Central government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Jan 2020 - Apr 7, 2020)

On January 17, 2020, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare acknowledged the emergence of a new coronavirus (COVID-19) that was spreading across China.[1]  On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 disease to be a global pandemic. As of April 7, 2020, there are 4,421 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India.[2]   Of these, 326 patients have been cured/discharged and 114 have died.1   

As the spread increased and more information about the virus was uncovered, the central government announced several policy decisions to contain it.  Further, measures were also announced to support citizens and businesses who were affected by such containment measures.  In this blog post, we summarise some of the key measures taken by the central government in this regard as of April 7. 


Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, PRS.

Movement restrictions

21-day lockdown in the country

The Ministry of Home Affairs announced a 21-day lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 from March 25, 2020 to April 14, 2020.[3]   During the lockdown, all establishments, other than those providing essential goods and services, and those involved in agricultural operations, have been closed.   Essential goods include items such as food, medicine, and electricity.  Essential services include banking services, telecommunications, and pharmaceuticals.  Transportation of all goods (essential or non-essential) will remain functional. [4],[5],[6],[7],[8]   

All state/UT governments have been directed to: (i) arrange for shelter and food for the needy, including migrant workers, (ii) quarantine migrant workers for at least 14 days, (iii) direct employers to pay wages during the lockdown, and (iv) ensure landlords do not demand rent from workers and students for one month.[9]  

Financial aid

Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana to provide relief against COVID-19

On March 26, the Finance Minister announced a relief package of 1.7 lakh crore rupees under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana for the poor.[10]  Key features of the package are:10,[11]

  • Insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh will be provided to health workers (such as doctors, nurses, paramedics and ASHA workers) who are treating patients of COVID-19.[12]

  • Five kilograms of wheat or rice and one kilogram of preferred pulses will be provided for free every month to poor families for the next three months.  

  • Women account holders under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana will get Rs 500 per month between April and June, and poor families will be given three free gas cylinders over the next three months.  

Extension and relaxation in payment of taxes

The Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation of Certain Provisions) Ordinance, 2020 was promulgated on March 31, 2020.10  The Ordinance provides certain relaxations, such as extension of time limits and waivers of penalties, in relation to specified laws.  These include the Income Tax Act, 1961 (IT Act), some Finance Acts, and the Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988.  Key provisions under the Ordinance include:

  • Extension of time limits:   The Ordinance extends the time limits (for the period between March 20, 2020 to June 29, 2020) for compliance of certain actions such as: (i) issuing notifications, completing proceedings, and passing orders by authorities and tribunals, (ii) filing of appeals, replies, and applications, and furnishing documents, and (iii) making any investment or payment for claiming deductions or allowances under the IT Act.  

  • Interest and penalty:  Payment of any tax, made before June 30, 2020 (or any further date specified by the government), will not be liable for prosecution or penalty.  Also, the rate of interest payable for the delay in payment will not exceed 0.75% per month.

  • Donations to PM CARES Fund:  Donations made by a person to the PM CARES Fund will be eligible for 100% tax deduction.

  • GST compliances:  The central government may notify extension to time limits for various compliances under the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017.

Measures by RBI to address the financial stress caused by COVID-19

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) also announced several measures to address the stress in the economy caused by COVID-19.[13],[14],[15]  Key measures are detailed below:

  • Cutting Policy Rates:  The repo rate (the rate at which RBI lends money to banks) was reduced from 5.15% to 4.4%.   The reverse repo rate (the rate at which RBI borrows money from banks) was reduced from 4.9% to 4.0%.  

  • Liquidity management: Measures are being taken to expand liquidity in the market to ensure that financial markets and institutions can function normally.  These measures include the reduction of the Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) for all banks from 4% to 3% till March 26, 2021.  CRR is the amount of liquid cash that banks have to maintain with the RBI, as a percentage of their total deposits.  These steps are expected to inject total liquidity of Rs 3.74 lakh crore. 

  • Relief to borrowers in repayment of loans:  All banks and financial institutions (including NBFCs) are permitted to grant a moratorium of three months on payment of all term loan instalments (including agricultural, retail and crop loans) and interest on working capital loans (such as overdraft facilities), which are due between March 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020.  

Short term credit to states

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has constituted an Advisory Committee to review the Ways and Means Advances (WMA) limits for states and UTs. WMA limits refer to temporary loans given by the RBI to state governments. Until the Committee submits its final recommendations, the WMA limit has been increased by 30% from the existing limit, for all states and UTs. The revised limits will be in force between April 1 and September 30, 2020.[16]


The central government has set up a national fund to deal with emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.  The public charitable trust known as the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) will provide relief to those affected by COVID-19.  The trust is chaired by the Prime Minister and includes members such as the Defence Minister, Home Minister, and Finance Minister.[17]

Donations made by a person to the PM CARES Fund are 100% tax deductible.[18]  Non-residents can also contribute to the Fund through foreign inward remittances.[19] 

Health measures

COVID-19 testing 

Currently, government facilities are offering free of cost diagnosis to all individuals with COVID-19 symptoms.[20]  Further, the government has approved certain private laboratories to test individuals for COVID-19.  The cost of screening in private labs may not exceed Rs 4,500.[21]   As of April 7, there are 136 government testing centres for analysing samples of COVID-19 and 3 additional collection centres.[22]   Further, there were 59 private labs offering testing in 12 states.  These states are Delhi, Maharashtra, Kerala, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Karnataka, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Gujarat.[23]

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has also laid down guidelines for those who may be tested at these laboratories.   These include: (i) symptomatic contacts of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, and (ii) symptomatic persons with a travel history to COVID-19 affected countries, (iii) symptomatic healthcare workers, and (iv) persons with severe respiratory diseases.21

Containment plan for large outbreaks

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has created a plan to contain the spread of the COVID-19 disease.  Some of the measures suggested in the plan include:[24] 

  • Geographic quarantine:   This strategy requires the restriction of movement of people to and from a defined geographic area where there is a large outbreak.  

  • Cluster Containment:  This strategy will contain the disease within a defined geographic area by early detection of cases.  Cluster containment will include geographic quarantine, social distancing, testing all suspected cases, and awareness amongst the public. 

Restrictions on export of medicines and medical equipment

The central government placed restrictions on the export of certain medical equipment and medication so as to ensure its availability in India.  For example, the export of ventilators, surgical masks, diagnostic kits, and medications such as paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine is restricted.[25],[26],[27],[28]

Travel restrictions

Domestic and international travel banned; issue of visas suspended

Civil Aviation:  All passenger domestic air travel within the country is banned from March 24 till April 14, 2020.[29],[30]  All international commercial passenger travel has been banned till April 14, 2020 (cargo and certain other flights are exempted).[31]  All existing visas issued to nationals of any country except those issued to diplomats, officials, UN/international organisations, employment and project visas are suspended from March 13 till April 15, 2020.[32] 

Railways:  Indian Railways suspended all passenger trains till April 14, 2020.[33]  Transportation of essential commodities will continue.[34]  Railways has also made parcel vans available for quick transportation for e-commerce companies and other customers including state governments to transport certain goods.   These include medical supplies, medical equipment, food, etc. in small parcel sizes.[35]  

For a detailed summary of the main policy decisions taken by the central government with regard to COVID-19, please see here.

For more information on the spread of COVID-19 and the central and state government response to the pandemic, please see here.

