Miscellaneous

Financial health of the Indian Railways

Earlier today, the Union Cabinet announced the merger of the Railways Budget with the Union Budget.  All proposals under the Railways Budget will now be a part of the Union Budget.  However, to ensure detailed scrutiny, the Ministry’s expenditure will be discussed in Parliament.  Further, Railways will continue to maintain its autonomy and financial decision making powers.  In light of this, this post discusses some of the ways in which Railways is financed, and issues it faces with regard to financing. Separation of Railways Budget and its financial implications The Railways Budget was separated from the Union Budget in 1924.  While the Union Budget looks at the overall revenue and expenditure of the central government, the Railways Budget looks at the revenue and expenditure of the Ministry of Railways.  At that time, the proportion of Railways Budget was much higher as compared to the Union Budget.  The separation of the Budgets was done to ensure that the central government receives an assured contribution from the Railways revenues.  However, in the last few years, Railways’ finances have deteriorated and it has been struggling to generate enough surplus to invest in improving its infrastructure. Indian Railways is primarily financed through budgetary support from the central government, its own internal resources (freight and passenger revenue, leasing of railway land, etc.), and external resources (market borrowings, public private partnerships, joint ventures, or market financing). Every year, all ministries, except Railways, get support from the central government based on their estimated revenue and expenditure for the year.  The Railways Ministry is provided with a gross budgetary support from the central government in order to expand its network.  However, unlike other Ministries, Railways pays a return on this investment every year, known as dividend.  The rate of this dividend is currently at around 5%, and also includes the interest on government budgetary support received in the previous years. Various Committees have observed that the system of receiving support from the government and then paying back dividend is counter-productive.  It was recommended that the practice of paying dividend can be avoided until the financial health of Railways improves.  In the announcement made today, the requirement to pay dividend to the central government has been removed.  This would save the Ministry from the liability of paying around Rs 9,700 crore as dividend to the central government every year.  However, Railways will continue to get gross budgetary support from the central government. Declining internal revenue In addition to its core business of providing transportation, Railways also has several social obligations such as: (i) providing certain passenger and coaching services at below cost fares, (ii) running uneconomic branch lines (connectivity to remote areas), and (iii) granting concessions to various categories of people (like senior citizens, children, etc.).  All these add up to about Rs 30,000 crore.  Other inelastic expenses of Railways include pension charges, fuel expenses, lease payments, etc.  Such expenses do not leave any financial room for the Railways to make any infrastructure investments. Railways1 In the last few years, Railways has been struggling due to a decline in its revenue from passenger and freight traffic.  In addition, the support from the central government has broadly remained constant. In 2015-16, the gross budgetary support and internal revenue saw a decline, while there was some increase in the extra budgetary resources (shown in Figure 1).   Railways’ internal revenue primarily comes from freight traffic (about 65%), followed by passenger traffic (about 25%).  About one-third of the passenger revenue comes from first class passenger traffic and the remaining two-third comes from second class passenger traffic.  In 2015-16, Railways passenger traffic decreased by 4% and total passenger revenue decreased by 10% from the budget estimates.  While revenue from second class saw a decrease of 13%, revenue from first class traffic decreased by 3%.  In the last few years, Railways’ internal sources have been declining, primarily due to a decline in both passenger as well as freight traffic. Freight traffic Railways2The share of Railways in total freight traffic has declined from 89% to 30% over the last 60 years, with most of the share moving towards roads (see Figure 2).  With regard to freight traffic, Railways generates most of its revenue from the transportation of coal (about 44%), followed by cement (8%), iron ore (7%), and food-grains (7%).  In 2015-16, freight traffic decreased by 10%, and freight earnings reduced by 5% from the budget estimates. The Railways Budget for 2016-17 estimates an increase of 12% in passenger revenue and a 0.26% increase in passenger traffic.  Achieving a 12% increase in revenue without a corresponding increase in traffic will require an increase in fares. Flexi fares and passenger traffic A few days ago, the Ministry of Railways introduced a flexi-fare system for certain categories of trains.  Under this system, the base fare for Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi trains will increase by 10% with every 10% of berths sold, subject to a ceiling of up to 1.5 times the base fare.  While this could also be a way for Railways to improve its revenue, it has raised concerns about train fares becoming more expensive.  Note that the flexi-fare system will apply only to first class passenger traffic, which contributes to about 8% of the total Railways revenue.  It remains to be seen if the new system increases Railways revenue, or further decreases passenger traffic (people choosing other modes of travel, such as airways, if fares increase significantly). While the Railways is trying to improve revenue by raising fares, this may increase the financial burden on passengers.  In the past, various Parliamentary Committees have observed that the investment planning in Railways from the government’s side is politically driven rather than need driven.  This has resulted in the extension of uneconomic, un-remunerative, yet socially desirable projects in every budget.  It has been recommended that projects based on social and commercial considerations must be categorised separately in the Railways accounts, and funding for the former must come from the central or state governments.  It has also been recommended that Railways should bring in more accuracy in determining its public service obligations. The decision to merge the Railways Budget with the Union Budget seems to be on the lines of several of these recommendations.  However, it remains to be seen whether merging the Railway Budget with the Union Budget will  improve the transporter’s finances or if it would require bringing in more reforms.

