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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, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Financial%20Resolution%20Bill,%202017/Financial%20Resolution%20Bill,%202017.pdf

[2]. Report of the Committee to Draft Code on Resolution of Financial Firms, September 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Financial%20Resolution%20Bill,%202017/FRDI%20Bill%20Drafting%20Committee%20Report.pdf

[3]. The Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation Act, 1961, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Financial%20Resolution%20Bill,%202017/DICGC%20Act,%201961.pdf.

The financial health of Air India

May 31st, 2017 No comments

Recently there have been news reports about the NITI Aayog submitting its recommendations on improving the financial health of Air India to the Ministry of Finance.[1],[2]  The Civil Aviation Ministers have also mentioned that the Ministry will soon propose a roadmap for the rejuvenation of the national airline.  While the NITI Aayog report is not out in the public domain yet, we present a few details on the financial health of the airline.

Finances of Air India

In 2015-16, Air India earned a revenue of Rs 20,526 crore and registered losses of Rs 3,837 crore.  As of March 31, 2015, the total debt of Air India was at Rs 51,367 crore.[3]  This includes Rs 22,574 crore outstanding on account of aircraft loans.  The figure below shows the losses incurred by Air India in the last few years (2007-16).

image(1)

According to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, reasons for Air India’s losses include: (i) the adverse impact of exchange rate variation due to the weakening of Indian Rupee, (ii) high interest burden, (iii) increase in competition, especially from low cost carriers, and (iv) high fuel prices.[4]  The National Transport Development Policy Committee (NTDPC), in its report in 2013, had observed that with the increase in the number of airlines in the market, Air India has been struggling to make a transition from a monopoly market to a competitive one.[5]  These struggles have been primarily regarding improving its efficiency, and competing with the private airlines.

Turnaround Plan and Financial Restructuring

In order to bail out the company, the government had approved the Turnaround Plan (TAP) and Financial Restructuring Plan (FRP) of Air India in April 2012.[6]  Under the plans, the government would infuse equity into Air India subject to meeting certain milestones such as Pay Load Factor (measures capacity utilisation), on time performance, fleet utilisation, yield factor (average fare paid per mile, per passenger), and rationalisation of the emolument structure of employees.7  The equity infusion included financial support towards the repayment of the principal, as well as the interest payments on the government loans for aircraft acquisition.  Under the TAP/FRP, the central government was to infuse Rs 30,231 crore till 2020-21.  As of 2016-17, the Ministry has infused an equity amount of Rs 24,745 crore.[7]

In 2017-18, the Ministry has allocated Rs 1,800 crore towards Air India which is 67% of the Ministry’s total budget for the year.[8]  However, this amount is 30% lower than the TAP commitment of Rs 2,587 crore.3  In 2016-17, while Air India had sought and equity infusion of Rs 3,901 crore, the government approved Rs 2,465 crore as the equity infusion.[9]  The Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism, and Culture examining the 2017-18 budget estimates noted that reducing the equity infusion in Air India might adversely affect the financial situation of the company.[10]  It recommended that the government must allocate the amount committed under TAP.  The Ministry had also observed that due to reduction of equity infusion, Air India has to arrange funds through borrowing which costs additional amount of interest to be paid by the government.[11]

As per the Ministry, Air India has achieved most of the targets set out in TAP.[12]  Despite running into losses, it achieved an operating profit of Rs 105 crore in FY 2015-16.[13]  Air India’s performance in some of the segments are provided in the table below.

Table 1: Air India’s performance

2011-12 2014-15
Overall Network On Time Performance (measures adherence to time schedule) 68.2% 72.7%
Passenger Load Factor (measures capacity utilisation of the airline) 67.9% 73.7%
Network Yield achieved (in Rs/ RPKM)* 3.74 4.35
Number of Revenue Passengers (in million) 13.4 16.9
Operating Loss (in Rs crore) 5,139 2,171

* Note: RPKM or Revenue Passenger Kilometre performed refers to number of seats for which the carrier has earned revenue.

Sources: Lok Sabha Questions; PRS.