[1] Novel coronavirus outbreak in China, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, January 17, 2020, https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/TraveladvisorytotravelersvisitingChina17012020.pdf.

[2] Ministry of Health and Family Welfare website, last accessed on March 31, 2020, https://www.mohfw.gov.in/index.html.

[3] Order No. 1-29/2020-PP, National Disaster Management Authority, March 24, 2020, https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/ndma%20order%20copy.pdf.

[4] Order No. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A), Ministry of Home Affairs, March 24, 2020, https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/MHAorder%20copy.pdf.

[5] “Guidelines on measures to be taken by Ministries/Department of Government of India, State/Union Territory Governments and State/Union Territory Authorities for containment of COVID-19 Epidemic in the Country”, Ministry of Home Affairs, March 24, 2020, https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/Guidelines.pdf.

[6] Second Addendum to Order No. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A), Ministry of Home Affairs, March 24, 2020, https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/PR_SecondAddendum_27032020.pdf.

[7] “Consolidated Guidelines on the measures to be taken by Ministries/Departments of Government of India, State/Union Territory Governments and State/Union Territory Authorities for containment of COVID-10 Epidemic in the Country, as notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 24.03.2020 and further modified on 25.03.2020 and 27.03.2020”, Ministry of Home Affairs, https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/PR_ConsolidatedGuidelinesofMHA_28032020.pdf.

[8] D.O. No. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A), Ministry of Home Affairs, March 29, 2020,

[9] Order No. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A), Ministry of Home Affairs, March 29, 2020, https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/MHA%20Order%20restricting%20movement%20of%20migrants%20and%20strict%20enforement%20of%20lockdown%20measures%20-%2029.03.2020.pdf.

[10] “Finance Minister announces Rs 1.70 Lakh Crore relief package under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana for the poor to help them fight the battle against Corona Virus”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Finance, March 26, 2020.

[11] “Monetary and Fiscal policy response by Government of Indian and Regulators”, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, March 27, 2020, https://dea.gov.in/sites/default/files/India%20economic%20policy%20response%20on%20%20COVID%2019%20Fiscal%20and%20Monetary%20as%20on%2027032020.pdf.

[12] “Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package: Insurance Scheme for Health Workers Fighting COVID-19”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, March 29, 2020. 

[13] Seventh Bi-Monthly Policy Statement 2019-20”, Press Release, Reserve Bank of India, March 27, 2020, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PressRelease/PDFs/PR2129F5E23A447E0F4A00955429716C53F5A2.PDF.

[14] “Statement on Developmental and Regulatory Practices”, Reserve Bank of India, Press Releases, March 27, 2020, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=49582.

[15] “COVID-19 – Regulatory Package”, Notifications, Reserve Bank of India, March 27, 2020, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=11835.

[16] RBI announces further measures for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Reserve Bank of India, April 1, 2020, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PressRelease/PDFs/PR2167BA409AC37FA8460497BA0C9B283E5DD9.PDF.

[17] Appeal to generously donate to ‘Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund)’, Press Information Bureau, Prime Minister’s Office, March 28, 2020, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1608851.

[18] The Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation of Certain Provisions) Ordinance, 2020, Gazette of India, Ministry of Law and Justice, March 31, 2020, http://www.egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2020/218979.pdf.

[19] Rupee Drawing Arrangement – Remittance to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM-CARES) Fund, Reserve Bank of India, April 3, 2020, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/Notification/PDFs/NOT2087A69F5158C174585A46C69B78BD96DBD.PDF.

[20] Strategy for COVID-19 testing in India, India Council for Medical Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, March 17, 2020, https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/LabTestingAdvisory.pdf.

[21] Guidelines for COVID-19 testing in private laboratories in India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, March 21, 2002 https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/NotificationofICMguidelinesforCOVID19testinginprivatelaboratoriesiIndia.pdf.

[22] Government Approved Laboratories by ICMR, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, April 7, 2020.  https://icmr.nic.in/sites/default/files/upload_documents/Govt_Labs_functional_for_COVID19_testing_05042020.pdf.

[23] Private Approved Laboratories by ICMR, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, April 7, 2020.  https://icmr.nic.in/sites/default/files/upload_documents/Private_Labs_06042020.pdf

[24] Containment Plan for Large Outbreaks, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, April 4, 2020, https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/3ContainmentPlanforLargeOutbreaksofCOVID19Final.pdf.

[25] S.O. 1171(E), Amendment in Export Policy of Masks, Ventilators and textile raw material for masks and coveralls, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, March 19, 2020, http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2020/218857.pdf

[26] S.O. 955(E), Amendment in Export Policy of APIs and formulations made from these APIs, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, March 3, 2020, http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2020/216551.pdf.

[27] Notification no. 01/2015-2020, Amendment in Export Policy of Hydroxychloroquine, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, April 4, 2020, https://prsindia.org/files/covid19/notifications/1492.IND_Export_Restriction_Hydroxychloroquine_Apr_4.pdf

[28] Notification no. 59/2015-2020, Amendment in Export Policy of Diagnostic Kits, April 4, 2020, https://prsindia.org/files/covid19/notifications/1491.IND_Export_Restriction_Diagnostic_Kits_Apr_4.pdf.

[29] AV. 11011/1/2020-US(AG) Office-MOCA, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 23, 2020, https://www.civilaviation.gov.in/sites/default/files/Revised-%20COVID-19%20-%20Order%20under%20Section%208B.pdf.

[30] No.4/1/2020-IR, Director General of Civil Aviation, March 27, 2020, https://dgca.gov.in/digigov-portal/Upload?flag=iframeAttachView&attachId=130618666

[31] No.4/1/2020-IR, Director General of Civil Aviation, March 26, 2020, https://dgca.gov.in/digigov-portal/Upload?flag=iframeAttachView&attachId=130618625

[32] No.4/1/2020-IR, Director General of Civil Aviation, January 30 to March 17, 2020, https://dgca.gov.in/digigov-portal/Upload?flag=iframeAttachView&attachId=130617742

[33] “Ministry of Railways extends Cancellation of Passenger Train Services till 2400 hrs of 14th April, 2020”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Railways, March 25, 2020. 

[34] “Transportation of essential commodities to various parts of the country by Indian Railways continues at full speed”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Railways, March 30, 2020.  

[35] “Indian Railways to run Special Parcel Trains for carriage of essential items in small parcel sizes during the complete lockdown in fight against COVID-19”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Railways, March 29, 2020.  

Recent rise in LPG prices

Last week, oil-marketing companies (or OMCs, such as Indian Oil Corporation Limited and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited) raised the price of domestic LPG in the country. [1]  The price of a domestic cylinder (14.2kg) has increased from Rs 714 in January 2020 to Rs 858.5 in February 2020.  This is a 20% hike in the price of a LPG cylinder.  Note that this is the sixth consecutive month for which LPG prices have been revised upwards.  Figure 1 shows the variation in price of a domestic (non-subsidised) LPG cylinder in Delhi over the last year.

Figure 1: Variation in price of non-subsidised domestic LPG cylinder


Sources:  Indian Oil and Corporation Limited; PRS.

How is the price of LPG cylinders determined?

LPG prices are revised every month.  The price is determined by public sector OMCs namely, Indian Oil Corporation Limited, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, in line with the changes in the international market prices and other market conditions. [2]  The international market price affects the import parity price of petroleum products (the price that importers pay for import of product at the respective Indian ports).  This includes exchange rate, ocean freight, insurance and customs duty among others.

