the country, and the share of imports.

Note: Production is the difference between the total consumption in the country and the net imports. Sources: Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell; PRS.

Note: Production is the difference between the total consumption in the country and the net imports.
Sources: Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell; PRS.

What has been the global trend in crude oil prices? How has this impacted prices in India?

Over the last five years, the global price of crude oil (Indian basket) has come down from USD 110 in January 2013 to USD 64 in March 2018, having touched a low of USD 28 in January 2016.

While there has been a 42% drop in the price of global crude over this five-period, the retail price of petrol in India has increased by 8%.  During this period, the retail price of diesel increased by 33%.  The two figures below show the trend in prices of global crude oil and retail price of petrol and diesel in India, over the last five years.

Note: Subsidy indicated in the graphs is notional.  While calculating the subsidy amount, other factors such as cost of domestic inputs will also have to be accounted.  Global Crude Oil Price is for the Indian basket.  Figures reflect average monthly retail price of petrol and diesel in Delhi.
Sources: Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell; Indian Oil Corporation Limited; PRS.

 

How has the excise duty on petrol and diesel changed over the last few years?

Under the Constitution, the central government has the powers to tax the production of petroleum products, while states have the power to tax their sale.  Petroleum has been kept outside the purview of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), till the GST Council decides.

Over the years, the central government has used taxes to prevent sharp fluctuations in the retail price of diesel and petrol.  In the past, when global crude oil prices have increased, duties have been cut.  Since 2014, as global crude oil prices declined, excise duties have been increased.

Sources: Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell; PRS.

Sources: Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell; PRS.

 

As a consequence of the increase in duties, the central government’s revenue from excise on petrol and diesel increased annually at a rate of 46% between 2013-14 and 2016-17.  During the same period, the total sales tax collections of states (from petrol and diesel) increased annually by 9%.  The figure below shows the trend in overall collections of the central and state governments from petroleum (including receipts from taxes, royalties, and dividends).

 

Notes: Data includes tax collections (from cesses, royalties, customs duty, central excise duty, state sales tax, octroi, and entry tax, among others), dividends paid to the government, and profit on oil exploration. Data sources: Petroleum and Planning Analysis Cell; Central Board of Excise and Customs; Indian Oil Corporation Limited; PRS.

Notes: Data includes tax collections (from cesses, royalties, customs duty, central excise duty, state sales tax, octroi, and entry tax, among others), dividends paid to the government, and profit on oil exploration.
Data sources: Petroleum and Planning Analysis Cell; Central Board of Excise and Customs; Indian Oil Corporation Limited; PRS.

 

Explainer: Removal of Judges from Office

April 20th, 2018 Roshni Sinha 3 comments

Today, some Members of Parliament initiated proceedings for the removal of the current Chief Justice of India by submitting a notice to the Chairman of Rajya Sabha.  A judge may be removed from office through a motion adopted by Parliament on grounds of ‘proven misbehaviour or incapacity’.  While the Constitution does not use the word ‘impeachment’, it is colloquially used to refer to the proceedings under Article 124 (for the removal of a Supreme Court judge) and Article 218 (for the removal of a High Court judge).

The Constitution provides that a judge can be removed only by an order of the President, based on a motion passed by both Houses of Parliament.  The procedure for removal of judges is elaborated in the Judges Inquiry Act, 1968.  The Act sets out the following steps for removal from office:

  • Under the Act, an impeachment motion may originate in either House of Parliament. To initiate proceedings: (i) at least 100 members of Lok Sabha may give a signed notice to the Speaker, or (ii) at least 50 members of Rajya Sabha may give a signed notice to the Chairman.  The Speaker or Chairman may consult individuals and examine relevant material related to the notice.  Based on this, he or she may decide to either admit the motion or refuse to admit it.
  • If the motion is admitted, the Speaker or Chairman (who receives it) will constitute a three-member committee to investigate the complaint. It will comprise: (i) a Supreme Court judge; (ii) Chief Justice of a High Court; and (iii) a distinguished jurist.  The committee will frame charges based on which the investigation will be conducted.  A copy of the charges will be forwarded to the judge who can present a written defence.
  • After concluding its investigation, the Committee will submit its report to the Speaker or Chairman, who will then lay the report before the relevant House of Parliament. If the report records a finding of misbehaviour or incapacity, the motion for removal will be taken up for consideration and debated.
  • Once the motion is adopted in both Houses, it is sent to the President, who will issue an order for the removal of the judge.