 

 

 

Maternity leave in India and other countries

Earlier today, a Bill to raise maternity benefits was introduced and passed in Rajya Sabha.  The Bill amends the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.  The Act regulates the employment of women during the period of child birth, and provides maternity benefits.  The Act applies to factory, mines, plantations, shops and other establishments.

Duration of maternity leave: The Act states that every woman will be entitled to maternity benefit of 12 weeks.  The Bill increases this to 26 weeks.  Further, under the Act, this maternity benefit should not be availed before six weeks from the date of expected delivery.  The Bill changes this to eight weeks. In case of a woman who has two or more children, the maternity benefit will continue to be 12 weeks, which cannot be availed before six weeks from the date of the expected delivery.

Maternity leave for adoptive and commissioning mothers: Further, the Bill introduces a provision to grant 12 weeks of maternity leave to: (i) a woman who legally adopts a child below three months of age; and (ii) a commissioning mother.  A commissioning mother is defined as a biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in another woman.  The 12-week period of maternity benefit will be calculated from the date the child is handed over to the adoptive or commissioning mother.

Informing women employees of the right to maternity leave: The Bill introduces a provision which requires every establishment to intimate a woman at the time of her appointment of the maternity benefits available to her.  Such communication must be in writing and electronically.

Option to work from home: The Bill introduces a provision that states that an employer may permit a woman to work from home.  This would apply if the nature of work assigned to the woman permits her to work from home.  This option can be availed of, after the period of maternity leave, for a duration that is mutually decided by the employer and the woman.

Crèche facilities: The Bill introduces a provision which requires every establishment with 50 or more employees to provide crèche facilities within a prescribed distance.  The woman will be allowed four visits to the crèche in a day.  This will include her interval for rest. Various countries provide maternity leave.  However, the duration of leave varies across different countries.[i]  We present a comparison of maternity leave available in different countries, as on 2014, below.

Sources: International Labour Organisation Report (2014); PRS.   [i]. “Maternity and Paternity at work: Legislation across countries”, International Labour Organisation Report (2014), http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_242615.pdf.      