The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has stated that the recent hike in the price of LPG cylinder is due to a sharp rise in international LPG prices during January 2020 (from USD 448/Metric Tonne to USD 567/Metric Tonne). [3] 

What is the difference between the price of a subsidised and non-subsidised cylinder?

The price determined by the OMCs reflects the price of a non-subsidised domestic LPG cylinder.  The government modulates the effective price to provide subsidised LPG cylinders to consumers under the 'Pratyaksha Hastaantarit Laabh' direct benefit transfer (or DBT-PAHAL) scheme. [4]   Under the scheme, a consumer (with annual income of up to Rs 10 lakh) can avail DBT cash-subsidy for a LPG cylinder.   The beneficiaries buy LPG cylinders at market rate and subsequently receive subsidy directly in their bank accounts.  

With the recent increase in price of a LPG cylinder, the government has increased the subsidy amount for PAHAL consumers from Rs. 153.86 per cylinder to Rs. 291.48 per cylinder (89% increase).3   This is done to ensure that the subsidized LPG consumers are insulated from the volatility of LPG prices in the international market.  Table 1 shows the amount of subsidy provided by the government for LPG cylinder.  Note that price of a subsidised cylinder has increased from Rs 494 to Rs 567 (14.8%) from February 2019 to February 2020. 

Table 1: Difference between the price of subsidised and non-subsidised LPG cylinder

As on

Non-subsidised cylinder

Subsidised cylinder


February 2018

Rs 736.00

Rs 495.63

Rs 240.37

February 2019

Rs 659.00

Rs 493.53

Rs 165.47

February 2020

Rs 858.50

Rs 567.02

Rs 291.48

Sources: Unstarred Question No.1211, February 13, 2019, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Rajya Sabha.
 Note: Prices are at Delhi. 

How many people avail the subsidy on LPG cylinders?

Currently, there are a total of 27.16 crore LPG (domestic) connections in the country.3  Of these, 26.12 crore (94%) consumers are beneficiaries under the PAHAL scheme, and therefore, can avail LPG cylinders at subsidised rates.  Note that, under the scheme, a maximum of 12 subsidised cylinders per year can be availed under one connection.  Further, a household cannot have more than one connection. 

What is the cost of subsidy for the government?

The subsidy on domestic LPG is met through the budgetary grants of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.  In 2020-21, the government is estimated to spend Rs 37,256 crore on LPG subsidy.   This includes Rs 35,605 crore for DBT-PAHAL and Rs 1,118 crore for Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.  This is an increase of 9.3% from the expenditure in 2019-20 of Rs 34,086 crore (revised estimate).  Note that LPG subsidy constitutes 87% of the Ministry's total budget (Rs 42,901 crore).   

Figure 2 below shows the year-wise expenditure on LPG subsidy, and as a proportion of the total budget of the Ministry from 2015-16 to 2020-21. 

Figure 2: LPG subsidy over the years (2015-16 to 2020-21). 

Sources: Union Budget Documents; PRS.

For more trends and analysis related to the finances of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, see  here

[1] "LPG price hiked by Rs 144.5 per cylinder", Economic Times, February 12, 2020,  https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/energy/oil-gas/lpg-price-hiked-by-rs-144-5-per-cylinder/articleshow/74096745.cms.

[2] Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell,  https://www.ppac.gov.in/content/137_3_Faq.aspx.

[3] "LPG Price is Derived based on International Market Price", Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, February 13, 2020. 

[4] PAHAL-Direct Benefits Transfer for LPG (DBTL) Consumers Scheme, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas,  http://petroleum.nic.in/dbt/whatisdbtl.html.

Recommendations of the 15th Finance Commission for 2020-21

The Finance Commission is a constitutional body formed by the President of India to give suggestions on centre-state financial relations.  The 15th Finance Commission is required to submit two reports.  The  first report will consist of recommendations for the financial year 2020-21.  The final report with recommendations for the 2021-26 period will be submitted by October 30, 2020. In this post, we explain the key recommendations of the report.  

What is the amount of tax devolution to the states, and how is it being calculated?

The Finance Commission uses certain criteria when deciding the devolution to states.  For example, income distance criterion has been used by the 14th and 15th Finance Commissions.  Under this criterion, states with lower per capita income would be given a higher share to maintain equity among states.  Another example is Demographic Performance criterion which has been introduced by the 15th Finance Commission.  The Demographic Performance criterion is to reward efforts made by states in controlling their population. 

The 15th Finance Commission used the following criteria while determining the share of states: (i) 45% for the income distance, (ii) 15% for the population in 2011, (iii) 15% for the area, (iv) 10% for forest and ecology, (v) 12.5% for demographic performance, and (vi) 2.5% for tax effort.  For 2020-21, the Commission has recommended a total devolution of Rs 8,55,176 crore to the states, which is 41% of the divisible pool of taxes.  This is 1% lower than the percentage recommended by the 14th Finance Commission.  

Table 1 below compares the new criteria with the criteria recommended by the 14th Finance Commission.

 Table 1: Criteria for devolution (2020-21)


14th FC


15th FC


Income Distance



Population 1971



Population 2011






Forest Cover



Forest and Ecology



Demographic Performance



Tax Effort






 Sources: Report for the year 2020-21, 15th Finance Commission; PRS.

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have received the largest devolutions for 2020-21, receiving Rs 1,53,342 crore, and Rs 86,039 crore respectively.   Karnataka and Kerala saw the largest decreases in the share of the divisible pool with a decrease of 0.49% and 0.25% respectively.  Table 2 below displays the state-wise breakdown of the share in the divisible pool and the total devolution.

Table 3: Share of states in the centre’s taxes


14th Finance Commission

15th Finance Commission

Devolution for FY 2020-2021

Share out of 42%

Share in divisible pool

Share out of 41%

Share in divisible pool

(In Rs crore)

Andhra Pradesh






Arunachal Pradesh










































Himachal Pradesh






Jammu and Kashmir
























Madhya Pradesh




























































Tamil Nadu


















Uttar Pradesh












West Bengal












Sources: Reports of 14th and 15th Finance Commission; PRS.

What are the various grants recommended by the 15th Finance Commission?

The Terms of Reference of the Finance Commission require it to recommend grants-in-aid to the States.  These grants include: (i) revenue deficit grants, (ii) grants to local bodies, and (iii) disaster management grants.

14 states are estimated to face a revenue deficit post-devolution.  To make up for this deficit, the Commission has recommended revenue deficit grants worth Rs 74,341 crore to these 14 states.  Additionally, three states (Karnataka, Mizoram, and Telangana) have received special grants worth Rs 6,674 crore.  The special grants are being given to compensate for a decline in the sum of tax devolution and revenue deficit grants in 2020-21 as compared to 2019-20.

The Commission has recommended a total of Rs 90,000 crore for grants to the local bodies in 2020-21.  This amounts to an increase over the Rs 87,352 crore allocated for 2019-20 for the same.  The new allocation is 4.31% of the divisible pool.  Of this sum, Rs 60,750 crore has been recommended for rural local bodies, and Rs 29,250 crore for urban local bodies.  These grants will be made available to all three tiers of Panchayat- village, block, and district.

