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Role of Parliament in holding the government accountable

November 22nd, 2017 No comments

Parliament sessions are usually held thrice a year: once in February for the Budget Session, once around July or August for the Monsoon Session, and once in November for the Winter Session.  This year, the government is yet to announce the dates for the Winter Session.  While there has been uncertainty around whether Parliament will meet, ministers in the government have indicated that the Session will be held soon.[1]

The practice of allowing the government to convene Parliament differs from those followed in other countries.  Some of these countries have a limited role for the government in summoning the legislature, because in a parliamentary democracy the executive is accountable to Parliament.  Allowing the government to call the Parliament to meet could be in conflict with this principle.  While we wait for the government to announce the dates for the Winter Session, this post looks at the relationship between Parliament and the government, recommendations made over the years on improving some parliamentary customs, and discusses certain practices followed by other countries.

What is the role of Parliament in a democracy?

The Constitution provides for the legislature to make laws, the government to implement laws, and the courts to interpret and enforce these laws.  While the judiciary is independent from the other two branches, the government is formed with the support of a majority of members in the legislature.  Therefore, the government is collectively responsible to Parliament for its actions.  This implies that Parliament (i.e. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) can hold the government accountable for its decisions, and scrutinise its functioning.  This may be done using various methods including, during debates on Bills or issues on the floor of Parliament, by posing questions to ministers during Question Hour, and in parliamentary committees.

Who convenes Parliament?

Parliament must be convened by the President at least once in every six months.  Since the President acts on the advice of the central government, the duration of the session is decided by the government.

Given the legislature’s role in keeping the executive accountable for its actions, one argument is that the government should not have the power to convene Parliament.  Instead, Parliament should convene itself, if a certain number of MPs agree, so that it can effectively exercise its oversight functions and address issues without delay.  Some countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia release an annual calendar with the sitting dates at the beginning of the year.

How regularly has Parliament been meeting over the years?

Over the years, there has been a decline in the sitting days of Parliament.  While Lok Sabha met for an average of 130 days in a year during the 1950s, these sittings came down to 70 days in the 2000s.  Lesser number of sittings indicates that Parliament was able to transact less business compared to previous years.  To address this, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution has recommended that Lok Sabha should have at least 120 sittings in a year, while Rajya Sabha should have 100 sittings.[2] Sitting days of Parliament

The Constituent Assembly, while drafting the Constitution had debated the power that should be given to Parliament with regard to convening itself.  Mr. K. T. Shah, a member of the Assembly, had suggested that in case the President or the Prime Minister are unable or unwilling to call for a Parliament session, the power to convene the Houses should be given to the presiding officers of those Houses (i.e., the Chairman of Rajya Sabha and the Speaker of Lok Sabha).  In addition, he had also suggested that Parliament should itself regulate its procedure, sittings and timings.[3]

How does Parliament hold the government accountable?

One of the forums of holding the government accountable for its actions is the Question Hour.  During Question Hour, MPs may pose questions to ministers related to the implementation of laws and policies by the government.questions answered

In the 16th Lok Sabha, question hour has functioned in Lok Sabha for 77% of the scheduled time, while in Rajya Sabha it has functioned for 47%.  A lower rate of functioning reflects time lost due to disruptions which reduces the number of questions that may be answered orally.  While Parliament may sit for extra hours to transact other business, time lost during Question Hour is not made up.  Consequently, this time lost indicates a lost opportunity to hold the government accountable for its actions.

Further, there is no mechanism currently for answering questions which require inter-ministerial expertise or relate to broader government policy.  Since the Prime Minister does not answer questions other than the ones pertaining to his ministries, such questions may either not get adequately addressed or remain unanswered.  In countries such as the UK, the Prime Minister’s Question Time is conducted on a weekly basis.  During the 30 minutes the Prime Minister answers questions posed by various MPs.  These questions relate to broader government policies, engagements, and issues affecting the country.[4]

How is public opinion reflected in Parliament?

MPs may raise issues of public importance in Parliament, and examine the government’s response to problems being faced by citizens through: (i) a debate, which entails a reply by the concerned minister, or (ii) a motion which entails a vote.  The time allocated for discussing some of these debates or Bills is determined by the Business Advisory Committee of the House, consisting of members from both the ruling and opposition parties.

Using these methods, MPs may discuss important matters, policies, and topical issues.  The concerned minister while replying to the debate may make assurances to the House regarding steps that will be taken to address the situation.  As of August 2017, 50% of the assurances made in the 16th Lok Sabha have been implemented.[5] Motions

Alternatively, MPs may move a motion for: (i) discussing important issues (such as inflation, drought, and corruption), (ii) adjournment of business in a House in order to express displeasure over a government policy, or (iii) expressing no confidence in the government leading to its resignation.  The 16th Lok Sabha has only discussed one adjournment motion so far.

To improve government accountability in Parliament, the opposition in some countries such as the UK, Canada, and Australia forms a shadow cabinet.[6],[7]  Under such a system, opposition MPs track a certain portfolio, scrutinise its performance and suggest alternate programs.  This allows for detailed tracking and scrutiny of ministries, and assists MPs in making constructive suggestions.  Some of these countries also provide for days when the opposition parties decide the agenda for Parliament.

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[1] Sonia Gandhi accuses of Modi govt ‘sabotaging’ Parliament Winter session, Arun Jaitley rejects charge’, The Indian Express, November 20, 2017, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/jaitley-refutes-sonia-gandhis-charge-of-sabotaging-parliament-session-says-congress-too-had-delayed-sitting-4946482/; ‘Congress also rescheduled Parliament sessions: Arun Jaitley hits back at Sonia Gandhi’, The Times of India, November 20, 2017, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/congress-also-rescheduled-parliament-sessions-arun-jaitley-hits-back-at-sonia-gandhi/articleshow/61726787.cms.

[2]  Parliament and State Legislatures, Chapter 5, National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, March 31, 2002, http://lawmin.nic.in/ncrwc/finalreport/v1ch5.htm.

[3] Constituent Assembly Debates, May 18, 1949.

[4]  Prime Minister’s Question Time, Parliament of the United Kingdom, http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/business/questions/.

[5]  Lok Sabha and Session Wise Report of Assurances in Lok Sabha, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, http://www.mpa.gov.in/mpa/print_summary_lses_ls.aspx.

[6]  Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, Parliament of the United Kingdom, http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/government-and-opposition1/opposition-holding/.

[7]  Current Shadow Ministry List, Parliament of Australia, http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Parliamentary_Handbook/Shadow.

Doing Business in India

November 1st, 2017 No comments

‘Ease of doing business’ refers to the regulatory environment in a country to set up and operate a business.  Every year, the World Bank compares the business environment in 190 countries in its Ease of Doing Business Report.  In its report released yesterday, India’s rank improved to 100 out of 190 countries in 2017, from its rank of 130 in the previous year.[1],[2]  In this context, we explain the parameters on which each country is ranked, what has led to India’s improvement in rankings, and some recommendations made by committees to further improve the business environment in the country.

What parameters is a country ranked on?