7th Pay Commission's review of central government salaries

The Union Cabinet approved the implementation of Seventh Pay Commission recommendations yesterday.  The Commission was tasked with reviewing and proposing changes to the pay, pension and efficiency of government employees. These recommendations will apply to 33 lakh central government employees, in addition to 14 lakh armed forces personnel and 52 lakh pensioners.  This will take effect from January 1, 2016. Number of Employees Pensioners                 Pay, Allowances and Pension of central government employees In relation to an employee, the Commission proposed to increase (i) the minimum salary to Rs 18,000 per month, and (ii) the maximum salary to Rs 2,50,000 per month. It also recommended moving away from the existing system of pay bands and grade pay, which is used to determine an employee’s salary.  Instead, it proposed a new pay matrix which will take into account the hierarchy of employees, and their pay progression during the course of employment.  The Commission also suggested that this matrix should be reviewed periodically, with a frequency of less than 10 years. The Pay Commission also suggested a linkage between performance and remuneration of an employee.  For this, it proposed the introduction of performance related pay which will be based on an annual appraisal of the employee.  In addition, it recommended that annual increments of an employee should be withheld, if he is unable to meet the benchmark required for regular promotion or career progression. The Commission also sought to abolish or merge some of the allowances that may be given to employees by various government departments.  It suggested that, of the 196 allowances that exist, 52 should be abolished and 36 should either be merged under existing heads, or be included under proposed allowances.  Some of these allowances involved payment of a meagre amount of close to Rs 100 per month. In addition, the rates of House Rent Allowance (HRA) were revised.  The Commission proposed a methodology to increase the HRA rates every time the Dearness Allowance given to employees increased to 50% or 100%.  Dearness Allowance is given to employees in lieu of increases in the cost of living, on account of inflation. The Commission had also proposed a new methodology for computing pension for pensioners who retired before January 1, 2016.  This is aimed at bringing parity between past and current pensioners.  As part of the new methodology, two options for calculation of pension have been prescribed, and the pensioner may opt for either one. Financial Impact on the government Table 7CPCThe implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations is expected to cost the government Rs 1,02,100 crore.  Of this amount, 72% will be borne by the central government, and 28% by the railways. As a result, the overall expenditure is expected to increase by 23.6%, with a 16% increase in expenses on pay, 63% in allowances and 24% in pension. Addressing the issue of vacancy VacancyAs of 2014, the central government had a job vacancy of 18.5%.[i]  These vacancies may need to be filled or abolished, if required, to reduce redundancy.[ii] It may be noted that the Second Administrative Reforms Commission had observed that reducing the number of government employees is necessary for modern and professional governance.  Further, it had expressed concern that the increasing expenditure on salaries of government employees may be at the cost of investment in priority areas such as infrastructure development and poverty alleviation.[iii] Inducting specialised personnel in the government The Second Administrative Reforms Commission had also observed that some senior positions in the central government require specific skill sets (including technical and administrative know-how).[iii] One way of developing these skill-sets is to recruit personnel directly into these departments so that they can over a period of time develop the required skills.  For example, personnel from the Central Engineering Service (Roads) may aspire and be qualified to hold senior positions in the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways or a body like the National Highways Authority of India. However, another view is that special skill-sets may be inducted in the government through lateral entry of experts from outside government.  This will allow for widening of the pool of candidates and greater competition for these positions.[iii] The Second Administrative Reforms Commission had also recommended that senior positions in the government should be open to all services. The last Pay Commission’s recommendations, in 2008, led to an increased demand in the automobile, consumer products and real estate related sectors.  With the Seventh Pay Commission’s recommendations expected to take effect from January 1, 2016, their impact on the economy and the consumer market will become known in due course of time.     [i] Report of the Seventh Central Pay Commission, Ministry of Finance, 2015 http://finmin.nic.in/7cpc/7cpc_report_eng.pdf. [ii] “Union govt has 729,000 vacancies: report”, Live Mint, November 30, 2015, http://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/X6U6xFe5oR2pW4simMmAhK/Union-govt-has-729000-vacancies-report.html. [iii] 10th and 13th Reports of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, 2008 and 2009.  

The rise of Non Performing Assets in India

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

I. An overview of Non-Performing Assets in India 

Banks give loans and advances to borrowers which may be categorised as: (i) standard asset (any loan which has not defaulted in repayment) or (ii) non-performing asset (NPA), based on their performance.  NPAs are loans and advances given by banks, on which the borrower has ceased to pay interest and principal repayments. Graph for blog In recent years, the gross NPAs of banks have increased from 2.3% of total loans in 2008 to 4.3% in 2015 (see Figure 1 alongside*).  The increase in NPAs may be due to various reasons, including slow growth in domestic market and drop in prices of commodities in the global markets.  In addition, exports of products such as steel, textiles, leather and gems have slowed down.[i] The increase in NPAs affects the credit market in the country.  This is due to the impact that non-repayment of loans has on the cash flow of banks and the availability of funds with them.[ii]  Additionally, a rising trend in NPAs may also make banks unwilling to lend.  This could be because there are lesser chances of debt recovery due to prevailing market conditions.[iii]  For example, banks may be unwilling to lend to the steel sector if companies in this sector are making losses and defaulting on current loans. There are various legislative mechanisms available with banks for debt recovery.  These include: (i) Recovery of Debt Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993 (DRT Act) and (ii) Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Security Interest Act, 2002 (SARFAESI Act).  The Debt Recovery Tribunals established under DRT Act allow banks to recover outstanding loans.  The SARFAESI Act allows a secured creditor to enforce his security interest without the intervention of courts or tribunals.  In addition to these, there are voluntary mechanisms such as Corporate Debt Restructuring and Strategic Debt Restructuring, which   These mechanisms allow banks to collectively restructure debt of borrowers (which includes changing repayment schedule of loans) and take over the management of a company.