The NTDPC had observed that with its excessive and unproductive manpower, failure to invest in the technology required to keep it competitive, and poor operations, Air India’s future looks risky.  It had also questioned the rationale for a national airline.  It had suggested that the government must frame a decisive policy with regard to Air India, and clarify its future accordingly.5  It had recommended that Air India’s liabilities should be written off and be dealt with separately, and the airline should be run on complete operational and financial autonomy.5

Need for competitive framework in the sector

With the entrance of several private players in the market, the domestic aviation market has grown significantly in the last decade.  The market share of an airline is directly related to its capacity share in the market.  While private carriers have added capacity in the domestic market, the capacity induction (adding more aircrafts) of Air India has not kept up with the private carriers.  This has resulted in decrease in market share of Air India from 17% in 2008-09 to 14% in 2016-17.[14]

The Committee looking at the competitive framework of the civil aviation sector had observed that the national carrier gets preferential treatment through access to government funding, and flying rights.[15]  It had recommended that competitive neutrality should be ensured between private carriers and the national carrier, which could be achieved by removing the regulations that provide such preferential treatment to Air India.  The NTDPC had also noted that the presence of a state-owned enterprise should not distort the market for other private players.6  It had recommended that the Ministry should consider developing regulations that improve the overall financial health of the airline sector.

While Air India’s performance has improved following the TAP, along with the equity infusion from government, its debt still remains high and has been gradually increasing.  In light of this, it remains to be seen what the government will propose with regard to the rejuvenation of the national airline, and ensure a competitive and fair market for all the players in the airline market.

[1] “Govt to prepare Air India revival plan within 3 months, amid calls for privatization”, Livemint, May 31, 2017, http://www.livemint.com/Politics/0koi5Hyidj1gVD3wOWTruM/Govt-says-all-options-open-for-Air-India-revival.html.

[2] “Air India selloff: Fixing airline’s future is more important than past”, Financial Express, May 31, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/why-fixing-air-indias-future-more-important-than-past/693777/.

[3] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 382, Ministry of Civil Aviation, February 25, 2016, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=28931&lsno=16.

[4] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 353, Ministry of Civil Aviation, November 17, 2016, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=40733&lsno=16.

[5] “Volume 3, Chapter 3: Civil Aviation”, India Transport Report: Moving India to 2032, National Transport Development Policy Committee, June 17, 2014, http://planningcommission.nic.in/sectors/NTDPC/volume3_p1/civil_v3_p1.pdf.

[6] “Government Approves Financial Restructuring and Turn Around Plan of Air India”, Press Information Bureau, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), April 12, 2012, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=82231.

[7] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 472, Ministry of Civil Aviation, April 6, 2017, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=51752&lsno=16.

[8] Notes on Demands for Grants 2017-18, Demand no 9, Ministry of Civil Aviation, http://indiabudget.nic.in/ub2017-18/eb/sbe9.pdf.

[9] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 4809, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 30, 2017, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=51108&lsno=16.

[10] “244th report: Demand for Grants (2017-18) of Ministry of Civil Aviation”, Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, March 17, 2017, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20Transport,%20Tourism%20and%20Culture/244.pdf.

[11] “218th report: Demand for Grants (2015-16) of Ministry of Civil Aviation”, Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, April 28, 2015.

[12] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 307, Ministry of Civil Aviation, February 25, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/7/AU307.pdf.

[13] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 1566, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 9, 2017, http://www.loksabha.nic.in/Members/QResult16.aspx?qref=47532.

[14] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 312, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 23, 2017, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=49742&lsno=16.

[15] Report of the Committee Constituted for examination of the recommendations made in the Study Report on Competitive Framework of Civil Aviation Sector in India, Ministry of Civil Aviation, June 2012, http://civilaviation.gov.in/sites/default/files/moca_001870_0.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.

Non-tax proposals in the Finance Bill, 2017

March 22nd, 2017 No comments

The Finance Bill, 2017 is being discussed in Lok Sabha today.  Generally, the Finance Bill is passed as a Money Bill since it gives effect to tax changes proposed in the Union Budget.  A Money Bill is defined in Article 110 of the Constitution as one which only contains provisions related to taxation, borrowings by the government, or expenditure from Consolidated Fund of India.  A Money Bill only needs the approval of Lok Sabha, and is sent to Rajya Sabha for its recommendations.  It is deemed to be passed by Rajya Sabha if it does not pass the Bill within 14 calendar days.