Table 1 (2)The ease of doing business rankings are based on a country’s performance on 10 parameters such as enforcing contracts and starting a business.  In India, these rankings are based on the business environment in Mumbai and Delhi.  A lower rank indicates better performance on that parameter, whereas a higher rank indicates worse performance on the indicator.  India’s ranking improved in six out of the 10 parameters over the previous year, while it remained the same or fell in the remaining four (see Table 1).

Note that these parameters are regulated by different agencies across the three tiers of government (i.e. central, state and municipal).  For example, for starting a business, registration and other clearances are granted by central ministries such as Finance and Corporate Affairs.  Electricity and water connections for a business are granted by the state electricity and water boards.  The municipal corporations grant building permits and various other no objection certificates to businesses.

What has led to an improvement in India’s ease of doing business rankings?

According to the 2017 report, India introduced changes in some of these parameters, which helped in improving its ranking.1  Some of these changes include:

  • Starting a business: Starting a business involves obtaining clearances, and conforming to various regulations under laws such as Companies Act, 2013.  The report noted that India merged the application procedure for getting a Permanent Account Number (PAN) and the Tax Account Number (TAN) for new businesses.  It also improved the online application system for getting a PAN and a TAN.
  • Getting credit and resolving insolvency: The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code passed in 2016 provides for a 180-day time-bound process to resolve insolvency.[3]  It also provides for the continuation of a debtor’s business during these proceedings.  The Code allows secured creditors to opt out of resolution proceedings, and specifies that a debtor will be immune against creditor claims during the 180-day insolvency resolution process.  Prior to the passage of the Code, it took 4.3 years in India to liquidate a business (as of 2015).
  • Paying taxes: The report notes that India made paying taxes easier by requiring that payments to the Employees Provident Fund are made electronically.[4]  Further, it introduced measures to ease compliance with corporate income tax.1,[5]
  • Trading across borders: Import border compliance at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port, Mumbai was reduced.  Export and Import costs were also reduced through increasing use of electronic and mobile platforms, among others.
  • Enforcing contracts: The introduction of the National Judicial Data Grid has made it possible to generate case management reports on local courts.[6]

What are some of the other recommendations to improve the business environment in India?

Over the last few years various committees, such as an Expert Committee constituted by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion and the Standing Committee of Commerce, have studied the the regulatory requirements for starting a business in India and the made recommendations on the ease of doing business.[7],[8],[9]  Some of the issues and recommendations made by these committees are discussed below.

Starting a business:  The Standing Committee observed that regulations and procedures for starting a business are time-consuming.8  The Committee observed that as a consequence, a large number of start-ups are moving out of India and setting base in countries like Singapore where such procedures are easier.  It emphasised on the need to streamline regulations to give businesses in India a boost.  Note that the government announced the ‘Start-up India Action Plan in January 2016.[10]  The 19-point plan identified steps to simplify the process for registering and operating start-ups. It also proposed to grant tax exemptions to these businesses.

The Committee had suggested that the procedures and time period for registration of companies should be reduced.  In addition, a unique business ID should be created to integrate all information related to a debtor.  This ID should be used as sole reference for the business.

Acquiring land, registering property:  Under the current legal framework there are delays in acquiring land and getting necessary permissions to use it.  These delays are on account of multiple reasons including the availability of suitable land and disputes related to land titles.  It has been noted that land titles in India are unclear due to various reasons including legacy of the zamindari system, gaps in the legal framework and poor administration of land records.[11]

The Standing Committee observed that the process of updating and digitising land records has been going on for three decades.  It recommended that this process should be completed at the earliest.  The digitised records would assist in removing ambiguity in land titles and help in its smooth transfer.  It also suggested that land ownership may be ascertained by integrating space technology and identification documents such as Aadhaar.  Note that as of September 2017, land records had been linked with Aadhaar in 4% of the villages across the country.[11]

Several states have taken steps to improve regulations related to land and transfer of property.8  These steps include integration of land records and land registration by Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, and the passage of a law to certify land titles in urban areas by Rajasthan.  The Committee also recommended creating a single window for registration of property, to reduce delays.8

Construction permits:  In India, obtaining construction permits involves multiple procedures and is time consuming.  The Standing Committee had observed that it took 33 procedures (such as getting no objection certificates from individual departments) over 192 days to obtain a construction permit in India.8  On the other hand, obtaining a similar permit in Singapore involved 10 procedures and took 26 days.

Taxation:  The Standing Committee had noted that the tax administration in India was complex, and arbitration proceedings were time-consuming.  It observed that the controversies on the Minimum Alternate Tax on capital gains and the tax disputes with companies like Vodafone and Shell had harmed India’s image on taxation matters.  Such policy uncertainty and tax disputes have made foreign companies hesitant to do business in India.8

The Committee observed that for ‘Make in India’ to succeed, there is a need for a fair, judicious and stable tax administration in the country.  Further, it suggested that to reduce harassment of tax payers, an electronic tax administration system should be created.8  Such a system would reduce human interface during dispute resolution.  Note that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced across the country from July 1, 2017.  The GST framework allows for electronic filling of tax returns, among other measures.[12]

Enforcing contracts:  Enforcing contracts requires the involvement of the judicial system.  The time taken to enforce contracts in India is long.  For instance, the Standing Committee noted that it took close to four years in India for enforcing contracts.  On the other hand, it took less than six months for contract enforcement in Singapore.  This may be due to various reasons including complex litigation procedures, confusion related to jurisdiction of courts and high existing pendency of cases.8

The Standing Committee recommended that an alternative dispute resolution mechanism and fast track courts should be set up to expedite disposal of contract enforcement cases.  It suggested that efforts should be made to limit adjournments to exceptional circumstances only.  It also recommended that certified practitioners should be created, to assist dispute resolution.8

[1] ‘Doing Business 2018’, World Bank, http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/WBG/DoingBusiness/Documents/Annual-Reports/English/DB2018-Full-Report.pdf.

[2] ‘Doing Business 2017’, World Bank, http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/WBG/DoingBusiness/Documents/Annual-Reports/English/DB17-Full-Report.pdf.

[3] Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-insolvency-and-bankruptcy-bill-2015-4100/.

[4] G.S.R. 436 (E), G.S.R. 437 (E) and G.S.R. 438 (E), Gazette of India, Ministry of Labour and Employment, May 4, 2017, http://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/Notifications%20for%20amendment%20under%20EPF%2C%20EPS%20and%20EDLI%20Schemes%20for%20e-Payment_0.pdf.

[5] Finance Bill, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-finance-bill-2017-4681/; Memorandum explaining the provisions of the Finance Bill, 2017, http://unionbudget.nic.in/ub2017-18/memo/memo.pdf.

[6] National Judicial Data Grid, http://njdg.ecourts.gov.in/njdg_public/index.php.

[7] Report of the Expert Committee on Prior Permissions and Regulatory Mechanism, Department of Industrial Policy Promotion, February 27, 2016.

[8] ‘Ease of Doing Business’, 122nd Report of the Department Related Standing Committee on Commerce, December 21, 2015, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20Commerce/122.pdf.

[9] Ease of Doing Business: An Enterprise of Survey of Indian States, NITI Aayog, August 28, 2017, http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/EoDB_Single.pdf.

[10] Start Up India Action Plan, January 2016, http://www.startupindia.gov.in/pdffile.php?title=Startup%20India%20Action%20Plan&type=Action&q=Action%20Plan.pdf&content_type=Action&submenupoint=action.

