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Chit funds: Q & A

May 23rd, 2013 4 comments

These are challenging times for chit fund operators. A scam involving the Saradha group allegedly conning customers under the guise of a chit fund, has raised serious questions for the industry. With a reported 10,000 chit funds in the country handling over Rs 30,000 crore annually, chit fund proponents maintain that these funds are an important financial tool. The scam has also sparked responses from both the centre and states: the Finance MinistryMinistry of Corporate Affairs and SEBI have all promised to act and the West Bengal Assembly has passed The West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013, with Odisha and Haryana considering similar legislation.

What is a chit fund?

A chit fund is a type of saving scheme where a specified number of subscribers contribute payments in instalment over a defined period.  Each subscriber is entitled to a prize amount determined by lot, auction or tender depending on the nature of the chit fund.   Typically the prize amount is the entire pool of contribution minus a discount which is redistributed to subscribers as a dividend.

For example, consider an auction-type chit fund with 50 subscribers contributing Rs 100 every month. The monthly pool is Rs 5,000 and this is auctioned out every month.  The winning bid, say Rs 1000, would be the discount and be distributed among the subscribers. The winning bidder would then receive Rs 4,000 (Rs 5,000 – 1,000) while the rest of subscribers would receive Rs 20 (1000/50).  Winners cannot enter the auction again and will be liable for the monthly subscription as the process is repeated for the duration of the scheme.  The company managing the chit fund (foreman) would retain a commission from the prize amount every month.  Collectively, the subscribers to a chit fund are referred to as a chit group and a chit fund company may run many such groups.

What are the laws governing chit funds?

Classifying them as contracts, the Supreme Court has read chit funds as being part of the Concurrent List of the Indian Constitution; hence both the centre and state can frame legislation regarding chit funds.  States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala had enacted legislation (e.g The Kerala Chitties Act, 1975 and The Tamil Nadu Chit Funds Act, 1961) for regulating chit funds.

Chit Funds Act, 1982

In 1982, the Ministry of Finance enacted the Chit Funds Act to regulate the sector.  Under the Act, the central government can choose to notify the Act in different states on different dates; if the Act is notified in a state, then the state act would be repealed[i].  States are responsible for notifying rules and have the power to exempt certain chit funds from the provisions of the Act.  Last year the central government, notified the Act in Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala and Nagaland.

Under the Act, all chit funds require previous sanction from the state government.  The capital requirement for establishing chit funds is Rs 1 lakh and at least 10% of profits should be transferred to a reserve fund.  The amount of discount (i.e. the bid) is capped at 40% of the total chit fund value.    States may appoint a Registrar who would be responsible for regulation, inspection and dispute settlement in the sector. Any grievances over decisions made by the Registrar can be subject to appeals directed to the state government. Chit fund managers are required to deposit the entire value of the chit fund (can be done in 50% cash and 50% bank guarantee) with the Registrar for the duration of the chit cycle.

Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978

The Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978 defines and prohibits any illegal chit fund schemes (e.g. schemes where auction winners are not liable to future payments).  Again, the responsibility for enforcing the provisions of this Act lies with the state government. Reports suggest that the government is discussing amendments to this Bill in the wake of the chit fund scam.

West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013

Last month the West Bengal Assembly passed the West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013. This was a direct response to the chit fund scam in West Bengal. While not regulating chit funds directly, the Act regulates and restricts financial establishments to curb any unscrupulous activity with regards to deposits.  Chit funds are specifically included under the definition of deposits. The state government will appoint a competent authority to conduct investigations.

What is the role of RBI and SEBI?

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is the regulator for banks and other non banking financial companies (NBFCs) but does not regulate the chit fund business. While chit funds accept deposits, the term ‘deposit’ as defined under the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934 does not include subscriptions to chits. However the RBI can provide guidance to state governments on regulatory aspects like creating rules or exempting certain chit funds.

