Archive for the ‘Finance’ Category

What impacts petroleum prices?

April 25th, 2018 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)




Rs/litre % of retail price

% 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.


Central Transfers to States: Role of the Finance Commission

April 11th, 2018 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


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 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.

Status of Drinking Water and Sanitation in rural India

April 2nd, 2018 No comments

In Budget Session 2018, Rajya Sabha has planned to examine the working of four ministries.  The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is one of the ministries listed for discussion.  In this post, we look at the key schemes being implemented by the Ministry and their status.

What are the key functions of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation?

As per the Constitution, supply of water and sanitation are state subjects which means that states regulate and provide these services.  The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is primarily responsible for policy planning, funding, and coordination of programs for: (i) safe drinking water; and (ii) sanitation, in rural areas.  From 1999 till 2011, the Ministry operated as a Department under the Ministry of Rural Development.  In 2011, the Department was made an independent Ministry.  Presently, the Ministry oversees the implementation of two key schemes of the government: (i) Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G), and (ii) National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP).

How have the finances and spending priorities of the Ministry changed over time?

In the Union Budget 2018-19, the Ministry has been allocated Rs 22,357 crore.  This is a decrease of Rs 1,654 crore (7%) over the revised expenditure of 2017-18.  In 2015-16, the Ministry over-shot its budget by 178%.  Consequently, the allocation in 2016-17 was more than doubled (124%) to Rs 14,009 crore.

In recent years, the priorities of the Ministry have seen a shift (see Figure 1).  The focus has been on providing sanitation facilities in rural areas, mobilising behavioural change to increase usage of toilets, and consequently eliminating open defecation.  However, this has translated into a decrease in the share of allocation towards drinking water (from 87% in 2009-10 to 31% in 2018-19).  In the same period, the share of allocation to rural sanitation has increased from 13% to 69%.Figure 1

What has been the progress under Swacch Bharat Mission- Gramin?

The Swachh Bharat Mission was launched on October 2, 2014 with an aim to achieve universal sanitation coverage, improve cleanliness, and eliminate open defecation in the country by October 2, 2019.

Expenditure on SBM-G:  In 2018-19, Rs 15,343 crore has been allocated towards SBM-G.  The central government allocation to SBM-G for the five year period from 2014-15 to 2018-19 has been estimated to be Rs 1,00,447 crore.  Of this, up to 2018-19, Rs 52,166 crore (52%) has been allocated to the scheme.  This implies that 48% of the funds are still left to be released before October 2019.  Figure 2

Construction of Individual Household Latrines (IHHLs):  For construction of IHHLs, funds are shared between the centre and states in the 60:40 ratio.  Construction of IHHLs account for the largest share of total expenditure under the scheme (97%-98%).  Although the number of toilets constructed each year has increased, the pace of annual growth of constructing these toilets has come down.  In 2015-16, the number of toilets constructed was 156% higher than the previous year.  This could be due to the fact that 2015-16 was the first full year of implementation of the scheme.  The growth in construction of new toilets reduced to 74% in 2016-17, and further to 4% in 2017-18.Table 1

As of February 2018, 78.8% of households in India had a toilet.  This implies that 15 crore toilets have been constructed so far.  However, four crore more toilets need to be construced in the next 20 months for the scheme to achieve its target by 2019.

Open Defecation Free (ODF) villages:  Under SBM-G, a village is ODF when: (i) there are no visible faeces in the village, and (ii) every household as well as public/community institution uses safe technology options for faecal disposal.  After a village declares itself ODF, states are required to carry out verification of the ODF status of such a village.  This includes access to a toilet facility and its usage, and safe disposal of faecal matter through septic tanks.  So far, out of all villages in the country, 72% have been verified as ODF.  This implies that 28% villages are left to be verified as ODF for the scheme to achieve its target by 2019.Table 2

Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities:  As per the SBM-G guidelines, 8% of funds earmarked for SBM-G in a year should be utilised for IEC activities.  These activities primarily aim to mobilise behavioural change towards the use of toilets among people.  However, allocation towards this component has remained in the 1%-4% range.  In 2017-18, Rs 229 crore is expected to be spent, amounting to 2% of total expenditure.

What is the implementation status of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme?