[11] Land Records and Titles in India, September 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/analytical-reports/land-records-and-titles-in-india-4941/.

[12] The Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-central-goods-and-services-tax-bill-2017-4697/.

Food Security in India

October 16th, 2017 No comments

The United Nations celebrates October 16 as the World Food Day every year, with an aim to spread awareness about eradicating hunger and ensuring food security for all.[1]  In this context, we examine the status of food and public distribution in India, and some challenges in ensuring food security for all.

Background

In 2017-18, over Rs 1,50,000 crore, or 7.6% of the government’s total expenditure has been allocated for providing food subsidy under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).[2]  This allocation is made to the Department of Food and Public Distribution under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs.

Food subsidy has been the largest component of the Department’s expenditure (94% in 2017-18), and has increased six-fold over the past 10 years.  This subsidy is used for the implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA), which provides subsidised food grains (wheat and rice) to 80 crore people in the country.[3]  The NFSA seeks to ensure improved nutritional intake for people in the country.3

One of the reasons for the six-fold increase in food subsidy is the non-revision of the price at which food grains are given to beneficiaries since 2002.[4]  For example, rice is given to families under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana at Rs 3/Kg since 2002, while the cost of providing this has increased from Rs 11/Kg in 2001-02 to Rs 33/Kg in 2017-18.

Provision of food subsidyTable 1

TPDS provides food security to people below the poverty line.  Over the years, the expenditure on food subsidy has increased, while the ratio of people below poverty line has reduced.  A similar trend can also be seen in the proportion of undernourished persons in India, which reduced from 24% in 1990 to 15% in 2014 (see Table 1).  These trends may indicate that the share of people needing subsidised food has declined.

Nutritional balance:  The NFSA guarantees food grains i.e. wheat and rice to beneficiaries, to ensure nutritious food intake.3  Over the last two decades, the share of cereals or food grains as a percentage of food consumption has reduced from 13% to 8% in the country, whereas that of milk, eggs, fish and meat has increased (see Figure 1).  This indicates a reduced preference for wheat and rice, and a rise in preference towards other protein rich food items. Figure 1

Methods of providing food subsidy

Food subsidy is provided majorly using two methods.  We discuss these in detail below.

TPDS assures beneficiaries that they will receive food grains, and insulates them against price volatility. Food grains are delivered through fair price shops in villages, which are easy to access.[5],[6]

However, high leakages have been observed in the system, both during transportation and distribution.  These include pilferage and errors of inclusion and exclusion from the beneficiary list.  In addition, it has also been argued that the distribution of wheat and rice may cause an imbalance in the nutritional intake as discussed earlier.7  Beneficiaries have also reported receiving poor quality food grains as part of the system.

Cash Transfers seek to increase the choices available with a beneficiary, and provide financial assistance. It has been argued that the costs of DBT may be lesser than TPDS, owing to lesser costs incurred on transport and storage.  These transfers may also be undertaken electronically.6,7

However, it has also been argued that cash received as part of DBT may be spent on non-food items.  Such a system may also expose beneficiaries to inflation.  In this regard, one may also consider the low penetration and access to banking in rural areas.[7]

Figure 2

In 2017-18, 52% of the centre’s total subsidy expenditure will be on providing food subsidy under TPDS (see Figure 2).  The NFSA states that the centre and states should introduce schemes for cash transfers to beneficiaries.  Other experts have also suggested replacing TPDS with a Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system.4,[8]

The central government introduced cash subsidy to TPDS beneficiaries in September 2015.[9]  As of March 2016, this was being implemented on a pilot basis in a few union territories.  In 2015, a Committee on Restructuring of Food Corporation of India had also recommended introducing Aadhaar to plug leakages in PDS, and indexing it to inflation.  The Committee estimated that a switch to DBT would reduce the food subsidy bill of the government by more than Rs 30,000 crore.[10]

Current challenges in PDS

Leakages in PDS:  Leakages refer to food grains not reaching intended beneficiaries.  According to 2011 data, leakages in PDS were estimated to be 46.7%.10,[11]  Leakages may be of three types: (i) pilferage during transportation of food grains, (ii) diversion at fair price shops to non-beneficiaries, and (iii) exclusion of entitled beneficiaries from the list.6,[12]

In 2016, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found that states had not completed the process of identifying beneficiaries, and 49% of the beneficiaries were yet to be identified.  It also noted that inclusion and exclusion errors had been reported in the beneficiary lists.[13]

In February 2017, the Ministry made it mandatory for beneficiaries under NFSA to use Aadhaar as proof of identification for receiving food grains.  Through this, the government aims to remove bogus ration cards, check leakages and ensure better delivery of food grains.10,[14]  As of January 2017, while 100% ration cards had been digitised, the seeding of these cards with Aadhaar was at 73%.14

Figure 3

Storage:  As of 2016-17, the total storage capacity in the country is 788 lakh tonnes, of which 354 lakh tonnes is with the Food Corporation of India and 424 lakh tonnes is with the state agencies.[15]

The CAG in its performance audit found that the available storage capacity in states was inadequate for the allocated quantity of food grains.13  For example, as of October 2015, of the 233 godowns sanctioned for construction in Maharashtra, only 93 had been completed.  It also noted that in four of the last five years, the stock of food grains with the centre had been higher than the storage capacity available with Food Corporation of India.

Quality of food grains:  A survey conducted in 2011 had noted that people complained about receiving poor quality food grain which had to be mixed with other grains to be edible.6  There have also been complaints about people receiving food grains containing alien substances such as pebbles.  Poor quality of food may impact the willingness of people to buy food from fair price shops, and may have an adverse impact on their health.[16]

The Ministry has stated that while regular surveillance, monitoring, inspection and random sampling of all food items is under-taken by State Food Safety Officers, separate data for food grains distributed under PDS is unavailable.[17]  In the absence of data with regard to quality testing results of food grains supplied under PDS, it may be difficult to ascertain whether these food items meet the prescribed quality and safety standards.

[1] About World Food Day, http://www.fao.org/world-food-day/2017/about/en/.

[2] Expenditure Budget, Union Budget 2017-18, http://unionbudget.nic.in/ub2017-18/eb/allsbe.pdf.

[3] National Food Security Act, 2013, http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/202013.pdf.

[4] “Prices, Agriculture and Food Management”, Chapter 5, Economic Survey 2015-16, http://unionbudget.nic.in/budget2016-2017/es2015-16/echapvol2-05.pdf.

[5] The Case for Direct Cash Transfers to the Poor, Economic and Political Weekly, April 2008, http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2008_43/15/The_Case_for_Direct_Cash_Transfers_to_the_Poor.pdf.

[6] Revival of the Public Distribution System: Evidence and Explanations, The Economic and Political Weekly, November 5, 2011,

http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2011_46/44-45/Revival_of_the_Public_Distribution_System_Evidence_and_Explanations.pdf.

[7] ‘Report of the Internal Working Group on Branch Authorisation Policy’, Reserve Bank of India, September 2016, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PublicationReport/Pdfs/IWG99F12F147B6E4F8DBEE8CEBB8F09F103.PDF.

[8] Working Paper 294, “Leakages from Public Distribution System”, January 2015, ICRIER, http://icrier.org/pdf/Working_Paper_294.pdf.