As the regulator of the securities market, SEBI regulates collective investment schemes.  But the SEBI Act, 1992 specifically excludes chit funds from their definition of collective investment schemes. In the recent case with Sarada Group, the SEBI investigation discovered that Sarada were, in effect, operating a collective investment scheme without SEBI’s approval.


[i] The central act repeals the Andhra Pradesh Chit Funds Act, 1971; the Kerala Chitties Act, 1975, the Maharashtra Chit Funds Act, 1974’, the Tamil Nadu Chit Funds Act, 1961 (applicable in Chandiragh and Delhi), the Uttar Pradesh Chit Funds Act, 1975,  Goa, Daman and Diu Chit Funds Act, 1973 and Pondicheery Funds Act, 1966.

Special Category status and centre-state finances

April 12th, 2013 10 comments

“No one can ignore Odisha’s demand. It deserves special category status. It is a genuine right,” said Odisha Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, earlier this month. The Odisha State assembly has passed a resolution requesting special category status and their demands follow Bihar’s recent claim for special category status.

The concept of a special category state was first introduced in 1969 when the 5th Finance Commission sought to provide certain disadvantaged states with preferential treatment in the form of central assistance and tax breaks. Initially three states Assam, Nagaland and Jammu & Kashmir were granted special status but since then eight more have been included (Arunachal Pradesh,  Himachal Pradesh,  Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand). The rationale for special status is that certain states, because of inherent features, have a low resource base and cannot mobilize resources for development. Some of the features required for special status are: (i) hilly and difficult terrain; (ii) low population density or sizeable share of tribal population; (iii) strategic location along borders with neighbouring countries; (iv) economic and infrastructural backwardness; and (v) non-viable nature of state finances. 1 The decision to grant special category status lies with the National Development Council, composed of the Prime Minster, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and members of the Planning Commission, who guide and review the work of the Planning Commission.

In India, resources can be transferred from the centre to states in many ways (see figure 1). The Finance Commission and the Planning Commission are the two institutions responsible for centre-state financial relations.

Figure 1: Centre-state transfers (Source: Finance Commission, Planning Commission, Budget documents, PRS)

Planning Commission and Special Category

The Planning Commission allocates funds to states through central assistance for state plans. Central assistance can be broadly split into three components: Normal Central Assistance (NCA), Additional Central Assistance (ACA) and Special Central Assistance. NCA, the main assistance for state plans, is split to favour special category states: the 11 states get 30% of the total assistance while the other states share the remaining 70%.  The nature of the assistance also varies for special category states; NCA is split into 90% grants and 10% loans for special category states, while the ratio between grants and loans is 30:70 for other states.

For allocation among special category states, there are no explicit criteria for distribution and funds are allocated on the basis of the state’s plan size and previous plan expenditures. Allocation between non special category states is determined by the Gadgil Mukherjee formula which gives weight to population (60%), per capita income (25%), fiscal performance (7.5%) and special problems (7.5%).  However, as a proportion of total centre-state transfers NCA typically accounts for a relatively small portion (around 5% of total transfers in 2011-12).

Special category states also receive specific assistance addressing features like hill areas, tribal sub-plans and border areas. Beyond additional plan resources, special category states can enjoy concessions in excise and customs duties, income tax rates and corporate tax rates as determined by the government.  The Planning Commission also allocates funds for ACA (assistance for externally aided projects and other specific project) and funds for Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS). State-wise allocation of both ACA and CSS funds are prescribed by the centre.

The Finance Commission

Planning Commission allocations can be important for states, especially for the functioning of certain schemes, but the most significant centre-state transfer is the distribution of central tax revenues among states. The Finance Commission decides the actual distribution and the current Finance Commission have set aside 32.5% of central tax revenue for states. In 2011-12, this amounted to Rs 2.5 lakh crore (57% of total transfers), making it the largest transfer from the centre to states. In addition, the Finance Commission recommends the principles governing non-plan grants and loans to states.  Examples of grants would include funds for disaster relief, maintenance of roads and other state-specific requests.  Among states, the distribution of tax revenue and grants is determined through a formula accounting for population (25%), area (10%), fiscal capacity (47.5%) and fiscal discipline (17.5%).  Unlike the Planning Commission, the Finance Commission does not distinguish between special and non special category states in its allocation.