II. Challenges and recommendations for reform

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

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

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

Improved recovery: The process of recovering outstanding loans is time consuming. This includes time taken to resolve insolvency, which is a situation where a borrower is unable to repay his outstanding debt.  The inability to resolve insolvency is one of the factors that impacts NPAS, the credit market, and affects the flow of money in the country.[v]  As of 2015, it took over four years to resolve insolvency in India.  This was higher than other countries such as the UK (1 year) and USA (1.5 years).  The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code seeks to address this situation.  The Code, which was passed by Lok Sabha on May 5, 2016, is currently pending in Rajya Sabha. It provides a 180-day period to resolve insolvency (which includes change in repayment schedule of loans to recover outstanding loans.)  If insolvency is not resolved within this time period, the company will go in for liquidation of its assets, and the creditors will be repaid from these sale proceeds.


  [i] ‘Non-Performing Assets of Financial Institutions’, 27th Report of the Department-related Standing Committee on Finance, http://164.100.47.134/lsscommittee/Finance/16_Finance_27.pdf. [ii] Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee, November 2015, http://finmin.nic.in/reports/BLRCReportVol1_04112015.pdf. [iii] Volume 2, Economic Survey 2015-16, http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2015-16/echapter-vol2.pdf. [iv] Starred Question No. 17, Rajya Sabha, Answered on April 26, Ministry of Finance. [v] Report of the Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee, Ministry of Finance, November 2015, http://finmin.nic.in/reports/BLRCReportVol1_04112015.pdf. *Source:  ‘Non-Performing Assets of Financial Institutions’, 27th Report of the Department-related Standing Committee on Finance, http://164.100.47.134/lsscommittee/Finance/16_Finance_27.pdf; PRS.  

Coal Block Allocations and the 2015 Bill

Earlier this week, Lok Sabha passed the Bill that provides for the allocation of coal mines that were cancelled by the Supreme Court last year.  In light of this development, this post looks at the issues surrounding coal block allocations and what the 2015 Bill seeks to achieve.