[9] “The Cash Transfer of Food Subsidy Rules, 2015”, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, September 3, 2015, http://dfpd.nic.in/writereaddata/Portal/News/32_1_cash.pdf.

[10] Report of the High Level Committee on Reorienting the Role and Restructuring of Food Corporation of India, January 2015, http://www.fci.gov.in/app2/webroot/upload/News/Report%20of%20the%20High%20Level%20Committee%20on%20Reorienting%20the%20Role%20and%20Restructuring%20of%20FCI_English_1.pdf.

[11] Third Report of the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution: Demands for Grants 2015-16, Department of Food and Public Distribution, http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/Food,%20Consumer%20Affairs%20&%20Public%20Distribution/16_Food_Consumer_Affairs_And_Public_Distribution_3.pdf.

[12] Performance Evaluation of Targeted Public Distribution System, Planning Commission of India, March 2005, http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/peoreport/peo/peo_tpds.pdf.

[13] Audit on the Preparedness for Implementation of National Food Security Act, 2013 for the year ended March, 2015, Report No. 54 of 2015, Comptroller and Auditor General of India, http://cag.gov.in/sites/default/files/audit_report_files/Union_Civil_National_Food_Security_Report_54_of_2015.pdf.

[14] Unstarred Question No. 844, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on February 7, 2017, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/11/AU844.pdf.

[15] Annual Report 2016-17, Department of Food & Public Distribution, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, http://dfpd.nic.in/writereaddata/images/annual-140217.pdf.

[16] 30 Food Subsidy, The Economic and Political Weekly, December 27, 2014, http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2014_49/52/Food_Subsidy.pdf.

[17] Unstarred Question No. 2124, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on November 29, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU2124.pdf.

GST rates and anti-profiteering

May 24th, 2017 No comments

Over the last two months, the centre and over 15 states have passed laws to levy the Goods and Services Tax (GST).  Under these laws, tax rates recommended by the GST Council will be notified by the government.  The Council met in Srinagar last week to approve rates for various items.  Following this decision, the government has indicated that it may invoke provisions under the GST laws to monitor prices of goods and services.[1]  This will be done by setting up an anti-profiteering authority to ensure that reduction in tax rates under GST results in a fall in prices of goods and services.  In this context, we look at the rates approved by the GST Council, and the role of the proposed authority to ensure that prices of various items do not increase under GST.

Q. What are the tax rates that have been approved by the Council?

The Council has classified various items under five different tax rates: (i) 5%, (ii) 12%, (iii) 18%, (iv) 28%, and (v) 28% with an additional GST compensation cess (see Table 1).[2],[3],[4]  While tax rates for most of the goods and services have been approved by the Council, rates for some remaining items such as biscuits, textiles, footwear, and precious metals are expected to be decided in its next meeting on June 3, 2017.

Table 1: Tax rates for goods and services as approved by the GST Council

 

5% 12% 18% 28%

28% + Cess

Goods o Tea and Coffee

o Medicines

o Edible Oils

o Butter and Cheese

o Sanitary Napkins

o Mobile Phones

o Dry Fruits

o Tractors

o Agarbatti

o Toothpaste

o Soap Bars

o Computers

o Chocolate

o Shampoo

o Washing Machine

o Air Conditioner (AC)

o Aerated Drinks + 12% Cess

o Small Cars + 1% or 3% Cess (depending on petrol or diesel engine)

o Big Cars + 15% Cess

Services o Transport by rail

o Air transport by economy class

o Air transport by business class

o Non-AC Restaurant without liquor license

o Restaurant with liquor license

o AC Restaurant

o Other services not specified under any other rate (such as telecommunication and financial services)

o Entertainment (such as cinemas and theme parks)

o Gambling

o Restaurants in 5 star hotels

Source: GST Council Press Release, Central Board for Excise and Customs.

 

Q. Will GST apply on all goods and services?

No, certain items such as alcohol for human consumption, and petroleum products such as petrol, diesel and natural gas will be exempt under GST.  In addition to these, the GST Council has also classified certain items under the 0% tax rate, implying that GST will not be levied on them.  This list includes items of daily use such as wheat, rice, milk, eggs, fresh vegetables, meat and fish.  Some services such as education and healthcare will also be exempt under GST.

Q. How will GST impact prices of goods and services?

GST subsumes various indirect taxes and seeks to reduce cascading of taxes (tax on tax).  With greater efficiency in the supply of products, enhanced flow of tax credits, removal of border check posts, and changes in tax rates, prices of goods and services may come down.[5],[6],[7]  Mr Arun Jaitley recently stated that the Council has classified several items under lower tax rates, when compared to the current system.[8]

However, since some tax rates such as VAT currently vary across states, the real impact of GST rates on prices may become clear only after its roll-out.  For example, at present VAT rates on smart phones range between 5-15% across states.  Under GST they will be taxed at 12%.[9]  As a result while phones may become marginally cheaper in some states, their prices may go up in some others.

Q. What happens if tax rates come down but companies don’t reduce prices?

Few people such as the Union Revenue Secretary and Finance Ministers of Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir have expressed concerns that companies may not lower their prices despite a fall in tax rates, in order to increase their profits.  The Revenue Secretary also stated that the government had received reports of few businesses increasing their product prices in anticipation of GST.[10]

To take care of such cases, the GST laws contain a provision which allows the centre to constitute an anti-profiteering authority.  The authority will ensure that a reduction in tax rates under GST is passed on to the consumers.  Specific powers and functions of the authority will be specified by the GST Council.[11],[12]

Q. Are there any existing mechanisms to regulate pricing of products?

Various laws have been enacted over the years to control the pricing of essential items, or check for unfair market practices.  For example, the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 controls the price of certain necessary items such as medicines, food items and fertilisers.[13]

Parliament has also created statutory authorities like the Competition Commission of India to check against unfair trade practices such as cartelisation by businesses to inflate prices of goods.  Regulators, such as the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, are also responsible for regulating prices for items in their sectors.

Q. Could there be some challenges in implementing this mechanism?

To fulfil its mandate, the anti-profiteering authority could get involved in determining prices of various items.  This may even require going through the balance sheets and finances of various companies.  Some argue that this is against the idea of prices being determined by market forces of demand and supply.[14]

Another aspect to consider here is that the price of items is dependent on a combination of factors, in addition to applicable taxes.  These include the cost of raw material, technology used by businesses, distribution channels, or competition in the market.

Imagine a case where the GST rate on a category of cars has come down from the current levels, but rising global prices of raw material such as steel have forced a manufacturer to increase prices.  Given the mandate of the authority to ensure passing of lower tax rates to consumers, will it also consider the impact of rising input costs deciding the price of an item?  Since factor costs keep fluctuating, in some cases the authority may find it difficult to evaluate the pricing decision of a business.

Q. Have other countries tried to introduce similar anti-profiteering frameworks?

Some countries such as Malaysia have in the past introduced laws to check if companies were making unreasonably high profits after the roll-out of GST.[15]  While the law was supposed to remain in force for a limited period, the deadline has been extended a few times.  In Australia, during the roll out of GST in the early 2000s, an existing authority was entrusted with the role of taking action against businesses that unreasonably increased prices.[16]  The authority also put in place a strategy to raise consumer awareness about the available recourse in cases of price exploitation.