Central Transfers to States: Role of the Finance Commission

April 11th, 2018 Gayatri Mann No comments

In November 2017, the 15th Finance Commission (Chair: Mr N. K. Singh) was constituted to give recommendations on the transfer of resources from the centre to states for the five year period between 2020-25.  In recent times, there has been some discussion around the role and mandate of the Commission.  In this context, we explain the role of the Finance Commission.

What is the Finance Commission?

The Finance Commission is a constitutional body formed every five years to give suggestions on centre-state financial relations.  Each Finance Commission is required to make recommendations on: (i) sharing of central taxes with states, (ii) distribution of central grants to states, (iii) measures to improve the finances of states to supplement the resources of panchayats and municipalities, and (iv) any other matter referred to it.

Composition of transfers:  The central taxes devolved to states are untied funds, and states can spend them according to their discretion.  Over the years, tax devolved to states has constituted over 80% of the total central transfers to states (Figure 1).  The centre also provides grants to states and local bodies which must be used for specified purposes.  These grants have ranged between 12% to 19% of the total transfers.

Fig 1Over the years the core mandate of the Commission has remained unchanged, though it has been given the additional responsibility of examining various issues.  For instance, the 12th Finance Commission evaluated the fiscal position of states and offered relief to those that enacted their Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management laws.  The 13th and the 14th Finance Commission assessed the impact of GST on the economy.  The 13th Finance Commission also incentivised states to increase forest cover by providing additional grants.

15th Finance Commission:  The 15th Finance Commission constituted in November 2017 will recommend central transfers to states.  It has also been mandated to: (i) review the impact of the 14th Finance Commission recommendations on the fiscal position of the centre; (ii) review the debt level of the centre and states, and recommend a roadmap; (iii) study the impact of GST on the economy; and (iv) recommend performance-based incentives for states based on their efforts to control population, promote ease of doing business, and control expenditure on populist measures, among others.

Why is there a need for a Finance Commission?

The Indian federal system allows for the division of power and responsibilities between the centre and states.  Correspondingly, the taxation powers are also broadly divided between the centre and states (Table 1).  State legislatures may devolve some of their taxation powers to local bodies.

Table 1

The centre collects majority of the tax revenue as it enjoys scale economies in the collection of certain taxes.  States have the responsibility of delivering public goods in their areas due to their proximity to local issues and needs.

Sometimes, this leads to states incurring expenditures higher than the revenue generated by them.  Further, due to vast regional disparities some states are unable to raise adequate resources as compared to others.  To address these imbalances, the Finance Commission recommends the extent of central funds to be shared with states.  Prior to 2000, only revenue income tax and union excise duty on certain goods was shared by the centre with states.  A Constitution amendment in 2000 allowed for all central taxes to be shared with states.

Several other federal countries, such as Pakistan, Malaysia, and Australia have similar bodies which recommend the manner in which central funds will be shared with states.

Tax devolution to states

Table 2The 14th Finance Commission considerably increased the devolution of taxes from the centre to states from 32% to 42%.  The Commission had recommended that tax devolution should be the primary source of transfer of funds to states.  This would increase the flow of unconditional transfers and give states more flexibility in their spending.

The share in central taxes is distributed among states based on a formula.   Previous Finance Commissions have considered various factors to determine the criteria such as the population and income needs of states, their area and infrastructure, etc.  Further, the weightage assigned to each criterion has varied with each Finance Commission.

The criteria used by the 11th to 14th Finance Commissions are given in Table 2, along with the weight assigned to them.  State level details of the criteria used by the 14th Finance Commission are given in Table 3.

  • Population is an indicator of the expenditure needs of a state. Over the years, Finance Commissions have used population data of the 1971 Census.  The 14th Finance Commission used the 2011 population data, in addition to the 1971 data.  The 15th Finance Commission has been mandated to use data from the 2011 Census.
  • Area is used as a criterion as a state with larger area has to incur additional administrative costs to deliver services.
  • Income distance is the difference between the per capita income of a state with the average per capita income of all states. States with lower per capita income may be given a higher share to maintain equity among states.
  • Forest cover indicates that states with large forest covers bear the cost of not having area available for other economic activities. Therefore, the rationale is that these states may be given a higher share.

Table 3

Grants-in-Aid

Besides the taxes devolved to states, another source of transfers from the centre to states is grants-in-aid.  As per the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, grants-in-aid constitute 12% of the central transfers to states.  The 14th Finance Commission had recommended grants to states for three purposes: (i) disaster relief, (ii) local bodies, and (iii) revenue deficit.

Healthcare Financing: Who is paying?

