Policy

Can Aadhaar-enabled cash transfer schemes deliver?

Recently, the government announced that it plans to transfer benefits under various schemes directly into the bank accounts of individual beneficiaries.  Benefits can be the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) wages, scholarships, pensions and health benefits.  Beneficiaries shall be identified through the Aadhaar number (Aadhaar is an individual identification number linked to a person’s demographic and biometric information).  The direct cash transfer (DCT) system is going to be rolled out in 51 districts, starting January 1, 2013.  It will later be extended to 18 states by April 1, 2013 and the rest by April 1, 2014 (or earlier).  Presently, 34 schemes have been identified in 43 districts to implement the DCT programme. Currently, the government subsidises certain products (food grains, fertilizers, water, electricity) and services (education, healthcare) by providing them at a lower than market price to the beneficiaries.  This has led to problems such as high fiscal deficit, waste of scarce resources and operational inefficiencies.  The government is considering replacing this with an Aadhaar enabled DCT system.  It has claimed that the new system would ensure timely payment directly to intended beneficiaries, reduce transaction costs and leakages.  However, many experts have criticised both the concept of cash transfer as well as Aadhaar (see here, here, here and here). In this blog, we provide some background information about cash transfer, explain the concept of Aadhaar and examine the pros and cons of an Aadhaar enabled direct cash transfer system. Background on cash transfer Under the direct cash transfer (DCT) scheme, government subsidies will be given directly to the beneficiaries in the form of cash rather than goods.  DCTs can either be unconditional or conditional.  Under unconditional schemes, cash is directly transferred to eligible households with no conditions. For example, pension schemes.  Conditional cash transfers provide cash directly to poor households in response to the fulfillment of certain conditions such as minimum attendance of children in schools.  DCTs provide poor families the choice of using the cash as they wish.  Having access to cash also relieves some of their financial constraints.  Also, DCTs are simpler in design than other subsidy schemes.  Even though cash transfer schemes have a high fixed cost of administration when the programme is set up, running costs are far lower (see here, here and here). Presently, the government operates a number of DCT schemes.  For example, Janani Suraksha Yojana, Indira Awas Yojana and Dhanalaksmi scheme. In his 2011-12 Budget speech, the then Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, had stated that the government plans to move towards direct transfer of cash subsidy for kerosene, Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), and fertilizers.  A task force headed by Nandan Nilekani was set up to work out the modalities of operationalising DCT for these items.  This task force submitted its report in February 2012. The National Food Security Bill, 2011, pending in Parliament, includes cash transfer and food coupons as possible alternative mechanisms to the Public Distribution System. Key features of Aadhaar The office of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was set up in 2009 within the Planning Commission.  In 2010, the government later introduced the National Identification Authority of India Bill in Parliament to give statutory status to this office.

  • The Aadhaar number is a unique identification number that every resident of India (regardless of citizenship) is entitled to get after he furnishes his demographic and biometric information.  Demographic information shall include the name, age, gender and address.  Biometric information shall include some biological attributes of the individual (such as fingerprints and iris scan).  Collection of information pertaining to race, religion, caste, language, income or health is specifically prohibited.
  • The Aadhaar number shall serve as proof of identity, subject to authentication.  However, it should not be construed as proof of citizenship or domicile.
  • Process of issuing and authenticating Aadhaar number: First, information for each person shall be collected and verified after which an Aadhaar number shall be allotted.  Second, the collected information shall be stored in a database called the Central Identities Data Repository.  Finally, this repository shall be used to provide authentication services to service providers.