To promote local-level mitigation activities, the Commission has recommended the setting up of National and State Disaster Management Funds.  Recommended grants for the State Disaster Risk Management Fund is Rs 28,983 crore, while the allocation for the National Disaster Risk Management Fund is Rs 12,390 crore.

Apart from these, guidelines for performance-based grants and sector-specific grants have been outlined.  The Commission has recommended a grant of Rs 7,375 crore for nutrition in 2020-21.  Sectors for which sector-specific grants will be provided in the final report include: (i) nutrition, (ii) health, (iii) pre-primary education, (iv) judiciary, and (v) railways.  

For more details, please see our  summary of the report.


Tenure and salaries of CIC and ICs under the Right to Information Rules, 2019

The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019 amended the Right to Information Act, 2005.  The RTI Act, 2005 specified the tenure, terms of service and salaries of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs) at the central and state levels, in the parent law.  The RTI (Amendment) Act, 2019 removed these provisions and stated that the central government will notify the term and quantum of salary through rules.[1],[2]  

The Right to Information Rules, 2019 were notified on October 24, 2019.[3]  These rules set out the tenure, terms of service and salaries of the CIC and ICs at the state and central levels.  Table 1 compares the provisions related to the tenure and salary of the CIC and ICs under the Right to Information Act, 2005 and the Right to Information Rules, 2019

Table 1:  Comparison of the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and the Right to Information Rules, 2019


RTI Act, 2005

RTI Rules, 2019


The CIC and ICs (at the central and state level) will hold office for a term of five years. 

The CIC and ICs (at the central and state level) will hold office for a term of three years. 


The salary of the CIC and ICs (at the central level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners (Rs 2,50,000 per month)

Similarly, the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the state level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Election Commissioners (Rs 2,50,000 per month) and the Chief Secretary to the state government (Rs 2,25,000 per month), respectively. 

The CIC and ICs (at the central level) shall receive a pay of Rs. 2,50,000 and Rs. 2,25,000 per month, respectively.





CICs and ICs (at the state level) shall receive a pay of Rs. 2,25,000 per month.

Source: The Right to Information (Term of Office, Salaries, Allowances and Other Terms and Conditions of Service of Chief Information Commissioner, Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission, State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners in the State Information Commission) Rules, 2019; The High Court and the Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Act, 2017; Indian Administrative Services (Pay) Rules, 2016; PRS.


[1] Right to Information Act, 2005, https://rti.gov.in/rti-act.pdf.

[2] Right to Information (Amendment Act), 2019, file:///C:/Users/Dell/Downloads/The%20Right%20to%20Information%20(Amendment)%20Bill,%202019%20Text.pdf.

[3] The Right to Information (Term of Office, Salaries, Allowances and Other Terms and Conditions of Service of Chief Information Commissioner, Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission, State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners in the State Information Commission) Rules, 2019, http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/213438.pdf.

Ban on cryptocurrencies: Understanding the proposed legislation

In July, a Committee set up by the Ministry of Finance to study issues related to virtual currencies, submitted its report.  The Committee recommended that all private cryptocurrencies should be banned in India.  Correspondingly, the Committee proposed a draft Bill banning cryptocurrency in the country.  In this blog, we explain cryptocurrencies and how they are used, recommendations of the Committee with respect to cryptocurrencies and the regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies in India and other countries.

What are virtual currencies and what is their use?

Virtual currency is a digitally tradable form of value, which can be used as a medium of exchange, or a stored value which can be utilised later.  It does not have the status of a legal tender.  A legal tender is guaranteed by the central government and all parties are legally bound to accept it as a mode of payment.

Cryptocurrency is a specific type of virtual currency, which is decentralised and protected by cryptographic encryption techniques.  Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple are a few notable examples of cryptocurrencies.  Decentralisation implies that there is no central authority where records of transactions are maintained.  Instead, anyone can create a transaction.  This transaction data is recorded and shared across multiple distributor networks, through independent computers as shown in Figure 1.  This technology is known as Distributed Ledger Technology.

Figure 1: Distributed Ledger Technology

  The Committee noted that there are two principal ways in which cryptocurrencies are raising money.  First, through Initial Coin Offerings, where digital tokens are issued in exchange for other currencies.  Second, through using it as a means of exchange or a payment system.  As of February 2019, there were more than 2,000 cryptocurrencies across the world, with a market capitalisation of approximately USD 120 billion.

Why has the Committee recommended banning of cryptocurrencies?

The Committee noted various regulatory concerns around virtual currencies, and cryptocurrencies in particular.  These include:

Fluctuation in prices: Cryptocurrencies are subjected to market fluctuations and the lack of a centralised authority makes it difficult to regulate them.  For instance, in December 2017, the value of Bitcoin cryptocurrency was around USD 20,000 per coin, which reduced to USD 3,800 per coin by November 2018.  The Ministry of Finance, in a press statement, noted that the price of virtual currencies is a matter of mere speculation resulting in spurt and volatility in their prices.

Risk to consumers: The Committee also noted that there are several vulnerabilities in the design of cryptocurrencies which leave consumers open to risk of fraud.  These include phishing cyber-attacks and ponzi schemes.  For instance, a Rs 2,000 crore ponzi scheme was unveiled in April 2018.  Further, cryptocurrency transactions are irreversible, which means once a transaction is done, there is no way to remedy it.

Impact on power consumption: The Committee also observed that cryptocurrencies can have unfavourable consequences on India’s energy demand.  Validating transactions in a distributed network involves high electricity consumption and requires high computation power.  The Committee noted a study which estimated that 19 households in USA can be powered for one day by the electricity consumed in a single transaction of bitcoin cryptocurrency.

Potential use for criminal activity: The Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental organisation to combat money laundering, in its report (2014) observed that virtual currencies provide greater anonymity than traditional payment methods.  This makes them more vulnerable to money-laundering and illicit funding for terror financing.  The Committee noted that the decentralised nature and the anonymity which cryptocurrencies provide makes it difficult for law enforcement authorities to track down people involved in illicit activities.  

Is there any country which has permitted use of cryptocurrencies?

Different countries have adopted different regulatory frameworks with respect to cryptocurrencies.  Some countries have permitted the use of cryptocurrencies as a payment system while there is a complete ban on cryptocurrencies in some others.  Note that no country has allowed use of any virtual currency as legal tender.

Table 1: Regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies in different countries


Regulatory Framework


Permitted as a payment system and as a form of investment, income from it is taxed


Permitted as a payment system (including consumer to government transactions) and as a form of investment


Permitted and regulated as a payment system


Use of cryptocurrency is banned for all purposes

What are the present regulations in India with respect to cryptocurrencies?

In the last few years, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has notified the potential financial, operational, legal and security risks related to cryptocurrencies on multiple occasions (December 2013, February 2017 and December 2017).  In December 2017, the Ministry of Finance issued a statement which clarified that virtual currencies are not legal tender and do not have any regulatory permission or protection in India.  Further, the investors and participants dealing with them are doing so entirely at their risk and should best avoid participating.  In the 2018-19 budget speech, the Finance Minister announced that the government does not consider cryptocurrencies as legal tender and will take all measures to eliminate their use in financing illegitimate activities or as a part of payment system.  In April 2018, RBI notified that entities regulated by it should not deal in virtual currencies or provide services for facilitating any person or entity in dealing with or settling virtual currencies.