Arguments regarding FDI in retail

December 4th, 2012 2 comments

After months of discussion,  the issue of FDI in retail is being deliberated in the Lok Sabha today.  In September 2012, the Cabinet had approved 51% of FDI in multi-brand retail (stores selling more than one brand).  Under these regulations, foreign retail giants like Walmart and Tesco can set up shop in India.  Discussions on permitting FDI in retail have focused on the effect of FDI on unorganised retailers, farmers and consumers.

Earlier, the central government commissioned the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) to examine the impact of organised retail on unorganised retail. The Standing Committee on Commerce also tabled a report on Foreign and Domestic Investment in the Retail Sector in May, 2009 while the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) released a discussion paper examining FDI in multi-brand retail in July, 2010.  Other experts have also made arguments – both in support of, and in opposition to, the move to permit FDI in retail sales. The table below summarises some of these arguments from the perspective of various stakeholders as collated from the above reports examining the issue.

Stakeholder

Supporting arguments (source)

Opposing arguments (source)

Unorganised retail
  • No evidence of impact on job losses (ICRIER).
  • The rate of closure of unorganised retail shops (4.2%) is lower than international standards (ICRIER).
  • Evidence from Indonesia and China show that traditional and modern retail can coexist and grow  (Reardon and Gulati).
  • Majority of small retailers keen to remain in operation even after emergence of organised retail (ICRIER).
  •  Unorganised retailers in the vicinity of organised retailers saw their volume of business and profit decline but this effect weakens over time (ICRIER).
  • Other studies have estimated that traditional fruit and vegetable retailers experienced a 20-30% decline in incomes with the presence of supermarkets (Singh).
  • There is potential for employment loss in the value chain. A supermarket may create fewer jobs for the volume of produce handled (Singh).
  • Unemployment to increase as a result of retailers practicing product bundling (selling goods in combinations and bargains) and predatory pricing (Standing Committee).
Farmers
  • Significant positive impact on farmers as a result of direct sales to organised retailers.  For instance, cauliflower farmers receive a 25% higher price selling directly to organised retailers instead of government regulated markets (mandis).  Profits for farmers selling to organised retailers are about 60% higher than when selling to mandis (ICRIER).
  • Organised retail could remove supply chain inefficiencies through direct purchase from farmers and investment in better storage, distribution and transport systems.  FDI, in particular, could bring in new technology and ideas (DIPP).
  •  Current organised retail procures 60-70% from wholesale markets rather than farmers. There has been no significant impact on backend infrastructure investment (Singh).
  • There are other issues like irrigation, technology and credit in agriculture which FDI may not address (Singh).
  • Increased monopolistic strength could force farmers to sell at lower prices (Standing Committee).
Consumers
  • Organised retail lowers prices. Consumer spending increases with the entry of organised retail and lower income groups tend to save more (ICRIER).
  • It will lead to better quality and safety standards of products (DIPP).
  •  Evidence from some Latin American countries (Mexico, Nicaragua, Argentina), Africa (Kenya, Madagascar) and Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, India) reveal that supermarket prices for fruits and vegetables were higher than traditional retail prices (Singh).
  • Even with lower prices at supermarkets, low income households may prefer traditional retailers because they live far from supermarkets, they can bargain with traditional retailers and buy loose items (Singh).
  • Monopolistic power for retailers could result in high prices for consumers.
Source: ICRIER 1; Standing Committee 2; Singh (2011) 3;  Reardon and Gulati (2008)  4; DIPP 5