With rates for various items being approved, and the government considering a mechanism to ensure that any inflationary impact is minimised, the focus now shifts to the implementation of GST.  This includes operationalisation of the GST Network, and notification of rules relating to registration under GST and payment of tax.  The weeks ahead will be crucial for the authorities and various taxpayers in the country to ensure that GST is successfully rolled out from July 1, 2017.

[1] After fixing rates, GST Council to now focus on price behaviour of companies, The Hindustan Times, Ma 22, 2017, http://www.hindustantimes.com/business-news/after-fixing-rates-gst-council-to-now-focus-on-price-behaviour-of-companies/story-fRsAFsfEofPxMe2IXnXIMN.html.

[2] GST Rate Schedule for Goods, Central Board of Excise and Customs, GST Council, May 18, 2017, http://www.cbec.gov.in/resources//htdocs-cbec/gst/chapter-wise-rate-wise-gst-schedule-18.05.2017.pdf.

[3] GST Compensation Cess Rates for different supplies, GST Council, Central Board of Excise and Customs, May 18, 2017, http://www.cbec.gov.in/resources//htdocs-cbec/gst/gst-compensation-cess-rates-18.05.2017.pdf.

[4] Schedule of GST Rates for Services as approved by GST Council, GST Council, Central Board of Excise and Customs, May 19, 2017, http://www.cbec.gov.in/resources//htdocs-cbec/gst/Schedule%20of%20GST%20rates%20for%20services.pdf.

[5] GST rate impact: Here’s how the new tax can carry a greater punch, The Financial Express, May 24, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/economy/gst-rate-impact-heres-how-the-new-tax-can-carry-a-greater-punch/682762/.

[6] “So far, the GST Council has got it right”, The Hindu Business Line, May 22, 2017, http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/the-gst-council-has-got-it-right/article9709906.ece.

[7] “GST to cut inflation by 2%, create buoyancy in economy: Hasmukh Adhia”, The Times of India, May 21, 2017, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/gst-to-cut-inflation-by-2-create-buoyancy-in-economy-hasmukh-adhia/articleshow/58772448.cms.

[8] GST rate: New tax to reduce prices of most goods, from milk, coal to FMCG goods, The Financial Express, May 19, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/economy/gst-rate-new-tax-to-reduce-prices-of-most-goods-from-milk-coal-to-fmcg-goods/675722/.

[9] “Goods and Services Tax (GST) will lead to lower tax burden in several commodities including packaged cement, Medicaments, Smart phones, and medical devices, including surgical instruments”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Finance, May 23, 2017.

[10] “GST Townhall: Main concern is consumer education, says Adhia”, Live Mint, May 24, 2017.

[11] The Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/GST,%202017/Central%20GST%20Act,%202017.pdf.

[12] Rajasthan Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017; Madhya Pradesh Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017; Uttar Pradesh Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017; Maharashtra Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017.

[13] The Essential Commodities Act, 1955.

[14] “GST rollout: Anti-profiteering law could be the new face of tax terror”, The Financial Express, May 23, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/gst-rollout-anti-profiteering-law-could-be-the-new-face-of-tax-terror/680850/.

[15] Price Control Anti-Profiteering Act 2011, Malaysia.

[16] ACCC oversight of pricing responses to the introduction of the new tax system, Australia Competition and Consumer Commission, January 2003, https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/GST%20final%20report.pdf.

Demonetisation of old notes: The proposed law explained

February 7th, 2017 No comments

The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Bill, 2017 is being discussed in Parliament today.[1]  The Bill replaces an Ordinance promulgated on December 30, 2016 to remove the Reserve Bank of India’s  (RBI) liability and central government’s guarantee to honour the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes which were demonetised on November 8, 2016 through a notification.[2]  These notes were allowed to be deposited in banks by December 30, 2016.  In light of this, we explain the provisions of the Bill and possible implications.

What does the Bill say?

Under the RBI Act, 1934, RBI is responsible for issuing currency notes, and is liable to repay the holder of a note upon demand.  The Bill provides that, from December 31, 2016, RBI would no longer be liable to repay holders of old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000, the value of these notes.[3]  Further, the old notes will no longer be guaranteed by the central government.

Can a person keep old notes?

A person will be prohibited from holding, transferring or receiving the old notes from December 31, 2016 onwards.  It exempts some people from this prohibition including: (i) a person holding up to 10 old notes (irrespective of denomination), and (ii) a person holding up to 25 notes for the purposes of study, research or numismatics (collection or study of coins or notes).

What happens if a person continues to hold old notes after December 30, 2016?

Any person holding the old notes, except in the circumstances mentioned above, will be punishable with a fine: (i) which may extend to Rs 10,000, or (ii) five times the value of notes possessed, whichever is higher.

Are there any issues with this provision?

There may be two issues.

No window to deposit old notes before imposing penalty:  The notification of November 8th allowed old currency notes to be deposited till December 30, 2016 and specified that people unable to deposit them till this date would be given an opportunity later.2  However, the Ordinance which came into force on December 31, 2016 made it an offence to hold old currency notes from that day onwards and imposed a penalty.  This overnight change did not provide a window for a person holding the notes on that day to exchange or deposit them.  Therefore, not only did the holder lose the monetary value of the notes but he was also deemed to have committed an offence.  This implies that a person who had the notes did not have an opportunity to avoid committing an offence and attracting a penalty.

Unclear purpose behind penalty on possessing old notes:  The purpose and the objective behind imposing a penalty for the possession of old currency notes is unclear.  One may draw a comparison between holding an invalid currency note, and an expired cheque since both these instruments are meant to complete transactions.  Currently, a cheque becomes invalid three months after being issued.  However, holding multiple expired cheques does not attract a penalty.

Is it still possible to deposit old notes?

The government has specified a grace period under the Bill to allow: (i) Indian residents who were outside India between November 9, 2016 to December 30, 2016 to deposit these notes till March 31, 2017, and (ii) non-residents who were outside India during this period to deposit notes till June 30, 2017.  The government may exempt any other class of people by issuing a notification.  In addition, RBI has permitted foreign tourists to exchange Rs 5,000 per week.  No other person can exchange or deposit old notes after December 30, 2016.

Would this satisfy Constitutional norms?

While the notification issued on November 8 specified that after December 30, 2016, any person unable to exchange or deposit old notes would be allowed to do so at specified RBI offices, the Bill does not provide such a facility except in the circumstances discussed above.

On may question whether this violates Article 300A of the Constitution, which states that no person will be deprived of his property except by law.  Though this Bill will be a “law”, one may want to think about whether its provisions meet the standards of due process and are not arbitrary.  Given that earlier notifications had indicated that a facility for exchanging or depositing old notes would be provided after December 30, 2016, would the action of not providing such facility under the Bill qualify as an arbitrary action which violates due process? [4]  A few examples will be useful in examining this question.

Case 1:  A person unable to deposit notes due to poor health

A person may have been unable to deposit old currency notes owing to various reasons such as poor health, old age or disability till the deadline of December 30, 2016.  The Bill does not provide any facility for such persons to deposit old notes, except if they were not in India during the period between November 8 and December 30, 2016.