How does the draft Bill proposed by the Committee change these regulations?

Currently, only the entities regulated by the central bank are prohibited from dealing in, or providing services for dealing in virtual currencies.  The draft Bill prohibits any form of mining (creating cryptocurrency), issuing, buying, holding, selling or dealing in cryptocurrency in the country.  Further, it provides that cryptocurrency should not be used as legal tender or currency in India.  The Bill allows for the use of technology or processes underlying cryptocurrency for the purpose of experiment, research or teaching. 

The Bill also provides for offences and punishments for the contravention of its provisions.  For instance, it states that mining, holding, selling, issuing or using cryptocurrency is punishable with a fine, or imprisonment up to 10 years, or both.  For individuals who might be in possession of cryptocurrencies, the Bill provides for a transition period of 90 days from the commencement of the Act, during which a person may dispose of any cryptocurrency in their possession, as per the notified rules.

Are there any areas where the Committee recommended use of cryptocurrencies?

According to the Committee, while cryptocurrencies or virtual currencies do not offer any advantages, the underlying technology behind them (Distributed Ledger Technology, DLT) has many potential applications, both in finance and non-finance sectors.  Some of these are listed in Table 2.  The Committee observed that DLT makes it easier to identify duplicate transactions, and therefore can be utilised for fraud-detection, processing KYC requirements, and claim management for insurance.  Further, it can be helpful for removing errors and frauds in land markets, if used for maintaining land records.  The Committee was also of the view that the idea of an official digital currency in India can be explored further, and that the government may setup a group to examine and develop an appropriate model of digital currency in India.

Table 2: Applications of Distributed Ledger Technology


Possible uses of DLT


Faster and cheaper cross-border payments

Reduced transaction cost for micro-payments


Storing personal records such as birth, marriage or death certificates

Removing duplicates in identification platforms such as KYC


Fraud detection and risk prevention

Claims prevention and management

Ownership registries

Removing errors and frauds in land markets

Administrative ease of maintaining land records

Trade Financing

Reduced operational complexity and transaction costs

Explaining the draft Bill on violence against healthcare professionals and clinical establishments

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a draft Bill to address incidences of violence against healthcare professionals and damage to the property of clinical establishments.  Public comments on the draft Bill are invited till the end of September.  In this context, we discuss key provisions of the draft Bill below.

What does the draft Bill seek to do?

The draft Bill prohibits any acts of violence committed against healthcare service personnel including doctors, nurses, para medical workers, medical students, and ambulance drivers, among others.  It also prohibits any damage caused to hospitals, clinics, and ambulances. 

Under the draft Bill, violence means any act which may cause: (i) harm, injury or danger to the life of a healthcare service personnel, while discharging their duty, (ii) obstruction or hindrance to healthcare service personnel, while discharging their duty, and (ii) loss or damage to any property or documents in a clinical establishment. 

What are the penalties for committing such acts of violence?

Currently, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides for penalties for any harm caused to an individual or any damage caused to property.  Further, the Code prescribes penalties for causing grievous hurt i.e., permanent damage to another individual.  The draft Bill additionally specifies penalties for similar offences caused to healthcare professionals and clinical establishments. 

Under the draft Bill, any person who commits violence, or abets such violence may be punished with imprisonment between six months to five years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees.  However, if any person causes grievous hurt to a healthcare service professional, he will be imprisoned for a period between three years to ten years, along with a fine between two lakh rupees and Rs 10 lakh.  Note that, currently under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, an individual who commits grievous hurt is punishable with imprisonment of up to seven years, along with a fine.

In addition to the punishment for offences committed under the draft Bill, the convicted person will also be liable to pay compensation to the affected parties.  This includes: (i) payment of twice the amount of the market value of the damaged property, (ii) one lakh rupees for causing hurt to healthcare service personnel, and (iii) five lakh rupees for causing grievous hurt to healthcare service personnel.  In case of non-payment of compensation, the amount may be recovered under the Revenue Recovery Act, 1890.  The Act provides for recovering certain public arrears by attaching the property of an individual. 

How will these cases of violence be investigated?

All offences under the draft Bill will be cognizable (i.e., a police officer can arrest without a warrant) and non-bailable.  An aggrieved healthcare service professional can write a request to the person-in-charge of the clinical establishment to inform the police of an offence committed under the draft Bill.  Further, any case registered under this Bill will be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.

This Bill is currently in the draft stage and has been released for comments by stakeholders and experts in the field.  The draft will be revised to incorporate such suggestions.  Note that, comments can be emailed to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare at us-ms-mohfwnic.in by the end of September.

Examining pendency of cases in the Judiciary

Yesterday, Parliament passed a Bill to increase the number of judges in the Supreme Court from 30 to 33 (excluding the Chief Justice of India).  The Bill was introduced in view of increasing pendency of cases in the Supreme Court.  In 2012, the Supreme Court approved the Scheme of National Court Management System to provide a framework for case management.  The scheme estimated that with an increase in literacy, per capita income, and population, the number of new cases filed each year may go up to 15 crore over the next three decades, which will require at least 75,000 judges.  In this blog, we analyse the pendency of cases at all three levels of courts, i.e. the Supreme Court, the Highs Courts, and the subordinate courts, and discuss the capacity of these courts to dispose of cases.

Pendency in courts has increased over the years; 87% of all pending cases are in subordinate courts

Sources:  Court News, 2006, Supreme Court of India; National Data Judicial Grid accessed on August 7, 2019; PRS.

Overall, the pendency of cases has increased significantly at every level of the judicial hierarchy in the last decade.  Between 2006 and now, there has been an overall increase of 22% (64 lakh cases) in the pendency of cases across all courts.  As of August 2019, there are over 3.5 crore cases pending across the Supreme Court, the High Courts, and the subordinate courts.  Of these, subordinate courts account for over 87.3% pendency of cases, followed by 12.5% pendency before the 24 High Courts.  The remaining 0.2% of cases are pending with the Supreme Court.  The primary reason for growing pendency of cases is that the number of new cases filed every year has outpaced the number of disposed of cases.  This has resulted in a growing backlog of cases.

In High Courts and subordinate courts, over 32 lakh cases pending for over 10 years








Sources:  National Data Judicial Grid accessed on August 7, 2019; Court News, 2006-17, Supreme Court of India; PRS.

In the High Courts, over 8.3 lakh cases have been pending for over 10 years.  This constitutes 19% of all pending High Court cases.  Similarly, in the subordinate courts, over 24 lakh cases (8%) have been pending for over 10 years.  Overall, Allahabad High Court had the highest pendency, with over seven lakh cases pending as of 2017.

Despite high pendency, some High Courts have managed to reduce their backlog.  Between 2006 and 2017, pendency of cases reduced the most in Madras High Court at a rate of 26%, followed by Bombay High Court at 24%.  Conversely, during the same period, the pendency of cases doubled in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, and increased by 2.5 times in Karnataka High Court.

As a result of pendency, number of under-trials in prison is more than double that of convicts

Sources:  Prison Statistics in India, 2015, National Crime Record Bureau; PRS.

Over the years, as a result of growing pendency of cases for long periods, the number of undertrials (accused awaiting trial) in prisons has increased.  Prisons are running at an over-capacity of 114%.  As of 2015, there were over four lakh prisoners in jails.  Of these, two-thirds were undertrials (2.8 lakh) and the remaining one-third were convicts. 