The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) aims at assisting states in providing adequate and safe drinking water to the rural population in the country.  In 2018-19, the scheme has been allocated Rs 7,000 crore, accounting for 31% of the Ministry’s finances.Figure 3

Coverage under the scheme:  As of August 2017, 96% of rural habitations have access to safe drinking water.  In 2011, the Ministry came out with a strategic plan for the period 2011-22.  The plan identified certain standards for coverage of habitations with water supply, including targets for per day supply of drinking water.  As of February 2018, 74% habitations are fully covered (receiving 55 litres per capita per day), and 22% habitations are partially covered (receiving less than 55 litres per capita per day).  The Ministry aims to cover 90% rural households with piped water supply and 80% rural households with tap connections by 2022.  The Estimates Committee of Parliament (2015) observed that piped water supply was available to only 47% of rural habitations, out of which only 15% had household tap connections.

Contamination of drinking water:  It has been noted that NRDWP is over-dependant on ground water.  However, ground water is contaminated in over 20 states.  For instance, high arsenic contamination has been found in 68 districts of 10 states.  These states are Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Assam, Manipur, and Karnataka.Table 3

Chemical contamination of ground water has also been reported due to deeper drilling for drinking water sources.  It has been recommended that out of the total funds for NRDWP, allocation for water quality monitoring and surveillance should not be less than 5%.  Presently, it is 3% of the total funds.  It has also been suggested that water quality laboratories for water testing should be set up throughout the country.

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,

[2] ‘Doing Business 2017’, World Bank,

[3] Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016,

[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,

[5] Finance Bill, 2017,; Memorandum explaining the provisions of the Finance Bill, 2017,

[6] National Judicial Data Grid,

[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,

[9] Ease of Doing Business: An Enterprise of Survey of Indian States, NITI Aayog, August 28, 2017,

[10] Start Up India Action Plan, January 2016,

[11] Land Records and Titles in India, September 2017,

[12] The Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017,

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.


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,

[2] Expenditure Budget, Union Budget 2017-18,

[3] National Food Security Act, 2013,

[4] “Prices, Agriculture and Food Management”, Chapter 5, Economic Survey 2015-16,

[5] The Case for Direct Cash Transfers to the Poor, Economic and Political Weekly, April 2008,

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

[7] ‘Report of the Internal Working Group on Branch Authorisation Policy’, Reserve Bank of India, September 2016,

[8] Working Paper 294, “Leakages from Public Distribution System”, January 2015, ICRIER,

[9] “The Cash Transfer of Food Subsidy Rules, 2015”, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, September 3, 2015,

[10] Report of the High Level Committee on Reorienting the Role and Restructuring of Food Corporation of India, January 2015,

[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,,%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,

[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,

[14] Unstarred Question No. 844, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on February 7, 2017,

[15] Annual Report 2016-17, Department of Food & Public Distribution, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution,

[16] 30 Food Subsidy, The Economic and Political Weekly, December 27, 2014,

[17] Unstarred Question No. 2124, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on November 29, 2016,

Resolving failure of financial firms: The FRDI Bill explained

October 12th, 2017 No comments

The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017 was introduced in Parliament during Monsoon Session 2017.[1]   The Bill proposes to create a framework for monitoring financial firms such as banks, insurance companies, and stock exchanges; pre-empt risk to their financial position; and resolve them if they fail to honour their obligations (such as repaying depositors).  To ensure continuity of a failing firm, it may be resolved by merging it with another firm, transferring its assets and liabilities, or reducing its debt.  If resolution is found to be unviable, the firm may be liquidated, and its assets sold to repay its creditors.

After introduction, the Bill was referred to a Joint Committee of Parliament for examination, and the Committee’s report is expected in the Winter Session 2017.  The Committee has been inviting stakeholders to give their inputs on the Bill, consulting experts, and undertaking study tours.  In this context, we discuss the provisions of the Bill and some issues for consideration.

What are financial firms?

Financial firms include banks, insurance companies, and stock exchanges, among others.  These firms accept deposits from consumers, channel these deposits into investments, provide loans, and manage payment systems that facilitate transactions in the country.  These firms are an integral part of the financial system, and since they transact with each other, their failure may have an adverse impact on financial stability and result in consumers losing their deposits and investments.