In addition to tax changes, the Finance Bill, 2017 proposes to amend several laws such the Securities Exchange Board of India Act, 1992 and the Payment and Settlements Act, 2007 to make structural changes such as creating a payments regulator and changing the composition of the Securities Appellate Tribunal.  This week, some amendments to the Finance Bill were circulated.  We discuss the provisions of the Bill, and the proposed amendments.

Certain Tribunals to be replaced

Amendments to the Finance Bill seek to replace certain Tribunals and transfer their functions to existing Tribunals.  The rationale behind replacing these Tribunals is unclear.  For example, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) will replace the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal.  It is unclear if TDSAT, which primarily deals with issues related to telecom disputes, will have the expertise to adjudicate matters related to the pricing of airport services.  Similarly, it is unclear if the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, which will replace the Competition Appellate Tribunal, will have the expertise to deal with matters related to anti-competitive practices.

Terms of service of Tribunal members to be determined by central government

The amendments propose that the central government may make rules to provide for the terms of service including appointments, term of office, salaries and allowances, and removal for Chairpersons and other members of Tribunals, Appellate Tribunals and other authorities.  The amendments also cap the age of retirement for Chairpersons and Vice-Chairpersons.  Currently, these terms are specified in the laws establishing these Tribunals.

One may argue that allowing the government to determine the appointment, reappointment and removal of members could affect the independent functioning of the Tribunals.  There could be conflict of interest if the government were to be a litigant before a Tribunal as well as determine the appointment of its members and presiding officers.

The Supreme Court in 2014, while examining a case related to the National Tax Tribunal, had held that Appellate Tribunals have similar powers and functions as that of High Courts, and hence matters related to their members’ appointment and reappointment must be free from executive involvement.[i]  The list of Tribunals under this amendment includes several Tribunals before which the central government could be a party to disputes, such as those related to income tax, railways, administrative matters, and the armed forces Tribunal.

Note that a Bill to establish uniform conditions of service for the chairpersons and members of some Tribunals has been pending in Parliament since 2014.

Inclusion of technical members in the Securities Appellate Tribunal 

The composition of the Securities Appellate Tribunal established under the SEBI Act is being changed by the Finance Bill.  Currently, the Tribunal consists of a Presiding Officer and two other members appointed by the central government.  This composition is to be changed to: a Presiding Officer, and a number of judicial and technical members, as notified by the central government.

Creation of a Payments Regulatory Board

Recently, the Ratan Watal Committee under the Finance Ministry had recommended creating a statutory Payments Regulatory Board to oversee the payments systems in light of increase in digital payments.  The Finance Bill, 2017 seeks to give effect to this recommendation by creating a Payments Regulatory Board chaired by the RBI Governor and including members nominated by the central government.  This Board will replace the existing Board for Regulation and Supervision of Payment and Settlement Systems.

Political funding

The Finance Bill, 2017 proposes to make changes related to how donations may be made to political parties, and maintaining the anonymity of donors.

Currently, for donations below Rs 20,000, details of donors do not have to be disclosed by political parties.  Further, there are no restrictions on the amount of cash donations that may be received by political parties from a person.  The Finance Bill has proposed to set this limit at Rs 2,000.  The Bill also introduces a new mode of donating to political parties, i.e. through electoral bonds.  These bonds will be issued by banks, which may be bought through cheque or electronic means.  The only difference between cheque payment (above Rs 20,000) and electoral bonds may be that the identity of the donor will be anonymous in the case of electoral bonds.

Regarding donations by companies to political parties, the proposed amendments to the Finance Bill remove the: (i) existing limit of contributions that a company may make to political parties which currently is 7.5% of net profit of the last three financial years, (ii) requirement of a company to disclose the name of the parties to which a contribution has been made.  In addition, the Bill also proposes that contributions to parties will have to be made only through a cheque, bank draft, electronic means, or any other instrument notified by the central government.

Aadhaar mandatory for PAN and Income Tax

Amendments to the Finance Bill, 2017 make it mandatory for every person to quote their Aadhaar number after July 1, 2017 when: (i) applying for a Permanent Account Number (PAN), or (ii) filing their Income Tax returns.  Persons who do not have an Aadhaar will be required to quote their Aadhaar enrolment number indicating that an application to obtain Aadhaar has been filed.