In September 2014, the Supreme Court cancelled the allocations of 204 coal blocks.  Following the Supreme Court judgement, in October 2014, the government promulgated the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Ordinance, 2014 for the allocation of the cancelled coal mines.  The Ordinance, which was replaced by the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2014, could not be passed by Parliament in the last winter session, and lapsed. The government then promulgated the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Second Ordinance, 2014 on December 26, 2014.  The Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2015 replaces the second Ordinance and was passed by Lok Sabha on March 4, 2015. Why is coal considered relevant? Coal mining in India has primarily been driven by the need for energy domestically.  About 55% of the current commercial energy use is met by coal.  The power sector is the major consumer of coal, using about 80% of domestically produced coal. As of April 1, 2014, India is estimated to have a cumulative total of 301.56 billion tonnes of coal reserves up to a depth of 1200 meters.  Coal deposits are mainly located in Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. How is coal regulated? The Ministry of Coal has the overall responsibility of managing coal reserves in the country.  Coal India Limited, established in 1975, is a public sector undertaking, which looks at the production and marketing of coal in India.  Currently, the sector is regulated by the ministry’s Coal Controller’s Organization. The Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973 (CMN Act) is the primary legislation determining the eligibility for coal mining in India.  The CMN Act allows private Indian companies to mine coal only for captive use.  Captive mining is the coal mined for a specific end-use by the mine owner, but not for open sale in the market.  End-uses currently allowed under the CMN Act include iron and steel production, generation of power, cement production and coal washing.  The central government may notify additional end-uses. How were coal blocks allocated so far? Till 1993, there were no specific criteria for the allocation of captive coal blocks.  Captive mining for coal was allowed in 1993 by amendments to the CMN Act.  In 1993, a Screening Committee was set up by the Ministry of Coal to provide recommendations on allocations for captive coal mines.  All allocations to private companies were made through the Screening Committee.  For government companies, allocations for captive mining were made directly by the ministry.  Certain coal blocks were allocated by the Ministry of Power for Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPP) through tariff based competitive bidding (bidding for coal based on the tariff at which power is sold).  Between 1993 and 2011, 218 coal blocks were allocated to both public and private companies under the CMN Act. What did the 2014 Supreme Court judgement do? In August 2012, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India released a report on the coal block allocations. CAG recommended that the allocation process should be made more transparent and objective, and done through competitive bidding. Following this report, in September 2012, a Public Interest Litigation matter was filed in the Supreme Court against the coal block allocations.  The petition sought to cancel the allotment of the coal blocks in public interest on grounds that it was arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional. In September 2014, the Supreme Court declared all allocations of coal blocks, made through the Screening Committee and through Government Dispensation route since 1993, as illegal.  It cancelled the allocation of 204 out of 218 coal blocks.  The allocations were deemed illegal on the grounds that: (i) the allocation procedure followed by the Screening Committee was arbitrary, and (ii) no objective criterion was used to determine the selection of companies.  Further, the allocation procedure was held to be impermissible under the CMN Act. Among the 218 coal blocks, 40 were under production and six were ready to start production.  Of the 40 blocks under production, 37 were cancelled and of the six ready to produce blocks, five were cancelled.  However, the allocation to Ultra Mega Power Projects, which was done via competitive bidding for lowest tariffs, was not declared illegal. What does the 2015 Bill seek to do? Following the cancellation of the coal blocks, concerns were raised about further shortage in the supply of coal, resulting in more power supply disruptions.  The 2015 Bill primarily seeks to allocate the coal mines that were declared illegal by the Supreme Court.  It provides details for the auction process, compensation for the prior allottees, the process for transfer of mines and details of authorities that would conduct the auction.  In December 2014, the ministry notified the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Rules, 2014.  The Rules provide further guidelines in relation to the eligibility and compensation for prior allottees. How is the allocation of coal blocks to be carried out through the 2015 Bill? The Bill creates three categories of mines, Schedule I, II and III.  Schedule I consists of all the 204 mines that were cancelled by the Supreme Court.  Of these mines, Schedule II consists of all the 42 mines that are under production and Schedule III consists of 32 mines that have a specified end-use such as power, iron and steel, cement and coal washing. Schedule I mines can be allocated by way of either public auction or allocation.  For the public auction route any government, private or joint venture company can bid for the coal blocks.  They can use the coal mined from these blocks for their own consumption, sale or for any other purpose as specified in their mining lease.  The government may also choose to allot Schedule I mines to any government company or any company that was awarded a power plant project through competitive bidding.  In such a case, a government company can use the coal mined for own consumption or sale.  However, the Bill does not provide clarity on the purpose for which private companies can use the coal. Schedule II and III mines are to be allocated by way of public auction, and the auctions have to be completed by March 31, 2015.  Any government company, private company or a joint venture with a specified end-use is eligible to bid for these mines. In addition, the Bill also provides details on authorities that would conduct the auction and allotment and the compensation for prior allottees.  Prior allottees are not eligible to participate in the auction process if: (i) they have not paid the additional levy imposed by the Supreme Court; or (ii) if they are convicted of an offence related to coal block allocation and sentenced to imprisonment of more than three years. What are some of the issues to consider in the 2015 Bill? One of the major policy shifts the 2015 Bill seeks to achieve is to enable private companies to mine coal in the future, in order to improve the supply of coal in the market.  Currently, the coal sector is regulated by the Coal Controller’s Organization, which is under the Ministry of Coal.  The Bill does not establish an independent regulator to ensure a level playing field for both private and government companies bidding for auction of mines to conduct coal mining operations.   In the past, when other sectors have opened up to the private sector, an independent regulatory body has been established beforehand.  For example, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, an independent regulatory body, was established when the telecom sector was opened up for private service providers.  The Bill also does not specify any guidelines on the monitoring of mining activities by the new allottees. While the Bill provides broad details of the process of auction and allotment, the actual results with regards to money coming in to the states, will depend more on specific details, such as the tender documents and floor price.  It is also to be seen whether the new allotment process ensures equitable distribution of coal blocks among the companies and creates a fair, level-playing field for them.  In the past, the functioning of coal mines has been delayed due to delays in land acquisition and environmental clearances.  This Bill does not address these issues.  The auctioning of coal blocks resulting in improving the supply of coal, and in turn addressing the problem of power shortage in the country, will also depend on the efficient functioning of the mines,  in addition to factors such as transparent allocations.