Case 2: A person without a bank account

A person without a bank account may have held over Rs 4,500 in old currency notes.  The notification (and future modifications) allowed a person to exchange up to Rs 4,500 over the counter once till November 24, 2016.[5]  Such a person would have to incur a monetary loss if he possessed old notes above this value, given his inability to deposit them in a bank account.

Case 3: Indian citizens living abroad

There may be Indians working or studying abroad holding old currency notes.  The government has notified the last date for depositing old notes for these non-resident Indians as June 30, 2017.[6]  However, these people may not visit India between November 8, 2016 and June 30, 2017.  In such a scenario, these people may have to incur a monetary loss.

Case 4: Foreign nationals entering India before demonetisation

Foreign tourists in the country may have held old currency notes before demonetisation on November 8, 2016.  Such tourists can only exchange old currency notes of up to Rs 5,000 per week till January 31, 2017.[7]  Given that such foreigners may not have bank accounts in India, they may also suffer a monetary loss for whatever amount could not be exchanged within the period they were in India.  For example, a person who had Rs 10,000 and left India on November 13, 2016 would not have been able to get the value of notes they had, over Rs 5,000.

In addition, Indian currency notes are used legally in neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Bhutan.  The Bill allows only Indian citizens to deposit old notes for an extended period under certain conditions.  However, it does not make any provisions for foreigners to deposit or exchange old notes held by them.  Such foreign nationals who are not Indian residents would not have bank accounts in India.

[1] The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Bill, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Specified%20Bank%20notes/specified%20bank%20notes%20bill%202017-compress.pdf.

[2] S. O. 3407 (E), Gazette of India, Ministry of Finance, November 8, 2016, http://finmin.nic.in/172521.pdf.

[3] The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Ordinance, 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Ordinances/Specified%20Bank%20Notes%20%28Cessation%20of%20Liabilities%29%20Ordinance,%202016.pdf.

[4] Section 2 (ix) of the notification issued on November 8, 2016 (No. S. O. 3407 (E)) states that any person who is unable to exchange or deposit the specified bank notes in their bank accounts on or before the 30th December, 2016, shall be given an opportunity to do so at specified offices of the Reserve Bank or such other facility until a later date as may be specified by it.

[5] S. O. 3543 (E), Gazette of India, Ministry of Finance, November 24, 2016, http://finmin.nic.in/172740.pdf.

[6] S. O. 4251 (E), Gazette of India, Ministry of Finance, December 30, 2016, http://dea.gov.in/sites/default/files/24Notification%2030.12.2016.pdf.

[7] Exchange facility to foreign citizens, January 3, 2017, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=10815&Mode=0.

Debt recovery in India : The 2016 Bill and what it seeks to do

August 4th, 2016 No comments

 

The Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debts Laws and Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is listed for discussion in Rajya Sabha today.[i]  The Bill aims to expeditiously resolve cases of debt recovery by making amendments to four laws, including the (i) Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993, and (ii) the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002.

Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993

The 1993 Act created Debt Recovery Tribunals (DRTS) to adjudicated debt recovery cases.  This was done to move cases out of civil courts, with the idea of reducing time taken for debt recovery, and for providing technical expertise.  This was aimed at assisting banks and financial institutions in recovering outstanding debt from defaulters.

Over the years, it has been observed that the DRTs do not comply with the stipulated time frame of resolving disputes within six months. This has resulted in delays in disposal, and a high pendency of cases before the DRTs.

Between March 2013 and December 2015, the number of pending cases before the DRTs increased from 43,000 to 70,000.  With an average disposal rate of 10,000 cases per year, it is estimated that these DRTs will take about six to seven years to clear the existing backlog of cases.[ii]

Experts have also observed that the DRT officers, responsible for debt recovery, lack experience in dealing with such cases.  Further, these officers are not adequately trained to adjudicate debt-related matters.[iii]

The 2016 Bill proposes to increase the retirement age of Presiding Officers of DRTs, and allows for their reappointment.  This will allow the existing DRT officers to serve for longer periods of time.  However, such a move may have limited impact in expanding the pool of officers in the DRTs.

The 2016 Bill also has a provision which allows Presiding Officers of tribunals, established under other laws, to head DRTs.  Currently, there are various specialised tribunals functioning in the country, like the Securities Appellate Tribunal, the National Company Law Tribunal, and theNational Green Tribunal.  It remains to be seen if the skills brought in by officers of these tribunals will mirror the specialisation required for adjudicating debt-related matters.

Further, the 1993 Act provides that banks and financial institutions must file cases in those DRTs that have jurisdiction over the defendant’s area of residence or business.  In addition, the Bill allows cases to be filed in DRTs having jurisdiction over the bank branch where the debt is due.

The Bill also provides that certain procedures, such as presentation of claims by parties and issue of summons by DRTs, can now be undertaken in electronic form (such as filing them on the DRT website).

Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002

The 2002 Act allows secured creditors (lenders whose loans are backed by a security) to take possession over a collateral security if the debtor defaults in repayment.  This allows creditors to sell the collateral security and recover the outstanding debt without the intervention of a court or a tribunal.

This takeover of collateral security is done with the assistance of the District Magistrate (DM), having jurisdiction over the security.  Experts have noted that the absence of a time-limit for the DM to dispose such applications has resulted in delays.[iv]  The 2016 Bill proposes to introduce a 30-day time limit within which the DM must pass an order for the takeover of a security.  Under certain circumstances, this time-limit may be extended to 60 days.

The 2002 Act also regulates the establishment and functioning of Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARCs).  ARCs purchase Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) from banks at a discount.  This allows banks to recover partial payment for an outstanding loan account, thereby helping them maintain cash flow and liquidity.  The functioning of ARCs has been explained in Figure 1.

Enforcement of security

It has been observed that the setting up of ARCs, along with the use out-of-court systems to take possession of the collateral security, has created an environment conducive to lending.[iii]  However, a few concerns related to the functioning of ARCs have been expressed over the years.  These concerns include a limited number of buyers and capital entering the ARC business, and high transaction costs involved in the transfer of assets in favour of these companies due to the levy of stamp duty.[iii]

In this regard, the Bill proposes to exempt the payment of stamp duty on transfer of financial assets in favour of ARCs.  This benefit will not be applicable if the asset has been transferred for purposes other than securitisation or reconstruction (such as for the ARCs own use or investment).  Consequently, the Bill amends the Indian Stamp Act, 1899.

The Bill also provides greater powers to the Reserve Bank of India to regulate ARCs.  This includes the power to carry out audits and inspections either on its own, or through specialised agencies.

With the passage of the Bankruptcy Code in May 2016, a complete overhaul of the debt recovery proceedings was envisaged.  The Code allows creditors to collectively take action against a defaulting debtor, and complete this process within a period of 180 days.  During the process, the creditors may choose to revive a company by changing the repayment schedule of outstanding loans, or decide to sell it off for recovering their dues.

While the Bankruptcy Code provides for collective action of creditors, the proposed amendments to the SARFAESI and DRT Acts seek to streamline the processes of creditors individually taking action against the defaulting debtor.  The impact of these changes on debt recovery scenario in the country, and the issue of rising NPAs will only become clear in due course of time.