Every person holding a PAN on July 1, 2017 will be required to provide the authorities with his Aadhaar number by a date and in a manner notified by the central government.  Failure to provide this number would result in the PAN being invalidated.

The Finance Bill, 2017 is making structural changes to some laws.  Parliamentary committees allow for a forum for detailed scrutiny, deliberations and public consultation on proposed laws.  The opportunity to build rigour into the law-making process is lost if such legislative changes are not examined by committees

[i] Madras Bar Association vs. Union of India, Transfer Case No. 150 of 2006, Supreme Court of India, September 25, 2014 (para 89).

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.

The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016: All you need to know

November 23rd, 2016 No comments

The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016 was introduced in Lok Sabha on November 21, 2016 and is listed for passage this week.  The Bill regulates altruistic surrogacy and prohibits commercial surrogacy.  We present a brief overview of the Bill and some issues that may need to be considered:

How is surrogacy regulated under the Bill?

The Bill defines surrogacy as a practice where a woman gives birth to a child for an eligible couple and agrees to hand over the child after the birth to them.  The Bill allows altruistic surrogacy which involves a surrogacy arrangement where the monetary reward only involves medical expenses and insurance coverage for the surrogate mother.  Commercial surrogacy is prohibited under the Bill.  This type of surrogacy includes a monetary benefit or reward (in cash or kind) that exceeds basic medical expenses and insurance for the surrogate mother.

What is the eligibility criteria for couples intending to commission surrogacy?

In order to be eligible, the couple intending to commission a surrogacy arrangement must be a close relative of the surrogate mother.  In addition, the couple has to prove that they fulfil all of the following conditions:

  • They are Indian citizens who have been married for at least five years;
  • They are in the age group of 23-50 years (female partner) and 26-55 years (male partner);
  • A medical certificate stating that either or both partners are infertile;
  • They do not have any surviving child (whether biological, adopted or surrogate), except if the surviving child is mentally or physically challenged or suffers from a fatal illness;
  • A court order concerning the parentage and custody of the child to be born through surrogacy;
  • Insurance coverage for the surrogate mother.

Additional eligibility conditions that the intending couple need to meet may be specified by regulations. It could be argued that the qualifying conditions for surrogacy should be specified in the Bill and not be delegated to regulations.

Who is a close relative under the Bill?

The Bill does not define the term close relative.

Who is eligible to be a surrogate mother?

The surrogate mother, apart from proving that she is a close relative of the couple intending the surrogacy, also has to prove all the following conditions:

  • She was or is married and has a child of her own;
  • She is 25 to 35 years old;
  • She has not been a surrogate mother before;
  • She possesses a medical certificate of her fitness for surrogacy.

What will be the legal status of a surrogate child?

The Bill states that any child born out of a surrogacy procedure shall be the biological child of the intending couple and will be entitled to all rights and privileges that are available to a natural child.

What is the process for commissioning a surrogacy?

The intending couple and the surrogate mother can undergo a surrogacy procedure only at surrogacy clinics that are registered with the government.  To initiate the procedure, the couple and the surrogate mother need to possess certificates to prove that there are eligible.  These certificates will be granted by a government authority if the couple and the surrogate mother fulfill all the conditions mentioned above.  The Bill does not specify a time period within which the authority needs to grant the certificates.  Further, the Bill does not specify a review or appeal procedure in case the application for the certificates is rejected.

What is the penalty for engaging in commercial surrogacy under the Bill?

The Bill specifies that any person who takes the aid of a doctor or a surrogacy clinic in order to conduct commercial surrogacy will be punishable with imprisonment for a minimum term of five years and a fine that may extend to five lakh rupees.

Offences such as (i) undertaking or advertising commercial surrogacy; (ii) exploiting or abandoning the surrogate mother or child; and (iii) selling or importing human embryo or gametes for surrogacy will attract a minimum penalty of 10 years and a fine up to 10 lakh rupees.

[This post has been co – authored by Nivedita Rao]

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.