As witnessed in 2008, the failure of a firm (Lehman Brothers) impacted the financial system across the world, and triggered a global financial crisis.  After the crisis, various countries have sought to consolidate their laws to develop specialised capabilities for resolving failure of financial firms and to prevent the occurrence of another crisis. [2]

What is the current framework to resolve financial firms? What does the Bill propose?

Currently, there is no specialised law for the resolution of financial firms in India.  Provisions to resolve failure of financial firms are found scattered across different laws.2  Resolution or winding up of firms is managed by the regulators for various kinds of financial firms (i.e. the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for banks, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) for insurance companies, and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) for stock exchanges.)  However, under the current framework, powers of these regulators to resolve similar entities may vary (e.g. RBI has powers to wind-up or merge scheduled commercial banks, but not co-operative banks.)

The Bill seeks to create a consolidated framework for the resolution of financial firms by creating a Resolution Corporation. The Resolution Corporation will include representatives from all financial sector regulators and the ministry of finance, among others.  The Corporation will monitor these firms to pre-empt failure, and resolve or liquidate them in case of such failure.

How does the Resolution Corporation monitor and prevent failure of financial firms?

Risk based classification: The Resolution Corporation or the regulators (such as the RBI for banks, IRDA for insurance companies or SEBI for the stock exchanges) will classify financial firms under five categories, based on their risk of failure (see Figure 1).  This classification will be based on adequacy of capital, assets and liabilities, and capability of management, among other criteria.  The Bill proposes to allow both, the regulator and the Corporation, to monitor and classify firms based on their risk to failure.

Corrective Action:  Based on the risk to failure, the Resolution Corporation or regulators may direct the firms to take certain corrective action.  For example, if the firm is at a higher risk to failure (under ‘material’ or ‘imminent’ categories), the Resolution Corporation or the regulator may: (i) prevent it from accepting deposits from consumers, (ii) prohibit the firm from acquiring other businesses, or (iii) require it to increase its capital.  Further, these firms will formulate resolution and restoration plans to prepare a strategy for improving their financial position and resolving the firm in case it fails.

While the Bill specifies that the financial firms will be classified based on risk, it does not provide a mechanism for these firms to appeal this decision.   One argument to not allow an appeal may be that certain decisions of the Corporation may require urgent action to prevent the financial firm from failing. However, this may leave aggrieved persons without a recourse to challenge the decision of the Corporation if they are unsatisfied.

Figure 1: Monitoring and resolution of financial firmsFig 1 edited

Sources: The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017; PRS.


How will the Resolution Corporation resolve financial firms that have failed?

The Resolution Corporation will take over the administration of a financial firm from the date of its classification as  ‘critical’ (i.e. if it is on the verge of failure.)  The Resolution Corporation will resolve the firm using any of the methods specified in the Bill, within one year.  This time limit may be extended by another year (i.e. maximum limit of two years).   During this period, the firm will be immune against all legal actions.

The Resolution Corporation can resolve a financial firm using any of the following methods: (i) transferring the assets and liabilities of the firm to another firm, (ii) merger or acquisition of the firm, (iii) creating a bridge financial firm (where a new company is created to take over the assets, liabilities and management of the failing firm), (iv) bail-in (internally transferring or converting the debt of the firm), or (v) liquidate the firm to repay its creditors.

If the Resolution Corporation fails to resolve the firm within a maximum period of two years, the firm will automatically go in for liquidation.  The Bill specifies the order of priority in which creditors will be repaid in case of liquidation, with the amount paid to depositors as deposit insurance getting preference over other creditors.

While the Bill specifies that resolution will commence upon classification as ‘critical’, the point at which this process will end may not be evident in certain cases.  For example, in case of transfer, merger or liquidation, the end of the process may be inferred from when the operations are transferred or liquidation is completed, but for some other methods such as bail-in, the point at which the resolution process will be completed may be unclear.

Does the Bill guarantee the repayment of bank deposits?

The Resolution Corporation will provide deposit insurance to banks up to a certain limit.  This implies, that the Corporation will guarantee the repayment of a certain amount to each depositor in case the bank fails.  Currently, the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC) provides deposit insurance for bank deposits up to 1 lakh rupees per depositor.[3]  The Bill proposes to subsume the functions of the DICGC under the Resolution Corporation.