[i] Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debts Laws and Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Bill, 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/administrator/uploads/media/Enforcement%20of%20Security/Enforcement%20of%20Security%20Bill,%202016.pdf.

[ii] Unstarred Question No. 1570, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Finance, Answered on March 4, 2016.

[iii] ‘A Hundred Small Steps’, Report of the Committee on Financial Sector Reforms, Planning Commission, September 2008, http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/genrep/rep_fr/cfsr_all.pdf.

[iv] Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission, March 2013, http://finmin.nic.in/fslrc/fslrc_report_vol1.pdf.

The Bihar Prohibition and Excise Bill, 2016: An analysis

August 1st, 2016 No comments

The Bihar Prohibition and Excise Bill, 2016 was introduced and debated in the Bihar Legislative Assembly today.  The Bill creates a framework for the levy of excise duty and imposes a prohibition on alcohol in Bihar.  In this context, we examine key provisions and some issues related to the Bill.

Prohibition on the manufacture, sale, storage and consumption of alcohol was imposed in Bihar earlier in 2016, by amending the Bihar Excise Act, 1915.  The Bill replaces the 1915 Act and the Bihar Prohibition Act, 1938.  Key features of the Bill include:

  • Prohibition: The Bill imposes a prohibition on the manufacture, bottling, distribution, transportation, collection, storage, possession, sale and consumption of alcohol or any other intoxicant specified by the state government.  However, it also allows the state government to renew existing licenses, or allow any state owned company to undertake any of these activities (such as manufacture, distribution, etc.).
  • Excise revenue: The Bill expects to generate revenue from excise by levying (i) excise duty on import, export, manufacture, etc. of alcohol, (ii) license fee on establishing any manufactory, distillery, brewery, etc., (iii) fee on alcohol transit through Bihar, and (iv) fee on movement of alcohol within Bihar or import and export from Bihar to other states, among others.
  • Excise Intelligence Bureau: The Bill provides for the creation of an Excise Intelligence Bureau, which will be responsible for collecting, maintaining and disseminating information related to excise offences.  It will be headed by the Excise Commissioner.
  • Penalties and Offences: The Bill provides penalties for various offences committed under its provisions.  These offences include consuming alcohol, possession or having knowledge about possession of alcohol and mixing noxious substances with alcohol.  In addition, the Bill provides that if any person is being prosecuted, he shall be presumed to be guilty until his innocence is proven.
  • The Bill also allows a Collector to impose a collective fine on a group of people, or residents of a particular village, if these people are repeat offenders.

Process to be followed for offences

The Bill outlines the following process to be followed in case an offence is committed:

  • If a person is found to have committed any offence under the Bill (such as consumption, storage or possession of alcohol), any authorised person (such as the District Collector, Excise Officer, and Superintendent of Police) may take action against the offender.
  • The Bill allows an authorised person to arrest the offender without a warrant.  Alcohol, any material or conveyance mode used for the offence may be confiscated or destroyed by the authorised person.  In addition, the premises where alcohol is found, or any place where it is being sold, may be sealed.
  • Under the Bill, the offender will be tried by a Sessions Court, or a special court set up by the state.  The offender may appeal against the verdict of the special court in the High Court.

Some issues that need to be considered

  • Family members and occupants as offenders: For illegal manufacture, possession or consumption of alcohol by a person, the Bill holds the following people criminally liable:
    1. Family members of the person (in case of illegal possession of alcohol). Family means husband, wife and their dependent children.
    2. Owner and occupants of a land or a building, where such illegal acts are taking place.

The Bill presumes that the family members, owner and occupants of the building or land ought to have known that an illegal act is taking place.  In all such cases, the Bill prescribes a punishment of at least 10 years of imprisonment, and a fine of at least one lakh rupees.

These provisions may violate Article 14 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.  Article 14 of the Constitution provides that no person will be denied equality before law.  This protects individuals from any arbitrary actions of the state.[1]  It may be argued that imposing criminal liability on (i) family members and (ii) owner or occupants of the building, for the action of another person is arbitrary in nature.

Article 21 of the Constitution states that no person can be deprived of their life and personal liberty, except according to procedure established by law.  Courts have interpreted this to mean that any procedure established by law should be fair and reasonable.[2]  It needs to be examined whether presuming that (i) family members of an offender, and (ii) owner or occupant of the building knew about the offence, and making them criminally liable, is reasonable.

  • Bar on Jurisdiction for confiscated items: The Bill allows for the confiscation of: (i) materials used for manufacturing alcohol, or (ii) conveyance modes if they are used for committing an offence (such as animal carts, vessels).  It provides that no court shall have the power to pass an order with regard to the confiscated property.  It is unclear what judicial recourse will be available for an aggrieved person.
  • Offences under the Bill: The Bill provides that actions such as manufacturing, possession or consumption of alcohol will attract an imprisonment of at least 10 years with a fine of at least one lakh rupees.  One may question if the term of imprisonment is in proportion to the offence committed under the Bill.

Note that under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 an imprisonment at least 10 years is attracted in crimes such as use of acid to cause injury, or trafficking of a minor.  Other states where a prohibition on alcohol is imposed provide for a lower imprisonment term for such offences.  These include Gujarat (at least seven years) and Nagaland (maximum three years).[3]

Note:  At the time of publishing this blog, the Bill was being debated in the Legislative Assembly.

[1] E.P. Royappa v State of Tamil Nadu, Supreme Court, Writ Petition No. 284 of 1972, November 23, 1973.

[2] Maneka Gandhi v Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597.

[3] Gujarat Prohibition Act, 1949, http://www.prohibition-excise.gujarat.gov.in/Upload/06asasas_pne_kaydaao_niyamo_1.pdf.

7th Pay Commission’s review of central government salaries

June 30th, 2016 1 comment

The Union Cabinet approved the implementation of Seventh Pay Commission recommendations yesterday.  The Commission was tasked with reviewing and proposing changes to the pay, pension and efficiency of government employees.

These recommendations will apply to 33 lakh central government employees, in addition to 14 lakh armed forces personnel and 52 lakh pensioners.  This will take effect from January 1, 2016.

Number of Employees

Pensioners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pay, Allowances and Pension of central government employees

In relation to an employee, the Commission proposed to increase (i) the minimum salary to Rs 18,000 per month, and (ii) the maximum salary to Rs 2,50,000 per month.

It also recommended moving away from the existing system of pay bands and grade pay, which is used to determine an employee’s salary.  Instead, it proposed a new pay matrix which will take into account the hierarchy of employees, and their pay progression during the course of employment.  The Commission also suggested that this matrix should be reviewed periodically, with a frequency of less than 10 years.

The Pay Commission also suggested a linkage between performance and remuneration of an employee.  For this, it proposed the introduction of performance related pay which will be based on an annual appraisal of the employee.  In addition, it recommended that annual increments of an employee should be withheld, if he is unable to meet the benchmark required for regular promotion or career progression.

The Commission also sought to abolish or merge some of the allowances that may be given to employees by various government departments.  It suggested that, of the 196 allowances that exist, 52 should be abolished and 36 should either be merged under existing heads, or be included under proposed allowances.  Some of these allowances involved payment of a meagre amount of close to Rs 100 per month.