Key amendments proposed to the Constitution Amendment Bill on GST

August 2nd, 2016 No comments

Yesterday, the government circulated certain official amendments to the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014 on GST.  The Bill is currently pending in Rajya Sabha.  The Bill was introduced and passed in Lok Sabha in May 2015.  It was then referred to a Select Committee of Rajya Sabha which submitted its report in July 2015.  With the Bill listed for passage this week, we explain key provisions in the Bill, and the amendments proposed.

What is the GST?

Currently, indirect taxes are imposed on goods and services.  These include excise duty, sales tax, service tax, octroi, customs duty etc.  Some of these taxes are levied by the centre and some by the states.  For taxes imposed by states, the tax rates may vary across different states.  Also, goods and services are taxed differently.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a value added tax levied across goods and services at the point of consumption.  The idea of a GST regime is to subsume most indirect taxes under a single taxation regime.  This is expected to help broaden the tax base, increase tax compliance, and reduce economic distortions caused by inter-state variations in taxes.

What does the 2014 Bill on GST do?

The 2014 Bill amends the Constitution to give concurrent powers to Parliament and state legislatures to levy a Goods and Services tax (GST).  This implies that the centre will levy a central GST (CGST), while states will be permitted to levy a state GST (SGST).  For goods and services that pass through several states, or imports, the centre will levy another tax, the Integrated GST (IGST).

Alcohol for human consumption has been kept out of the purview of GST.  Further, GST will be levied on 5 types of petroleum products at a later date, to be decided by the GST Council.  The Council is a body comprising of Finance Ministers of the centre and all states (including Delhi and Puducherry).  This body will make recommendations in relation to the implementation of GST, including the rates, principles of levy, etc.  The Council is also to decide the modalities for resolution of disputes that arise out of its recommendations.

States may be given compensation for any revenue losses they may face from the introduction of the GST regime.  Such compensation may be provided for a period of up to five years.

Further, the centre may levy an additional tax, up to 1%, in the course of interstate trade.  The revenues from the levy of this tax will be given to the state from where the good originates.  Expert bodies like the Select Committee and the Arvind Subramanian Committee have observed that this provision could lead to cascading of taxes (as tax on tax will be levied).[i]  It also distorts the creation of a national market, as a product made in one state and sold in another would be more expensive than one made and sold within the same state.

What are the key changes proposed by the 2016 amendments?

The amendments propose three key changes to the 2014 Bill.  They relate to (i) additional tax up to 1%; (ii) compensation to states; and (iii) dispute resolution by the GST Council.

  • Additional tax up to 1% on interstate trade: The amendments delete the provision.
  • Compensation to states: The amendments state that Parliament shall, by law, provide for compensation to states for any loss of revenues, for a period which may extend to five years. This would be based on the recommendations of the GST Council.  This implies that (i) Parliament must provide compensation; and (ii) compensation cannot be provided for more than five years, but allows Parliament to decide a shorter time period.  The 2014 Bill used the term ‘may’ instead of ‘shall’.   The Select Committee had recommended that compensation should be provided for a period of five years.  This recommendation has not been addressed by the 2016 amendments.
  • Dispute resolution: The GST Council shall establish a mechanism to adjudicate any dispute arising out of its recommendations. Disputes can be between: (a) the centre vs. one or more states; (b) the centre and states vs. one or more states; (c) state vs. state.  This implies that there will be a standing mechanism to resolve disputes.

These amendments will be taken up for discussion with the Bill in Rajya Sabha this week.  The Bill requires a special majority for its passage as it is a Constitution Amendment Bill (that is at least 50% majority of the total membership in the House, and 2/3rds majority of all members present and voting).  If the Bill is passed with amendments, it will have to be sent back to Lok Sabha for consideration and passage.  After its passage in Parliament, at least 50% state legislatures will have to pass resolutions to ratify the Bill.

Once the constitutional framework is in place, the centre will have to pass simple laws to levy CGST and IGST.  Similarly, all states will have to pass a simple law on SGST.  These laws will specify the rates of the GST to be levied, the goods and services that will be included, the threshold of the turnover of businesses to be included, etc.  Note that the Arvind Subramanian Committee, set up by the Finance Ministry, recommended the rates of GST that may be levied.  The table below details the bands of rates proposed.