The highest proportion of undertrials (where the number of inmates was at least over 1,000) were in J&K (85%), followed by Bihar (82%).  A total of 3,599 undertrials were detained in jails for more than five years.  Uttar Pradesh had the highest number of such undertrials (1,364) followed by West Bengal (294). 

One interesting factor to note is that more criminal cases are filed in subordinate courts than in High Courts and Supreme Court.  Of the cases pending in the subordinate courts (which constitute 87% of all pending cases), 70% of cases were related to criminal matters.  This increase in the pendency of cases for long periods over the years may have directly resulted in an increase in the number of undertrials in prisons.  In a statement last year, the Chief Justice of India commented that the accused in criminal cases are getting heard after serving out their sentence.

Vacancies in High Courts and Subordinate Courts affect the disposal of cases

Sources:  Court News, 2006-17, Supreme Court of India; PRS.

Vacancy of judges across courts in India has affected the functioning of the judiciary, particularly in relation to the disposal of cases.  Between 2006 and 2017, the number of vacancies in the High Courts has increased from 16% to 37%, and in the subordinate courts from 19% to 25%.  As of 2017, High Courts have 403 vacancies against a sanctioned strength of 1,079 judges, and subordinate courts have 5,676 vacancies against a sanctioned strength of 22,704 judges.  As of 2017, among the major High Courts (with sanctioned strength over 10 judges), the highest proportion of vacancies was in Karnataka High Court at 60% (37 vacancies), followed by Calcutta High Court at 54% (39 vacancies).  Similarly, in major subordinate courts (with sanctioned strength over 100 judges), the highest proportion of vacancies was in Bihar High Court at 46% (835 vacancies), followed by Uttar Pradesh High Court at 42% (1,348 vacancies).

Explainer: The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Bill, 2019

Explainer:  The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Bill, 2019

The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Bill, 2019 was passed by Parliament today.  It replaces an Ordinance that was promulgated in February 2019.  The Bill brings about two major changes in reservation of teaching posts in central educational institutions.  Firstly, it establishes that for the purpose of reservation, a university/college would be considered as one single unit. This means that posts of the same level across all departments (such as assistant professor) in a university would be grouped together when calculating the total number of reserved seats.  Secondly, it extends reservations beyond Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST), to include socially and educationally backward classes (OBC) and economically weaker sections (EWS). 

In this post, we look at how the Bill will impact the reservation of teaching posts in central educational institutions.  

How has teachers’ reservation been implemented in the past?

In 2006, the University Grants Commission (UGC) issued guidelines for teacher reservations in central educational institutions.[1]  These guidelines required central educational institutions to consider a university as one unit for the purpose of reservation.  It stated that reservations would be calculated using a roster system specified by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension.[2]

However, the UGC Guidelines (2006) were challenged in the Allahabad High Court in 2017.  The question before the Court was whether a university should be taken as a unit when applying the roster.[3] The Court found that individual departments should be taken as a unit for the purpose of reservation, instead of universities.  It held that taking a university as a unit could result in some departments having only reserved candidates and others having only unreserved candidates.  Following the judgment, departments were treated as a single unit for reservation at central educational institutions.

In March 2019, the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Ordinance, 2019 was promulgated, and passed as a Bill in July 2019.  The Bill overturns the Allahabad High Court judgment and reverts to the system where a university is regarded as one unit for the purpose of reservation. 

Over the years, there has been deliberation on whether the university or department should be taken as a unit for reservation of teaching posts.  This has to do with the manner in which the roster system [4]specified by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension is applied in both situations.

What was the roster system specified by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension?

The roster system calculates reservation based on cadre strength.  A cadre includes all posts available to be filled within a unit, i.e. either department or university.  For instance, all associate professor positions within a university or within a department would be considered a cadre.

At present, the roster system is applied in two ways, i.e., the 13-point system or the 200-point system. For initial recruitment in both systems, all posts in a cadre are numbered and allocated.  This means that in a cadre with 18 posts, each post will be assigned a number from 1 to 18 and allocated to a particular category, i.e., either SC, ST, OBC, EWS or unreserved.  Therefore, hiring of teachers for all posts takes place on the basis of this list.

However, there are two fundamental differences between the 200 point and 13 point systems.

  1. Cadre size: The 13-point system is applied to cadres with two to 13 posts, and the 200-point roster is applied to cadres with 14 or more posts.
  2. Filling of vacancies: In the 200-point system, once a post is designated as a reserved seat for a specific category (for example, ST), all future vacancies of that post must be filled by a candidate of that category. However, in the 13-point system vacancies are filled in a rotational manner.

When a university is taken as the unit for reservation, the 200-point system is used, as there tend to be more than 13 posts in a university.  However, when a department is taken as a unit, the 13-point system or the 200-point system may be used, depending on the size of the department.

How are the number of reserved seats calculated in the roster system?

For both the systems, the number of seats reserved for SC, ST, OBC, and EWS is determined by multiplying the cadre strength with the percentage of reservation prescribed by the Constitution.  The percentage of reserved seats for each category is as follows:  (i) 7.5% for ST, (ii) 15% for SC, (iii) 27% for OBC, and (iv) 10% for EWS.

If the number of posts needed to be filled is 200, and the percentage of reservation for ST is 7.5%, we would use the following formula to calculate the number of reserved posts for that class:

Number of posts needed to be filled x percentage of reservation/100

= 200 x 7.5/100

= 15

Thus, the number of seats reserved for ST in a cadre with the strength of 200 posts is 15.  Using the same formula, the number of seats reserved for SC is 30, OBC is 54, and EWS is 20.

How are these reserved seats distributed across posts?

To determine the position of each reserved seat in the roster systems, 100 is divided by the percentage of the reservation for each category.  For instance, the OBC quota is 27%.  Therefore, 100/27 = 3.7, that is, approximately every 4th post in the cadre list.   Likewise, SC is approximately every 7th post, ST is approximately every 14th post, and EWS will be approximately every 10th post.

What is the difference in the application of the roster between the department and university systems?

To demonstrate the difference between the department and university systems, a hypothetical example of a university with 200 posts for associate professors, and nine departments with varying number of posts is provided below.

When the university is taken as a unit

If the university is taken as the unit for reservation, then the total number of posts for the reserved categories would be 119 (i.e., 30 for SC, 15 for ST, 54 for OBC, and 20 for EWS), whereas the number of unreserved (UR) seats would be 81.  This is mentioned in Table 1.  The method of calculation of these numbers is based on the roster system prescribed by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension.

Table 1:  No. of posts reserved when university is taken as a unit

Type of Post

No. of Reserved Seats













When departments are taken as separate units

If different departments of a university are taken as separate units for reservation, then the total number of posts for the reserved categories would be 101 (i.e., 25 for SC, 9 for ST, 49 for OBC, and 18 for EWS), whereas the number of unreserved (UR) seats would be 99.  This is mentioned in Table 2.  The method of calculation of these numbers is based on the roster system prescribed by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension.

Table 2:  No. of posts reserved when department is taken as the unit



of posts












































































Note:  Number of posts in each department are hypothetical

As can be seen in the above example, if departments are taken as separate units, there is a decrease in the number of reserved posts.  The number of reserved posts decreased by five for SC, six for ST, five for OBC, and two for EWS.  This example is corroborated by the special leave petition filed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in the Supreme Court against the 2017 order of Allahabad High Court. It demonstrates that the number of reserved seats in Banaras Hindu University (BHU) decreased when departments were taken as separate units.  The number of reserved posts decreased by 170 for SC, 114 for ST, and 90 for OBC.[5] EWS was not included in the reservation system when the BHU numbers were calculated. 