In addition, the rates of House Rent Allowance (HRA) were revised.  The Commission proposed a methodology to increase the HRA rates every time the Dearness Allowance given to employees increased to 50% or 100%.  Dearness Allowance is given to employees in lieu of increases in the cost of living, on account of inflation.

The Commission had also proposed a new methodology for computing pension for pensioners who retired before January 1, 2016.  This is aimed at bringing parity between past and current pensioners.  As part of the new methodology, two options for calculation of pension have been prescribed, and the pensioner may opt for either one.

Financial Impact on the government

Table 7CPCThe implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations is expected to cost the government Rs 1,02,100 crore.  Of this amount, 72% will be borne by the central government, and 28% by the railways.

As a result, the overall expenditure is expected to increase by 23.6%, with a 16% increase in expenses on pay, 63% in allowances and 24% in pension.

Addressing the issue of vacancy

VacancyAs of 2014, the central government had a job vacancy of 18.5%.[i]  These vacancies may need to be filled or abolished, if required, to reduce redundancy.[ii]

It may be noted that the Second Administrative Reforms Commission had observed that reducing the number of government employees is necessary for modern and professional governance.  Further, it had expressed concern that the increasing expenditure on salaries of government employees may be at the cost of investment in priority areas such as infrastructure development and poverty alleviation.[iii]

Inducting specialised personnel in the government

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission had also observed that some senior positions in the central government require specific skill sets (including technical and administrative know-how).[iii] One way of developing these skill-sets is to recruit personnel directly into these departments so that they can over a period of time develop the required skills.  For example, personnel from the Central Engineering Service (Roads) may aspire and be qualified to hold senior positions in the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways or a body like the National Highways Authority of India.

However, another view is that special skill-sets may be inducted in the government through lateral entry of experts from outside government.  This will allow for widening of the pool of candidates and greater competition for these positions.[iii] The Second Administrative Reforms Commission had also recommended that senior positions in the government should be open to all services.

The last Pay Commission’s recommendations, in 2008, led to an increased demand in the automobile, consumer products and real estate related sectors.  With the Seventh Pay Commission’s recommendations expected to take effect from January 1, 2016, their impact on the economy and the consumer market will become known in due course of time.

 

 

[i] Report of the Seventh Central Pay Commission, Ministry of Finance, 2015 http://finmin.nic.in/7cpc/7cpc_report_eng.pdf.

[ii] “Union govt has 729,000 vacancies: report”, Live Mint, November 30, 2015, http://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/X6U6xFe5oR2pW4simMmAhK/Union-govt-has-729000-vacancies-report.html.

[iii] 10th and 13th Reports of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, 2008 and 2009.

 

The rise of Non Performing Assets in India

May 11th, 2016 No comments

At noon today, the Finance Minister introduced a Bill in Parliament to address the issue of delayed debt recovery.  The Bill  amends four laws including the SARFAESI Act and the DRT Act, which are primarily used for recovery of outstanding loans.  In this context, we examine the rise in NPAs in India and ways in which this may be dealt with.

I. An overview of Non-Performing Assets in India 

Banks give loans and advances to borrowers which may be categorised as: (i) standard asset (any loan which has not defaulted in repayment) or (ii) non-performing asset (NPA), based on their performance.  NPAs are loans and advances given by banks, on which the borrower has ceased to pay interest and principal repayments. Graph for blog

In recent years, the gross NPAs of banks have increased from 2.3% of total loans in 2008 to 4.3% in 2015 (see Figure 1 alongside*).  The increase in NPAs may be due to various reasons, including slow growth in domestic market and drop in prices of commodities in the global markets.  In addition, exports of products such as steel, textiles, leather and gems have slowed down.[i]

The increase in NPAs affects the credit market in the country.  This is due to the impact that non-repayment of loans has on the cash flow of banks and the availability of funds with them.[ii]  Additionally, a rising trend in NPAs may also make banks unwilling to lend.  This could be because there are lesser chances of debt recovery due to prevailing market conditions.[iii]  For example, banks may be unwilling to lend to the steel sector if companies in this sector are making losses and defaulting on current loans.

There are various legislative mechanisms available with banks for debt recovery.  These include: (i) Recovery of Debt Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993 (DRT Act) and (ii) Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Security Interest Act, 2002 (SARFAESI Act).  The Debt Recovery Tribunals established under DRT Act allow banks to recover outstanding loans.  The SARFAESI Act allows a secured creditor to enforce his security interest without the intervention of courts or tribunals.  In addition to these, there are voluntary mechanisms such as Corporate Debt Restructuring and Strategic Debt Restructuring, which   These mechanisms allow banks to collectively restructure debt of borrowers (which includes changing repayment schedule of loans) and take over the management of a company.

II. Challenges and recommendations for reform

In recent years, several committees have given recommendations on NPAs. We discuss these below.

Action against defaulters: Wilful default refers to a situation where a borrower defaults on the repayment of a loan, despite having adequate resources. As of December 2015, the public sector banks had 7,686 wilful defaulters, which accounted for Rs 66,000 crore of outstanding loans.[iv]  The Standing Committee of Finance, in February 2016, observed that 21% of the total NPAs of banks were from wilful defaulters.  It recommended that the names of top 30 wilful defaulters of every bank be made public.  It noted that making such information publicly available would act as a deterrent for others.

Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARCs): ARCs purchase stressed assets from banks, and try to recover them. The ARCs buy NPAs from banks at a discount and try to recover the money.  The Standing Committee observed that the prolonged slowdown in the economy had made it difficult for ARCs to absorb NPAs. Therefore, it recommended that the RBI should allow banks to absorb their written-off assets in a staggered manner.  This would help them in gradually restoring their balance sheets to normal health.

Improved recovery: The process of recovering outstanding loans is time consuming. This includes time taken to resolve insolvency, which is a situation where a borrower is unable to repay his outstanding debt.  The inability to resolve insolvency is one of the factors that impacts NPAS, the credit market, and affects the flow of money in the country.[v]  As of 2015, it took over four years to resolve insolvency in India.  This was higher than other countries such as the UK (1 year) and USA (1.5 years). 

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code seeks to address this situation.  The Code, which was passed by Lok Sabha on May 5, 2016, is currently pending in Rajya Sabha. It provides a 180-day period to resolve insolvency (which includes change in repayment schedule of loans to recover outstanding loans.)  If insolvency is not resolved within this time period, the company will go in for liquidation of its assets, and the creditors will be repaid from these sale proceeds.


 

[i] ‘Non-Performing Assets of Financial Institutions’, 27th Report of the Department-related Standing Committee on Finance, http://164.100.47.134/lsscommittee/Finance/16_Finance_27.pdf.

[ii] Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee, November 2015, http://finmin.nic.in/reports/BLRCReportVol1_04112015.pdf.

[iii] Volume 2, Economic Survey 2015-16, http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2015-16/echapter-vol2.pdf.

[iv] Starred Question No. 17, Rajya Sabha, Answered on April 26, Ministry of Finance.

[v] Report of the Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee, Ministry of Finance, November 2015, http://finmin.nic.in/reports/BLRCReportVol1_04112015.pdf.

*Source:  ‘Non-Performing Assets of Financial Institutions’, 27th Report of the Department-related Standing Committee on Finance, http://164.100.47.134/lsscommittee/Finance/16_Finance_27.pdf; PRS.