April 6th, 2018 Nivedita Rao 1 comment

The Union Cabinet recently approved the launch of the National Health Protection Mission which was announced during Budget 2018-19.   The Mission aims to provide a cover of five lakh rupees per family per year to about 10.7 crore families belonging to poor and vulnerable population.  The insurance coverage is targeted for hospitalisation at the secondary and tertiary health care levels. This post explains the healthcare financing scenario in India, which is distributed across the centre, states, and individuals.

How much does India spend on health care financing vis-à-vis other countries?

The public health expenditure in India (total of centre and state governments) has remained constant at approximately 1.3% of the GDP between 2008 and 2015, and increased marginally to 1.4% in 2016-17.  This is less than the world average of 6%.   Note that the National Health Policy, 2017 proposes to increase this to 2.5% of GDP by 2025.

Including the private sector, the total health expenditure as a percentage of GDP is estimated at 3.9%.  Out of the total expenditure, effectively about one-third (30%) is contributed by the public sector.  This contribution is low as compared to other developing and developed countries.  Examples include Brazil (46%), China (56%), Indonesia (39%), USA (48%), and UK (83%) (see Figure 1).

Fig 1

Who pays for healthcare in India? Mostly, it is the consumer out of his own pocket.

Given the public-private split of health care expenditure, it is quite clear that it is the private expenditure which dominates i.e. the individual consumer who bears the cost of her own healthcare.  Let’s look at a further disaggregation of public spending and private spending to understand this.

In 2018-19, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare received an allocation of Rs 54,600 crore (an increase of 2% over 2017-18).  The National Health Mission (NHM) received the highest allocation at Rs 30,130 crore and constitutes 55% of the total Ministry allocation (see Table 1).  Despite a higher allocation, NHM has seen a decline in the allocation vis-à-vis 2017-18.

Interestingly, in 2017-18, expenditure on NHM is expected to be Rs 4,000 crore more than what had been estimated earlier.  This may indicate a greater capacity to spend than what was earlier allocated.  A similar trend is exhibited at the overall Ministry level where the utilisation of the allocated funds has been over 100% in the last three years.

Table 1State level spending

A NITI Aayog report (2017) noted that low income states with low revenue capacity spend significant lower on social services like health.  Further, differences in the cost of delivering health services have contributed to health disparities among and within states.

Following the 14th Finance Commission recommendations, there has been an increase in the states’ share in central pool of taxes and they were given greater autonomy and flexibility to spend according to their priorities. Despite the enhanced share of states in central taxes, the increase in health budgets by some states has been marginal (see Figure 2).

Fig 2Consumer level spending

If cumulatively 30% of the total health expenditure is incurred by the public sector, the rest of the health expenditure, i.e. approximately 70% is borne by consumers.  Household health expenditures include out of pocket expenditures (95%) and insurance (5%). Out of pocket expenditure dominate and these are the payments made directly by individuals at the point of services which are not covered under any financial protection scheme.  The highest percentage of out of pocket health expenditure (52%) is made towards medicines (see Figure 3).

Fig 3

This is followed by private hospitals (22%), medical and diagnostic labs (10%), and patient transportation, and emergency rescue (6%).  Out of pocket expenditure is typically financed by household revenues (71%) (see Figure 4).

Fig 4

Note that 86% of rural population and 82% of urban population are not covered under any scheme of health expenditure support.   Due to high out of pocket healthcare expenditure, about 7% population is pushed below the poverty threshold every year.

Out of the total number of persons covered under health insurance in India, three-fourths are covered under government sponsored health schemes and the balance one-fourth are covered by private insurers.  With respect to the government sponsored health insurance, more claims have been made in comparison to the premiums collected, i.e., the returns to the government have been negative.

It is in this context that the newly proposed National Health Protection Mission will be implemented.  First, the scheme seeks to provide coverage for hospitalisation at the secondary and tertiary levels of healthcare.  The High Level Expert Group set up by the Planning Commission (2011) recommended that the focus of healthcare provision in the country should be towards providing primary health care.  It observed that focus on prevention and early management of health problems can reduce the need for complicated specialist care provided at the tertiary level.  Note that depending on the level of care required, health institutions in India are broadly classified into three types: primary care (provided at primary health centres), secondary care (provided at district hospitals), and tertiary care institutions (provided at specialised hospitals like AIIMS).

Second, the focus of the Mission seems to be on hospitalisation (including pre and post hospitalisation charges).  However, most of the out of the pocket expenditure made by consumers is actually on buying medicines (52%) as seen in Figure 3.  Further, these purchases are mostly made for patients who do not need hospitalisation.