Thus, the trade off between the two systems is as follows. On the one hand, when the university is taken as a unit there is a possibility that some departments would only have reserved candidates and others would have only unreserved candidates. However, when a department is taken as a unit, there is a decrease in the total number of reserved posts within the university.


[1] Circular No. F. 1-5/2006(SCT), University Grants Commission, 2006.

[2] O.M. No. 36012/2/96-Esst. (Res), ‘Reservation Roster- Post based- Implementation of the Supreme Court Judgement in the case of R.K. Sabharwal Vs. State of Punjab, Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension, July 1997, http://documents.doptcirculars.nic.in/D2/D02adm/36012_2_96_Estt(Res).pdf.

[3] Vivekanand Tiwari v. Union of India, Writ petition no.  43260, Allahabad High Court, April 2017.

[4] O.M. No.36039/1/2019-Estt (Res), ‘Reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWSs) in direct recruitment in civil posts and services in the Government of India’, Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension, https://dopt.gov.in/sites/default/files/ewsf28fT.PDF.

[5] Special Leave Petition filed in Supreme Court by Ministry of Human Resource Development, January 2019, as reported in Indian Express, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/simply-put-the-unit-in-teachers-quota-5554261/.

Context to the Supreme Court Order on stressed assets of banks

The increasing Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) in the Indian banking sector has recently been the subject of much discussion and scrutiny.  Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down a circular dated February 12, 2018 issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).  The RBI circular laid down a revised framework for the resolution of stressed assets.  In this blog, we examine the extent of NPAs in India, and recent events leading up to the Supreme Court judgement.

What is the extent and effect of the NPA problem in India?

Banks give loans and advances to borrowers. Based on the performance of the loan, it may be categorised as: (i) a standard asset (a loan where the borrower is making regular repayments), or (ii) a non-performing asset. NPAs are loans and advances where the borrower has stopped making interest or principal repayments for over 90 days.

As of 2018, the total NPAs in the economy stand at Rs 9.6 lakh crore.  About 88% of these NPAs are from loans and advances of public sector banks.  Banks are required to lend a certain percentage of their loans to priority sectors.  These sectors are identified by the RBI and include agriculture, housing, education and small scale industries.[1]  In 2018, of the total NPAs, 22% were from priority sector loans, and 78% were from non-priority sector loans. 

In the last few years, gross NPAs of banks (as a percentage of total loans) have increased from 2.3% of total loans in 2008 to 9.3% in 2017 (see Figure 1). This indicates that an increasing proportion of a bank’s assets have ceased to generate income for the bank, lowering the bank’s profitability and its ability to grant further credit.

Figure 1: Gross NPAs (% of total loans)

Source: Reserve Bank of India; PRS

What has been done to address the problem of growing NPAs?

The measures taken to resolve and prevent NPAs can broadly be classified into two kinds – first, remedial measures for banks prescribed by the RBI for internal restructuring of stressed assets, and second, legislative means of resolving NPAs under various laws (like the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016).

Remedial Measures

Over the years, the RBI has issued various guidelines for banks aimed at the resolution of stressed assets in the economy. These included introduction of certain schemes such as: (i) Strategic Debt Restructuring (which allowed banks to change the management of the defaulting company), and (ii) Joint Lenders’ Forum (where lenders evolved a resolution plan and voted on its implementation).   A summary of the various schemes implemented by the RBI is provided in Table 1. 

Table 1: Non-legislative loan recovery framework

Loan restructuring

  • Banks internally undertake restructuring of loans, if the borrower is unable to repay the amount.  This involves changing the terms of repayment, which includes altering the payment schedule of loans or interest rates.

Corporate Debt Restructuring

  • Allows for restructuring of a borrower’s outstanding loans from more than one bank.  This mechanism is available if the borrower’s outstanding loans are more than Rs 10 crore.[2]

Joint Lender's Forum

  • Lenders evolve an action plan to resolve the NPA of a defaulter.[3]  If 60% of the creditors by value, and 50% of the creditors by number agree, a recovery plan will be implemented.[4]

5:25 Scheme

  • Banks can extend loan term to 25 years based on cash flow of projects for which the loan was given.  Interest rates and other terms of the loans may be readjusted every five years.[5]

Strategic Debt Restructuring

  • Banks convert their debt into equity to hold a majority of shares in a company.  This allows banks to change the management of the defaulting company.[6]

Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets

  • Allows for conversion of a part of the outstanding debt to equity or preference shares if: (i) project for which loan was taken has commenced operations, and (ii) borrower can repay over 50% of the loan.[7]

Sources: RBI scheme guidelines; Economic Survey 2016-17; PRS.

Legislative Measures

  • The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) was enacted in May 2016 to provide a time-bound 180-day recovery process for insolvent accounts. When a default occurs, the creditors or debtor may apply to the National Company Law Tribunal for initiating the resolution process. Once the application is approved, the resolution process will have to be completed within 180 days (extendable by 90 days) from the date of approval.  The resolution process will be presided over by an insolvency professional to decide whether to restructure the loan, or to sell the defaulter’s assets to recover the outstanding amount.  If a timely decision is not arrived at, the defaulter’s assets are liquidated.
  • The Banking Regulation (Amendment) Act, 2017: The amendment allows RBI to direct banks to initiate recovery proceedings against defaulting accounts under the IBC.  Further, under Section 35AA of the Act, RBI may also issue directions to banks for resolution of specific stressed assets. 

In June 2017, an internal advisory committee of RBI identified 500 defaulters with the highest value of NPAs.[8]  The committee recommended that 12 largest non-performing accounts, each with outstanding amounts greater than Rs 5,000 crore and totalling 25% of the NPAs of the economy, be referred for resolution under the IBC immediately.  Proceedings against the 12 largest defaulters have been initiated under the IBC. 

What was the February 12 circular issued by the RBI?

Subsequent to the enactment of the IBC, the RBI put in place a framework for restructuring of stressed assets of over Rs 2,000 crore on or after March 1, 2018.  The resolution plan for such restructuring must be unanimously approved by all lenders and implemented within 180 days from the date of the first default.  If the plan is not implemented within the stipulated time period, the stressed assets are required to be referred to the NCLT under IBC within 15 days.  Further, the framework introduced a provision for early identification and categorisation of stressed assets before they are classified as NPAs.

On what grounds was the RBI circular challenged?

Borrowers whose loans were tagged as NPAs before the release of the circular recently crossed the 180-day deadline for internal resolution by banks. Some of these borrowers, including various power producers and sugar mills, had appealed against the RBI circular in various High Courts. A two-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court ruled in favour of the RBI’s powers to issue these guidelines, and refused to grant interim relief to power producers from being taken to the NCLT for bankruptcy. These batch of petitions against the circular were transferred to the Supreme Court, which issued an order in September 2018 to maintain status quo on the same.

What did the Supreme Court order?