For a PRS analysis of the Bill, see here. Aadhaar enabled direct cash transfers Advantages Identification through Aadhaar number: Currently, the recipient has to establish his identity and eligibility many times by producing multiple documents for verification.  The verification of such documents is done by multiple authorities.  An Aadhaar enabled bank account can be used by the beneficiary to receive multiple welfare payments as opposed to the one scheme, one bank approach, followed by a number of state governments. Elimination of middlemen: The scheme reduces chances of rent-seeking by middlemen who siphon off part of the subsidy.  In the new system, the cash shall be transferred directly to individual bank accounts and the beneficiaries shall be identified through Aadhaar. Reduction in duplicate and ghost beneficiaries: The Aadhaar number is likely to help eliminate duplicate cards and cards for non-existent persons or ghost beneficiaries in schemes such as the PDS and MNREGS.     Disadvantages Lack of clarity on whether Aadhaar is mandatory:  According to UIDAI, it is not mandatory for individuals to get an Aadhaar number.  However, it does not prevent any service provider from prescribing Aadhaar as a mandatory requirement for availing services.  Therefore, beneficiaries may be denied a service if he does not have the Aadhaar number.  It is noteworthy that the new direct cash transfer policy requires beneficiaries to have an Aadhaar number and a bank account.  However, many beneficiaries do not yet have either.  (Presently, there are 229 million Aadhaar number holders and 147 million bank accounts). Targeting and identification of beneficiaries:  According to the government, one of the key reasons for changing to DCT system is to ensure better targeting of subsidies.  However, the success of Aadhaar in weeding out ‘ghost’ beneficiaries depends on mandatory enrollment.  If enrollment is not mandatory, both authentication systems (identity card based and Aadhaar based) must coexist.  In such a scenario, ‘ghost’ beneficiaries and people with multiple cards will choose to opt out of the Aadhaar system.  Furthermore, key schemes such as PDS suffer from large inclusion and exclusion errors.  However, Aadhaar cannot address errors in targeting of BPL families.  Also, it cannot address problems of MNREGS such as incorrect measurement of work and payment delays. Safeguard for maintaining privacy: Information collected when issuing Aadhaar may be misused if safeguards to maintain privacy are inadequate.  Though the Supreme Court has included privacy as part of the Right to Life, India does not have a specific law governing issues related to privacy.  Also, the authority is required to maintain details of every request for authentication and the response provided.  However, maximum duration for which such data has to be stored is not specified.  Authentication data provides insights into usage patterns of an Aadhaar number holder.  Data that has been recorded over a long duration of time may be misused for activities such as profiling an individual’s behaviour.

Status of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission

On November 28, 2012, the Comptroller and Auditor General submitted its report on the implementation of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).  According to the report most of the projects initiated under JNNURM have not been completed.  For instance with respect to urban infrastructure projects, only 231 projects out of the 1298 sanctioned projects have been completed.  Similarly, with respect to housing projects, only 22 of the 1517 projects have been completed.  Some of the other key recommendations of the report are:

  •  Some of the reasons for the delay in completing the projects include: (i) delay in acquiring land; (ii) deficiency in preparation of projects; and (iii) non-identification of beneficiaries which increased the risk of ineligible beneficiaries getting the benefits.
  •  A total allocation of Rs 66,084 crore had been made by the Planning Commission.  However, against this total allocation, the central government had made an allocation of only Rs 37,070 out of which until March 30, 2011 only Rs 32,934 had been released.
  • There was a delay in releasing these funds to the states.  A large portion of the funds was released only in the last quarter and more particularly in March.
  • The JNNURM guidelines were deficient as they did not provide adequate guidance to the states on the method of parking the funds and utilization of interest.

The need and objectives of JNNURM According to the 2011 census India’s urban population has increased from 286 million in 2001 to 377 million in 2011 .  With the increase in urban population, there is a requirement to improve the urban infrastructure and improve the service delivery mechanisms.  With these specific objectives in mind, the central government launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission 2005-2006.  The aim of the Mission is to encourage reforms and fast track planned development of identified cities (such as cities with a population of more than 1 million as per the 2001 census).  JNNURM has two main components namely : (i) Urban Infrastructure and Governance  and (ii) Urban Infrastructure Development for Small and Medium Towns. The duration of JNNURM was from 2005-06 to 2011-12. However, as the projects have not been completed the Government has extended its duration until March 2014. Funds for JNNURM The funds for JNNURM are provided through the Additional Central Assistance.  This implies that the funds are provided as grants to the states directly from the centre.   In the 2012 Union Budget, the central government has allocated Rs 12,522 crore for JNNURM. This represents around 10 % of the total central assistance through the different schemes to states and union territories in 2012-13. As on June 30 2012, 554 projects at a total cost of Rs 62,253 crore have been sanctioned under the Urban Infrastructure and Governance sub-mission of JNNURM.   The table below shows the status of the sanctioned JNNURM  projects in the different states. State wise status of the projects under JNNURM                 (as on August 6, 2012)

Name of State Total Allocation (Rs Lakh) Number of sanctioned projects Completed Projects
Andhra Pradesh 2,11,845 52 18
Arunachal Pradesh 10,740 3 NA
Assam 27,320 2 NA
Bihar 59,241 8 NA
Chandigarh 27,087 3 NA
Chattisgarh 24,803 1 NA
Delhi 2,82,318 23 4
Goa 12,094 2 NA
Gujarat 2,57,881 72 40
Haryana 32,332 4 NA
Himachal Pradesh 13,066 5 NA
Jammu & Kashmir 48,836 5 NA
Jharkhand 94,120 5 NA
Karnataka 1,52,459 47 22
Kerala 67,476 11 NA
Madhya Pradesh 1,32,850 23 7
Maharashtra 5,50,555 80 21
Manipur 15,287 3 NA
Meghalaya 15,668 2 NA
Mizoram 14,822 4 NA
Nagaland 11,628 3 NA
Orissa 32,235 5 NA
Punjab 70,775 6 1
Puducherry 20,680 2 NA
Rajasthan 74,869 13 2
Sikkim 10,613 2 NA
Tamil Nadu 2,25,066 48 12
Tripura 14,018 2 NA
Uttar Pradesh 2,76,941 33 4
Uttarakhand 40,534 14 NA
West Bengal 3,21,840 69 15

Source: Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission; PRS.