Special Category status and centre-state finances

"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. Lok Sabha unstarred question no. 667, 27 Feb, 2013, Ministry of Planning] 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.

RTE Act's ban on screening of students not applicable to nursery admission: Delhi High Court

Latest in the string of litigations filed after the enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act), the Delhi High Court ruled that the Act shall not apply to nursery admissions in unaided private schools for the unreserved category of students.  The decision, given on February 19, was in response to writ petitions filed by Social Jurist, a civil rights group and the Delhi Commission for the Protection of Child Rights.  It contended that the guidelines of the Ministry of Human Resource Development related to schools’ selection procedure should also be applicable to pre-primary and pre-school classes. The right to education is applicable to children between the age of 6 and 14 years.  The RTE Act states that schools have to reserve certain proportion of their seats for disadvantaged groups.  It adds that where the school admits children at pre-primary level, the reservation for children of weaker sections shall apply.  However, it does not mention whether other RTE norms are applicable to pre-schools.  It only states that the appropriate government may make necessary arrangements for providing pre-school education to children between the age of 3 and 6 years. Guidelines of the Ministry with regard to selection procedure of students:

  • Criteria of admission for 25% seats reserved for disadvantaged groups: For Class 1 or pre-primary class, unaided schools shall follow a system of random selection out of the applications received from children belonging to disadvantaged groups.
  • Criteria of admission for rest of the seats: Each unaided school should formulate a policy of admission on a rational, reasonable and just basis.  No profiling shall be allowed based on parental educational qualifications.  Also, there can be no testing or interviews for any child or parent.

The two issues that the court considered were: (a) whether RTE applies to pre-schools including nursery schools and for education of children below six years of age; (b) whether RTE applies to the admission of children in pre-schools in respect of the unreserved seats (25% of seats are reserved for children belonging to disadvantaged groups). According to the verdict, the guidelines issued by the government do not apply to the unreserved category of students i.e. 75% of the admission made in pre-schools in private unaided schools.  This implies that private unaided schools may formulate their own policies regarding admission in pre-schools for the unreserved category of students.  However, they apply to the reserved category of students i.e. 25% of the admission s made in these schools for disadvantaged groups. The court has however stated that in its view this is the right time for the government to consider the applicability of RTE Act to the nursery classes too.  In most schools, students are admitted from nursery and they continue in the same school thereafter.  Therefore, the RTE Act’s prohibition of screening at the time of selection is rendered meaningless if it is not applicable at the nursery level.

An Overview of Fast Track Courts

Recently, Delhi witnessed large scale protests by various groups demanding stricter punishment and speedier trial in cases of sexual assault against women.  In light of the protests, the central government has constituted a Commission (headed by Justice Verma) to suggest possible amendments in the criminal law to ensure speedier disposal of cases relating to sexual assault.  Though the Supreme Court, in 1986, had recognised speedy trial to be a fundamental right, India continues to have a high number of pending cases. In 2012, the net pendency in High Courts and subordinate courts decreased by over 6 lakh cases. However, there is still a substantial backlog of cases across various courts in the country.  As per the latest information given by the Ministry of Law and Justice, there are 43.2 lakh cases pending in the High Courts and 2.69 crore cases pending in the district courts.[1]