[1].  The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017,,%202017/Financial%20Resolution%20Bill,%202017.pdf

[2]. Report of the Committee to Draft Code on Resolution of Financial Firms, September 2016,,%202017/FRDI%20Bill%20Drafting%20Committee%20Report.pdf

[3]. The Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation Act, 1961,,%202017/DICGC%20Act,%201961.pdf.

Modernisation of Police Forces

October 3rd, 2017 No comments

In India, police and law and order come under the purview of state governments.[1]  Accordingly, each state has its own police force for maintaining law and order and investigating crimes.  However, due to financial and other constraints, states have critical gaps in their policing infrastructure.2  Figure 1 shows the expenditure by states on police, as a percentage of their total budget.  In 2015-16, Manipur spent the highest proportion of its state budget on police, followed by Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.

Figure 1: Police Expenditure as a proportion of total state budget

Fig 1

Note: Figure does not include data for union territories.
Sources: Data on Police Organisations, Bureau of Police Research and Development, 2016; PRS.


The Ministry of Home Affairs has been supplementing resources of states under the Modernisation of Police Forces (MPF) scheme.[2]  The Union Cabinet last week approved the implementation of an umbrella scheme of MPF and has allocated funding of Rs 25,060 crore for the 2017-18 to 2019-20 period.[3]  In light of this decision, we present the key features of the scheme and examine other issues related to the police forces.

Modernisation of Police Forces scheme

The MPF scheme was initiated in 1969-70 and has undergone several revisions over the years.2  It was allocated Rs 11,946 crore for the period between 2012-13 to 2016-17, which has now been doubled after last week’s Cabinet approval.[4]  Funds from the MPF scheme are typically used for improving police infrastructure through construction of police stations and provision of modern weaponry, surveillance and communication equipment.  Upgradation of training infrastructure, police housing and computerisation are also important objectives funded through the scheme.

Following the recommendations of the Fourteenth Finance Commission, to increase the share  of central taxes to states, it was decided that the MPF scheme would be delinked from central funding from 2015-16 onwards.[5]  States were expected to finance the scheme using their own resources.  However, of the recent allocation made by the Cabinet, Rs 18,636 crore will come from the central government and Rs 6,424 crore will come from the states.3  This implies that the centre will fund almost 75% of the scheme.

Underutilisation of Funds

Data from the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) shows that funds have not been fully utilised under the MPF scheme.  In the year 2015-16, out of a total grant of Rs 9,203 crore that was made available for modernisation, states utilised only Rs 1330 crore (14%).[6]

Figure 2 shows the trend in underutilisation of modernisation funds from 2009-10 to 2015-16.  Over this period, there has been a consistent underutilisation of funds by states.  On average, states spent 55% of the funds allocated to them, with the highest being 86% utilisation in 2013-14.

Figure 2: Utilisation of funds for modernisation by states (%)

Fig 2

Sources: Data on Police Organisations, Bureau of Police Research and Development, 2016; PRS.


Issues related to police forces

While the MPF scheme seeks to improve police infrastructure, there are a number of structural issues that have been raised by experts over the years related to police forces.  We discuss a few of these below.

(i) Overburdened police force

Apart from the core function of maintaining law and order, police personnel carry out various other functions such as traffic management, disaster rescue and removal of encroachments.  The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2007) has noted that these extra obligations lead to overburdening of the police force.  It recommended that these functions should be carried out by other government departments or private agencies.[7]  Note that as of January 2016, 24 per cent of sanctioned police posts in India were vacant.6   This indicates that police personnel may be overburdened, which may have negative consequences on their efficiency and performance.

(ii) Poor quality of investigation

In 2015, the conviction rate for crimes recorded under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was only 47%.[9]  The Law Commission (2012) observed that one of the reasons for low conviction rates in India is poor quality of investigation by police.[8]  The police lack training and expertise required to conduct professional investigations.  They also have insufficient legal knowledge and inadequate forensic and cyber infrastructure.  In light of these deficiencies, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2007) recommended that states should have specialised investigation units within the police force for better investigation of crimes.7

(iii) Police accountability

In India, control over the police force vests with the political executive.[10]  The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2007) noted that this has to led to abuse of police personnel and interference with their decision-making authority.7 To allow the police operational autonomy while maintaining accountability, the Supreme Court issued guidelines to the central government and state governments (and Union Territories) in the year 2006.[11]

The guidelines provided for the establishment of three institutions: (i) a State Security Commission, (ii) a Police Establishment Board, and (iii) a Police Complaints Authority.11  The Supreme Court also stated that the state Director General of Police (DGP) should be selected from three senior-most officers of the state empanelled by the Union Public Service Commission and must have a minimum two-year tenure.