The Court held the circular issued by RBI was outside the scope of the power given to it under Article 35AA of the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Act, 2017.  The Court reasoned that Section 35AA was proposed by the 2017 Act to authorise the RBI to issues directions only in relation to specific cases of default by specific debtors.  It held that the RBI circular issued directions in relation to debtors in general and this was outside their scope of power.  The court also held that consequently all IBC proceedings initiated under the RBI circular are quashed. 

During the proceedings, various companies argued that the RBI circular applies to all corporate debtors alike, without looking into each individual’s sectors problems and attempting to solve them.  For instance, several power companies provided sector specific reasons for delay in payment of bank dues.  The reasons included: (i) cancellation of coal blocks by the SC leading to non-availability of fuel, (ii) lack of enough power purchase agreements by states, (iii) non-payment of dues by DISCOMs, and (iv) delays in project implementation leading to cost overruns.  Note that, in its 40th report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy analysed the impact of the RBI circular on the power sector and noted that the ‘one size fits all’ approach of the RBI is erroneous. 



[1]Priority Sector Lending – Targets and Classification’ Reserve Bank of India, July 2012, https://rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=7460&Mode=0

[2] Revised Guidelines on Corporate Debt Restructuring Mechanism, Reserve Bank of India, https://www.rbi.org.in/upload/notification/pdfs/67158.pdf

[3]Framework for Revitalising Distressed Assets in the Economy – Guidelines on Joint Lenders’ Forum (JLF) and Corrective Action Plan (CAP)’, Reserve Bank of India, February 26, 2016, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=8754&Mode=0

[4] Timelines for Stressed Assets, Press Release, Reserve Bank of India, May 5, 2017, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=10957&Mode=0

[5] Flexible Structuring of Long Term Project Loans to Infrastructure and Core Industries, RBI, July 15, 2014, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=9101&Mode=0

[6] Chapter 4, The Economic Survey 2016-17, http://unionbudget.nic.in/es2016-17/echap04.pdf

[7]RBI introduces a ‘Scheme for Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets’’ Press Release, Reserve Bank of India, June 13, 2016, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=37210

[8] RBI identifies Accounts for Reference by Banks under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), Reserve Bank of India, June 13, 2017, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=40743

Indian Railways rationalises freight fares

Recently, the Indian Railways announced rationalisation of freight fares.  This rationalisation will result in an 8.75% increase in freight rates for major commodities such as coal, iron and steel, iron ore, and raw materials for steel plants. The freight rates were rationalised to ensure additional revenue generation across the network. An additional revenue of Rs 3,344 crore is expected from such rationalisation, which will be utilised to improve passenger amenities. In addition, the haulage charge of containers has been increased by 5% and the freight rates of other small goods have been increased by 8.75%. Freight rates have not been increased for goods such as food grains, flours, pulses, fertilisers, salt, and sugar, cement, petroleum, and diesel. In light of this, we discuss some issues around Railways’ freight pricing.

Railways’ sources of internal revenue

Railways earns its internal revenue primarily from passenger and freight traffic. In 2016-17 (latest actual figures available), freight and passenger traffic contributed to about 63% and 28% of the internal revenue, respectively. The remaining is earned from miscellaneous sources such as parcel service, coaching receipts, and platform tickets.

Freight traffic: Railways majorly transports bulk freight, and the freight basket has mostly been limited to include raw materials for certain industries such as power plants, and iron and steel plants. It generates most of its freight revenue from the transportation of coal (43%), followed by cement (8%), food-grains (7%), and iron and steel (7%). In 2018-19, Railways expects to earn Rs 1,21,950 crore from its freight traffic.

Railways fig1

Passenger traffic:  Passenger traffic is broadly divided into two categories: suburban and non-suburban traffic.  Suburban trains are passenger trains that cover short distances of up to 150 km, and help move passengers within cities and suburbs.  Majority of the passenger revenue (94% in 2017-18) comes from the non-suburban traffic (or the long-distance trains).

Within non-suburban traffic, second class (includes sleeper class) contributes to 67% of the non-suburban revenue.  AC class (includes AC 3-tier, AC Chair Car and AC sleeper) contributes to 32% of the non-suburban revenue.  The remaining 1% comes from AC First Class (includes Executive class and First Class).

Railways’ ability to generate its own revenue has been slowing

The growth rate of Railways’ earnings from its core business of running freight and passenger trains has been declining.  This is due to a decline in the growth of both freight and passenger traffic.  Some of the reasons for such decline include:

Freight traffic growth has been declining, and is limited to a few items

Growth of freight traffic has been declining over the last few years.  It has declined from around 8% in the mid-2000s to a 4% negative growth in mid-2010s, before an estimated recovery to about 5% now.

The National Transport Development Policy Committee (2014) had noted various issues with freight transportation on railways.  For example, Indian Railways does not have an institutional arrangement to attract and aggregate traffic of smaller parcel size.  Further, freight services are run with a focus on efficiency instead of customer satisfaction.  Consequently, it has not been able to capture high potential markets such as FMCGs, hazardous materials, or automobiles and containerised cargo.  Most of such freight is transported by roads.

Figure 2_Railways

The freight basket is also limited to a few commodities, most of which are bulk in nature.  For example, coal contributes to about 43% of freight revenue and 25% of the total internal revenue.  Therefore, any shift in transport patterns of any of these bulk commodities could affect Railways’ finances significantly.

For example, if new coal based power plants are set up at pit heads (source of coal), then the need for transporting coal through Railways would decrease.  If India’s coal usage decreases due to a shift to more non-renewable sources of energy, it will reduce the amount of coal being transported.  Such situations could have a significant adverse impact on Railways’ revenue.

Freight traffic cross-subsidises passenger traffic

In 2014-15, while Railways’ freight business made a profit of about Rs 44,500 crore, its passenger business incurred a net loss of about Rs 33,000 crore.17  The total passenger revenue during this period was Rs 49,000 crore.  This implies that losses in the passenger business are about 67% of its revenue.  Therefore, in 2014-15, for every one rupee earned in its passenger business, Indian Railways ended up spending Rs 1.67.

These losses occur across both suburban and non-suburban operations, and are primarily caused due to: (i) passenger fares being lower than the costs, and (ii) concessions to various categories of passengers.  According to the NITI Aayog (2016), about 77% to 80% of these losses are contributed by non-suburban operations (long-distance trains).  Concessions to various categories of passengers contribute to about 4% of these losses, and the remaining (73-76%) is due to fares being lower than the system costs.

The NITI Aayog (2016) had noted that Railways ends up using profits from its freight business to provide for such losses in the passenger segment, and also to manage its overall financial situation.  Such cross-subsidisation has resulted in high freight tariffs.  The NTDPC (2014) had noted that, in several countries, passenger fares are either higher or almost equal as freight rates.  However, in India, the ratio of passenger fare to freight rate is about 0.3.

Fig 3_Railways

Impact of increasing freight rates

The recent freight rationalisation further increases the freight rates for certain key commodities by 8.75%, with an intention to improve passenger amenities.  Higher freight tariffs could be counter-productive towards growth of traffic in the segment.  The NTDPC report had noted that due to such high tariffs, freight traffic has been moving to other modes of transport.  Further, the higher cost of freight segment is eventually passed on to the common public in the form of increased costs of electricity, steel, etc.  Various experts have recommended that Railways should consider ways to rationalise freight and passenger tariff distortions in a way to reduce such cross-subsidisation.

For a detailed analysis of Railways revenue and infrastructure, refer to our report on State of Indian Railways.