After the recent gang-rape of a 23 year old girl, the Delhi High Court directed the state government to establish five Fast Track Courts (FTCs) for the expeditious adjudication of cases relating to sexual assault.   According to a news report, other states such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have also begun the process of establishing FTCs for rape cases.  In this blog, we look at the status of pending cases in various courts in the country, the number of vacancies of judges and the status of FTCs in the country. Vacancies in the High Courts and the Subordinate Courts One of the reasons for the long delay in the disposal of cases is the high number of vacancies in position for judges in the High Courts and the District Courts of the country.  As of December 1, 2012, the working strength of the High Court judges was 613 as against the sanctioned strength of 895 judges.  This reflects a 32% vacancy of judges across various High Courts in the country.  The highest number of vacancies is in the Allahabad High Court with a working strength of 86 judges against the sanctioned strength of 160 judges (i.e. vacancy of 74 judges).   The situation is not much better at the subordinate level.  As on September 30, 2011, the sanctioned strength of judges at the subordinate level was 18,123 judges as against a working strength of 14,287 judges (i.e. 21% vacancy).  The highest vacancy is in Gujarat with 794 vacancies of judges, followed by Bihar with 690 vacancies. Fast Track Courts The 11th Finance Commission had recommended a scheme for the establishment of 1734 FTCs for the expeditious disposal of cases pending in the lower courts.  In this regard, the Commission had allocated Rs 500 crore.   FTCs were to be established by the state governments in consultation with the respective High Courts.  An average of five FTCs were to be established in each district of the country.  The judges for these FTCs were appointed on an adhoc basis.  The judges were selected by the High Courts of the respective states.  There are primarily three sources of recruitment.  First, by promoting members from amongst the eligible judicial officers; second, by appointing retired High Court judges and third, from amongst members of the Bar of the respective state. FTCs were initially established for a period of five years (2000-2005).  However, in 2005, the Supreme Court[2] directed the central government to continue with the FTC scheme, which was extended until 2010-2011.  The government discontinued the FTC scheme in March 2011.  Though the central government stopped giving financial assistance to the states for establishing FTCs, the state governments could establish FTCs from their own funds.  The decision of the central government not to finance the FTCs beyond 2011 was challenged in the Supreme Court.  In 2012, the Court upheld the decision of the central government.[3]  It held that the state governments have the liberty to decide whether they want to continue with the scheme or not.  However, if they decide to continue then the FTCs have to be made a permanent feature. As of September 3, 2012, some states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala decided to continue with the FTC scheme.  However, some states such as Haryana and Chhattisgarh decided to discontinue it. Other states such as Delhi and Karnataka have decided to continue the FTC scheme only till 2013.[4]

Table 1: Number of Fast Track Courts and the pending cases in FTCs                     (As on March 31, 2011)
State No of FTC No of cases transferred until March 31, 2011 Pending cases
Arunachal Pradesh 3 4,162 2,502
Bihar` 179 2,39,278 80,173
Assam 20 72,191 16,380
West Bengal 109 1,46,083 32,180
Goa 5 5,096 1,079
Punjab 15 58,570 12,223
Jharkhand 38 1,10,027 22,238
Gujarat 61 5,37.636 1,03,340
Chattisgarh 25 9,4670 18,095
Meghalaya 3 1,031 188
Rajasthan 83 1,49,447 26,423
Himachal Pradesh 9 40,126 6,699
Karnataka 87 2,18,402 34,335
Andhra Pradesh 108 2,36,928 36,975
Nagaland 2 845 129
Kerala 38 1,09,160 13,793
Mizoram 3 18,68 233
Haryana 6 38,359 4,769
Madhya Pradesh 84 3,60,602 43,239
UP 153 4,64,775 53,117
Maharashtra 51 4,23,518 41,899
Tamil Nadu 49 4,11,957 40,621
Uttarakhand 20 98,797 9006
Orissa 35 66,199 5,758
Manipur 2 3,059 198
Tripura 3 5,812 221
Total 1192 3898598 6,05,813

Sources:  Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No.498, March 3, 2012; PRS

 
[1].  Rajya Sabha Starred Question no 231 dated December 10, 2012.
[2].  Brij Mohan Lal v Union of India (2005) 3 SCR 103.
[3].  Brij Mohan Lal v Union of India (2012) 6 SCC 502. [4].  Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question no 2388 dated September 3, 2012.

Ministry of Consumer Affairs launches National Transparency Portal on PDS

A recent news report has discussed the methods by which states such as Chattisgarh have attempted to reform the Public Distribution System (PDS).  Chattisgarh has computerised its PDS supply chain and introduced smart cards as part of a slew of measures to plug pilferage and weed out corruption in the system.  In an effort to create a national computerised database for PDS, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs has launched an online National Transparency Portal for the Public Distribution System.  The portal aims to provide end-to-end computerisation of PDS; it is a single platform in the public domain for all PDS related information. The PDS is a centrally sponsored scheme that entitles beneficiaries to subsidised foodgrains every month.  Currently, beneficiaries are divided into the following groups: Below Poverty Line (BPL), Above Poverty Line and Antodaya Anna Yojana.  As such, several challenges have been identified in the implementation of PDS.  Some of them are as follows:

  1. Targeting errors: Separating beneficiaries of the PDS into three categories requires their classification and identification.  Targeting mechanisms, however, have been prone to large inclusion and exclusion errors.  In 2009, an expert group estimated that about 61% of the eligible population was excluded from the BPL list while 25% of non-poor households were included in the BPL list.
  2. Large leakages and diversion of subsidized foodgrain:  Foodgrain is procured by the centre and transported from the central to state godowns.  Last mile delivery from state godowns to the Fair Price Shop (FPS) where beneficiaries can purchase grain with ration cards, is the responsibility of the state government.  Large quantities of foodgrain are leaked and diverted into the open market during this supply chain.