  • Gujarat at 55.55% has the highest number of completed projects, while Uttar Pradesh at 12.24% has the lowest number of completed projects.
  • Out of the larger states, Delhi and Maharashtra at 17% and 26% have a comparatively low rate of completed projects.
  • Maharashtra has the highest number of sanctioned projects, while the North Eastern states, Chattisgarh and Puducherry have the lowest number of sanctioned projects.

National Green Tribunal on Appeal of Forest Clearances

In recent news reports there have been deliberations on whether there is a possibility of appealing a central government decision on forest clearances.  In this context, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed states to comply with the statutory requirement of passing an order notifying diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.  It has also held that it can hear appeals from the orders of state governments and other authorities on forest clearances. The NGT was established in 2010 to deal with cases relating to environmental protection, and conservation of forests and other natural resources.  The need was felt to have a mechanism to hear appeals filed by aggrieved citizens against government orders on forest clearances.  For instance, the NGT can hear appeals against an order of the appellate authority, state government or pollution control board under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. How is a forest clearance obtained? Obtaining a forest clearance is a key step in the process of setting up a project.  Recently the Chhatrasal coal mine allotted to Reliance Power's 4,000 MW Sasan thermal power project in Madhya Pradesh has received forest clearance.  The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) first gives ‘in-principle’ approval to divert forest land for non-forest purposes based on the recommendations of the Forest Advisory Committee.  This approval is subject to the project developer complying with certain conditions.  Once these conditions are complied with, the central government issues the final clearance.  It is only after this clearance that the state government passes an order notifying the diversion of forest land.  The NGT’s decision deals with this point in the process during which an appeal can be filed against the order of forest clearance.  For the flowchart put out by the MoEF on the procedure for obtaining a forest clearance, see here. What was the NGT’s ruling on forest clearances? The NGT was hearing an appeal against a forest clearance given by the MoEF to divert 61 hectares of forest land for a hydroelectric project by GMR in Uttarakhand.  The NGT has ruled  that it does not have the jurisdiction to hear appeals against forest clearances given to projects by the MoEF.  However, the NGT has the power to hear appeals on an order or decision made by a state government or other authorities under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.  The judgment observed that though Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 requires that state governments pass separate orders notifying the diversion of land, this requirement is not being followed.  The NGT has directed that state governments pass a reasoned order notifying the diversion of the forest land for non-forest purposes, immediately after the central government has given its clearance.  This will allow aggrieved citizens to challenge the forest clearance of a project after the state government has passed an order.  Additionally, the NGT has also directed the MoEF to issue a notification streamlining the procedure to be adopted by state governments and other authorities for passing orders granting forest clearance under section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. There are some concerns that an appeal to the NGT can only be made after the state government has passed an order notifying the diversion of forest land and significant resources have been invested in the project. What is the status of applications for forest clearances made to the MoEF? The MoEF has given approval to 1126 proposals that involve the diversion of 15,639 hectares of forest land from July 13, 2011 to July 12, 2012.  The category of projects accorded the most number of approvals was road projects (308) followed by transmission lines (137).  Some of the other categories of projects that received clearance for a significant number of projects were mining, hydel and irrigation projects.  However, most land was diverted for mining related projects i.e., 40% of the total forest land diverted in this period.  Figure 1 shows a break up of the extent of forest land diverted for various categories of projects.  The number of forest clearances pending for decision by the MoEF for applications made in the years 2012, 2011 and 2010 are 197, 129 and 48 respectively. [i]

Source: “Environmental Clearance accorded from 13.07.2011 to 12.07.2012”, October 12, 2012, MoEF.

 

  [1] MoEF,  Rajya Sabha, Unstarred Question no. 2520, September 4, 2012

Arguments regarding FDI in retail

After months of discussion,  the issue of FDI in retail is being deliberated in the Lok Sabha today.  In September 2012, the Cabinet had approved 51% of FDI in multi-brand retail (stores selling more than one brand).  Under these regulations, foreign retail giants like Walmart and Tesco can set up shop in India.  Discussions on permitting FDI in retail have focused on the effect of FDI on unorganised retailers, farmers and consumers. Earlier, the central government commissioned the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) to examine the impact of organised retail on unorganised retail. The Standing Committee on Commerce also tabled a report on Foreign and Domestic Investment in the Retail Sector in May, 2009 while the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) released a discussion paper examining FDI in multi-brand retail in July, 2010.  Other experts have also made arguments – both in support of, and in opposition to, the move to permit FDI in retail sales. The table below summarises some of these arguments from the perspective of various stakeholders as collated from the above reports examining the issue.