Table 1: Rates of GST recommended by Expert Committee headed by Arvind Subramanian
Type of rate Rate Details
Revenue Neutral Rate 15% Single rate which maintains revenue at current levels.
Standard Rate 17-18% Too be applied to most goods and services
Lower rates 12% To be applied to certain goods consumed by the poor
Demerit rate 40% To be applied on luxury cars, aerated beverages, paan masala, and tobacco
Source: Arvind Subramanian Committee Report (2015)

Several other measures related to the back end infrastructure for registration and reporting of GST, administrative officials related to GST, etc. will also have to be put in place, before GST can be rolled out.

[For further details on the full list of amendments, please see here.  For other details on the GST Bill, please see here.]

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.

Declaration of assets under the Lokpal Act explained

July 28th, 2016 No comments

A Bill to amend the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 was introduced and passed in Lok Sabha yesterday.  The Bill makes amendments in relation to the declaration of assets of public servants, and will apply retrospectively.

Declaration of assets under the Lokpal Act, 2013

The Lokpal Act, 2013 provides for a mechanism to inquire into corruption related allegations against public servants.  The Act defines public servants to include the Prime Minister, Union Ministers, Members of Parliament, central government and Public Sector Undertakings employees, and trustees and officials of NGOs that receive foreign contribution above Rs 10 lakhs a year, and those getting a certain amount of government funding. [A June 2016 notification set this amount at Rs. 1 crore.]

The Lokpal Act mandates public servants to declare their assets and liabilities, and that of their spouses and dependent children.  Such declarations must be filed by July 31st every year.  They must also be published on the website of the Ministry by August 31st.

2014 amendments proposed to the Lokpal Act

In December 2014, a Bill to amend the 2013 Act was introduced in Lok Sabha.  Among other things, the Bill sought to modify the provision related to declaration of assets by public servants.  The Bill required that the public servant’s declaration contain information of all his assets, including: (i) movable and immovable property owned, inherited, acquired, or held on lease in his or another’s name; and (ii) debts and liabilities incurred directly or indirectly by him.  The Bill also said that declaration requirements for public servants under the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (for MPs), All India Services Act, 1951 (for senior civil servants), etc. would also apply.

The Standing Committee that examined this Bill, in 2015, had recommended that the public servants should declare the assets and liabilities to their Competent Authority.  For example, for an MP, the competent authority would be the Speaker of Lok Sabha or Chairman of Rajya Sabha.  Such declarations should then be forwarded to the Lokpal to keep in a fiduciary capacity.  Both these authorities would be competent to review the returns filed by the public servants.  In light of such double scrutiny, the Committee recommended that public disclosure of such assets and liabilities would not be necessary.

Further, the Committee also noted that family members of public servants are not obliged to disclose assets acquired through their own income. These disclosures may be in violation of Article 21 (right to privacy) or 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution.  However, the public servant must declare assets and liabilities of his dependents, and those acquired by him in the name of another.  This Bill is currently pending in Lok Sabha.

The 2016 Bill and its position on declaration of assets

The Amendment Bill, that was introduced and passed by Lok Sabha yesterday, replaces the provision under the Lokpal Act, 2013 related to the declaration of assets and liabilities by public servants.  While the new provision also mandates public servants to declare their assets and liabilities, it does not specify the manner of such declaration.  The Bill states that the form and manner of such declarations to be made by public servants will be prescribed by the central government.  Therefore, if passed by Parliament, the effect of the amendments will be the following:

  1. Trustees and officers of certain NGOs will continue to be regarded as public servants for the purposes of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and the Lokpal Act, 2013. There is no differentiation in the treatment of government servants and trustees of NGOs.
  2. The requirement for declaring assets and liabilities will continue to be applicable.
  3. However, the Act will no longer require assets and liabilities of spouses and dependent children of public servants to be declared. It also removes the mandatory disclosure on the Ministry’s website.
  4. That said, the details of the disclosure to be made will be notified by the central government.
  5. It is not clear whether the earlier notification will automatically lapse, or whether it needs to be rescinded in light of the new amendments.

These implications will apply only if the Bill is passed by Rajya Sabha and gets the President’s assent before July 31, 2016.