The creation of the e-portal could help track these issues more effectively and increase transparency in the system. The portal contains information relating to FPS and ration cards attached to the FPS.  It is likely that this will help weed out bogus ration cards and improve targeting of subsidies.  The portal also has information on capacity utilization of Food Corporation of India, state storage godowns, and data on central pool stocks.  This helps track storage supplies of grains at each level and aims to prevent leakage of grain. With respect to data on PDS in states, the portal hosts information such as the central orders on monthly allocation of foodgrain to states, state-specific commodity sale prices, lifting position of states, etc. for public view.  All states and union territories will be required to maintain and update the data on the portal. The reforms come at a time when the National Food Security Bill, 2011 is pending in Parliament.  The Bill aims to deliver foodgrain entitlements through Targeted PDS to 75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population.  The Bill is currently under examination by the Standing Committee of Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.  It proposes reforms to the TPDS, which include the application of information and communication technology, including end-to-end computerisation.  These reforms seek to ensure full transparency of records in the PDS and prevent diversion of foodgrains.  The creation of the e-portal might be a step towards reforming the PDS. For an analysis of the National Food Security Bill, see here.

Vacancy in police forces

Parliament voted on the Demands for Grants for the Ministry of Home Affairs on May 02, 2012. During the debate, MPs expressed concern over the status of police forces in different States of the country.  They emphasised  the need to augment the capability of police forces. Though ‘Police’ and ‘Public Order’ are State subjects, the union government provides assistance to States for strengthening their forces.  For instance, the Ministry of Home Affairs has been implementing a non-plan scheme for ‘Modernization of Police Forces’ since 1969-70.  Under the scheme assistance is provided in the form of grants-in-aid towards construction of secure police stations, outposts, for purchase of vehicles, equipment etc.  (To know more about the scheme, see an earlier blog post on the issue.) At the all India level, the sanctioned strength of State Police equals 20.6 lakh personnel.  Though there exist wide variations across States, at an average this amounts to 174 police personnel per lakh population.  However, the actual ratio is much lower because of high vacancies in the police forces.  At the aggregate level, 24% positions are vacant. The table below provides data on the strength of state police forces as in Jan, 2011

State Sanctioned strength Sanctioned policemen/ lakh of population Vacancy
Andhra Pradesh 1,31,099 155 31%
Arunachal Pradesh 11,955 966 42%
Assam 62,149 200 12%
Bihar 85,939 88 27%
Chhattisgarh 50,869 207 18%
Goa 6,108 348 16%
Gujarat 87,877 151 27%
Haryana 61,307 248 28%
Himachal Pradesh 17,187 256 22%
Jammu & Kashmir 77,464 575 6%
Jharkhand 73,005 235 30%
Karnataka 91,256 155 10%
Kerala 49,394 141 7%
Madhya Pradesh 83,524 115 9%
Maharashtra 1,53,148 139 10%
Manipur 31,081 1,147 26%
Meghalaya 12,268 469 17%
Mizoram 11,246 1,112 6%
Nagaland 24,226 1,073 0%
Orissa 53,291 130 18%
Punjab 79,565 291 14%
Rajasthan 79,554 118 11%
Sikkim 5,421 886 27%
Tamil Nadu 1,20,441 178 15%
Tripura 44,310 1,224 17%
Uttar Pradesh 3,68,260 184 59%
Uttarakhand 20,775 211 24%
West Bengal 72,998 81 18%
A&N Islands 4,417 1,018 22%
Chandigarh 7,873 695 22%
D&N Haveli 325 114 13%
Daman & Diu 281 140 6%
Delhi 81,467 441 1%
Lakshadweep 349 478 36%
Puducherry 3,941 352 25%
All India 20,64,370 174 24%

Source: Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 90, 13th March, 2012  and Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 1042, March 20, 2012