In addition, the court recommended that officers in key positions in the field (Inspector General in charge of Range, Station House Officer) must be given a two-year tenure. Currently, DGPs and senior officers are selected by the political executive of the state and are not guaranteed security of tenure.[10]   In order to improve the quality of investigation, the Court recommended that investigating police must be separated from law and order police.11

These guidelines and recommendations of other expert bodies were used to create the draft Model Police Bill, 2015 by BPR&D, which states have been encouraged to adopt.  While states have partially implemented some of these guidelines, no state has adhered to them in full.[12]  In most states, the three institutions which the Supreme Court has directed states to create have not been given the authority they need to ensure accountability and insulate the police force from political misuse.12

[1]Entry 1 and 2, List II, Schedule 7, Constitution of India, 1950.

[2] Modernisation of Police Force Scheme Book, Ministry of Home Affairs, 2010

[3] “Cabinet approves umbrella scheme of Modernisation of Police Forces”, Press Information Bureau, 27th September 2017.

[4] Annual Report, Ministry of Home Affairs, 2015-16,

[5] “Major  Programmes Under Central Assistance for State Plans”, Union Budget, 2015-16

[6] “Data on Police Organisations”, Bureau of Police Research and Development, 2016,

[7] “Public Order”, Second Administrative Reforms Commission, 2007,

[8] “Report No. 239: Expeditious Investigation and Trial of Criminal Cases Against Influential Public Personalities”,  Law Commission of India, March 2012,

[9] “Crime in India”, National Crime Records Bureau, 2006-15

[10] Section 3, Police Act, 1861.

[11] Prakash Singh vs Union of India, Supreme Court, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 310 of 1996, November 8, 2010.

[12] “Building Smart Police in India: Background into the needed Police Force Reforms”, Niti Aayog, 2016,

Safety in Indian Railways

August 24th, 2017 No comments

Safety has been one of the biggest concerns in the Indian Railways system.  While the number of accidents have gone down over the last few years, the number still remains over 100 accidents a year.  In light of the recent train accidents in Uttar Pradesh (UP), we present some details around accidents and safety in the Indian Railways.

Causes of rail accidents

The number of rail accidents has declined from 325 in 2003-04 to 106 in 2015-16.[1]  The number of rail accidents as per the cause are shown in the graph below.  In 2015-16, majority of the accidents were caused due to derailments (60%), followed by accidents at level crossings (33%).1  In the last decade, accidents caused due to both these causes have reduced by about half.  According to news reports, the recent railway accidents in UP were caused due to derailment of coaches.



Between 2003-04 and 2015-16, derailments were the second highest reason for casualties.2  The Standing Committee on Railways, when examining the safety in railways, had noted that one of the reasons for derailments is defect in the track or coaches.  Of the total track length of 1,14,907 kms in the country, 4,500 kms should be renewed annually.2  However, in 2015-16, of the 5,000 km of track length due for renewal, only 2,700 km was targeted to be renewed.2  The Committee had recommended that Indian Railways should switch completely to the Linke Hoffman Busch (LHB) coaches as they do not pile upon each other during derailments and hence cause lesser casualties.2

Un-manned level crossings

Un-manned level crossings (UMLCs) continue to be the biggest cause of casualties in rail accidents.  Currently there are 14,440 UMLCs in the railway network.  In 2014-15, about 40% of the accidents occurred at UMLCs, and in 2015-16, about 28%.2  Between 2010 and 2013, the Ministry fell short of meeting their annual targets to eliminate UMLCs.  Further, the target of eliminating 1,352 UMLCs was reduced by about 50% to 730 in 2014-15, and 820 in 2015-16.2  Implementation of audio-visual warnings at level crossings has been recommended to warn road users about approaching trains.2  These may include Approaching Train Warning Systems, and Train Actuated Warning Systems.2  The Union Budget 2017-18 proposes to eliminate all unmanned level crossings on broad gauge lines by 2020.

Casualties and compensation

In the last few years, Railways has paid an average compensation of Rs 3.03 crore every year for accidents (see figure below).[2]


Note: Compensation paid during a year relates to the cases settled and not to accidents/casualties during that year.

Consequential train accidents

Accidents in railways may or may not have a significant impact on the overall system.  Consequential train accidents are those which have serious repercussions in terms of loss of human life or injury, damage to railway property or interruption to rail traffic.  These include collisions, derailments, fire in trains, and similar accidents that have serious repercussions in terms of casualties and damage to property.  These exclude cases of trespassing at unmanned railway crossings.

As seen in the figure below, the share of failure of railways staff is the biggest cause of consequential rail accidents.  The number of rail accidents due to failure of reasons other than the railway staff (sabotage) has increased in the last few years.


Accidents due to failure of railway staff

It has been noted that more than half of the accidents are due to lapses on the part of railway staff.2  Such lapses include carelessness in working, poor maintenance, adoption of short-cuts, and non-observance of laid down safety rules and procedures.  To address these issues, conducting a regular refresher course for each category of railway staff has been recommended.2

Accidents due to loco-pilots2,[3]

Accidents also occur due to signalling errors for which loco-pilots (train-operators) are responsible.  With rail traffic increasing, loco-pilots encounter a signal every few kilometres and have to constantly be on high alert.  Further, currently no technological support is available to the loco-pilots and they have to keep a vigilant watch on the signal and control the train accordingly.2  These Loco-pilots are over-worked as they have to be on duty beyond their stipulated working hours.  This work stress and fatigue puts the life of thousands of commuters at risk and affects the safety of train operations.2  It has been recommended that loco-pilots and other related running staff should be provided with sound working conditions, better medical facilities and other amenities to improve their performance.2

Actions taken by Railways with regard to the recent train accident

According to news reports, the recent accident of Utkal Express in UP resulted in 22 casualties and over 150 injuries.[4]  It has also been reported that following this incident, the Railways Ministry initiated action against certain officials (including a senior divisional engineer), and three senior officers (including a General Manager and a Railway Board Member).

The Committee on Restructuring of Railways had noted that currently each Railway zone (headed by a General Manager) is responsible for operation, management, and development of the railway system under its jurisdiction.[5]  However, the power to make financial decisions does not rest with the zones and hence they do not possess enough autonomy to generate their own revenue, or take independent decisions.5

While the zones prepare their annual budget, the Railway Board provides the annual financial budget outlay for each of them.  As a result of such budgetary control, the GM’s powers have been reduced leaving them with little independence in planning their operations.5

The Committee recommended that the General Managers must be fully empowered to take all necessary decisions independent of the Railway Board.5  Zonal Railways should also have full power for expenditure and re-appropriations and sanctions.  This will make each Zonal Railway accountable for its transport output, profitability and safety under its jurisdiction.

Under-investment in railways leading to accidents

In 2012, a Committee headed by Mr. Anil Kakodkar had estimated that the total financial cost of implementing safety measures over the five-year period (2012-17) was likely be around Rs one lakh crore.  In the Union Budget 2017-18, the creation of a Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh was proposed for passenger safety.  It will have a corpus of Rs one lakh crore, which will be built over a five-year period (Rs 20,000 crore per year).

The Standing Committee on Railways had noted that slow expansion of rail network has put undue burden on the existing infrastructure leading to severe congestion and safety compromises.2  Since independence, while the rail network has increased by 23%, passenger and freight traffic over this network has increased by 1,344% and 1,642% respectively.2  This suggests that railway lines are severely congested.  Further, under-investment in the sector has resulted in congested routes, inability to add new trains, reduction of train speeds, and more rail accidents.2  Therefore, avoiding such accidents in the future would also require significant investments towards capital and maintenance of rail infrastructure.2

Tags: railways, safety, accidents, finances, derailment, casualty, passengers, train

[1] Railways Year Book 2015-16, Ministry of Railways,

[2] “12th Report: Safety and security in Railways”, Standing Committee on Railways, December 14, 2016,

[3] Report of High Level Safety Review Committee, Ministry of Railways, February 17, 2012.

[4] “Utkal Express derailment: Four railway officials suspended as death toll rises to 22”, The Indian Express, August 20, 2017,

[5] Report of the Committee for Mobilization of Resources for Major Railway Projects and Restructuring of Railway Ministry and Railway Board, Ministry of Railways, June 2015,