Stakeholder

Supporting arguments (source)

Opposing arguments (source)

Unorganised retail
  • No evidence of impact on job losses (ICRIER).
  • The rate of closure of unorganised retail shops (4.2%) is lower than international standards (ICRIER).
  • Evidence from Indonesia and China show that traditional and modern retail can coexist and grow  (Reardon and Gulati).
  • Majority of small retailers keen to remain in operation even after emergence of organised retail (ICRIER).
  •  Unorganised retailers in the vicinity of organised retailers saw their volume of business and profit decline but this effect weakens over time (ICRIER).
  • Other studies have estimated that traditional fruit and vegetable retailers experienced a 20-30% decline in incomes with the presence of supermarkets (Singh).
  • There is potential for employment loss in the value chain. A supermarket may create fewer jobs for the volume of produce handled (Singh).
  • Unemployment to increase as a result of retailers practicing product bundling (selling goods in combinations and bargains) and predatory pricing (Standing Committee).
Farmers
  • Significant positive impact on farmers as a result of direct sales to organised retailers.  For instance, cauliflower farmers receive a 25% higher price selling directly to organised retailers instead of government regulated markets (mandis).  Profits for farmers selling to organised retailers are about 60% higher than when selling to mandis (ICRIER).
  • Organised retail could remove supply chain inefficiencies through direct purchase from farmers and investment in better storage, distribution and transport systems.  FDI, in particular, could bring in new technology and ideas (DIPP).
  •  Current organised retail procures 60-70% from wholesale markets rather than farmers. There has been no significant impact on backend infrastructure investment (Singh).
  • There are other issues like irrigation, technology and credit in agriculture which FDI may not address (Singh).
  • Increased monopolistic strength could force farmers to sell at lower prices (Standing Committee).
Consumers
  • Organised retail lowers prices. Consumer spending increases with the entry of organised retail and lower income groups tend to save more (ICRIER).
  • It will lead to better quality and safety standards of products (DIPP).
  •  Evidence from some Latin American countries (Mexico, Nicaragua, Argentina), Africa (Kenya, Madagascar) and Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, India) reveal that supermarket prices for fruits and vegetables were higher than traditional retail prices (Singh).
  • Even with lower prices at supermarkets, low income households may prefer traditional retailers because they live far from supermarkets, they can bargain with traditional retailers and buy loose items (Singh).
  • Monopolistic power for retailers could result in high prices for consumers.
Source: ICRIER [1.  "Impact of Organized Retailing on the Unorganized Sector", ICRIER, September 2008]; Standing Committee [2.  "Foreign and domestic investment in retail sector", Standing Committee on Commerce, May 13, 2009]; Singh (2011) [3. "FDI in Retail: Misplaced Expectations and Half-truths",  Sukhpal Singh, Economic and Political Weekly, December 17, 2011];  Reardon and Gulati (2008)  [4. "Rise of supermarkets and their development implications," IFPRI Discussion Paper, Thomas Reardon and Ashok Gulati, February 2008.]; DIPP [5. "Discussion Paper on FDI in Multi-brand Retail Trading", Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, July 6, 2010]

 

Power situation in Tamil Nadu and other states

Reports suggest that the first reactor of the Kudankulam power plant is close to operational. With state discoms struggling, advocates of nuclear power see Kudankulam as a necessary boost to India’s struggling power sector.  The Kudankulam power plant will have two reactors.  At full capacity, the plant would produce 2 GW of energy, making it India’s largest nuclear plant, and significantly increasing India’s nuclear capacity (currently at 4.8 GW or 2.3% of  total capacity). Internationally, nuclear power plants contributed 12.3 % of the world's electricity production in 2011.  In terms of number of nuclear reactors, India ranks 6th in the world with 20 nuclear reactors (in seven power stations across five states: Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu).  The Kudankulam power station would be Tamil Nadu’s second power station after the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS). Tamil Nadu is struggling to meet electricity demand, recently moved the Supreme Court, asking the Centre for more power. Peak demand deficit (the difference between electricity supply and demand at peak periods) in the state was 17.5% in 2011-12.  The per capita consumption of electricity in the state was 1,132 kWh in 2009-10, significantly greater than the India average of 779 kWh.  Currently, electricity in Tamil Nadu is fueled by a mixture of coal (35% of capacity), renewable sources (42%) and hydro sources (12%).  A fully operational Kudankulam reactor would boost Tamil Nadu’s capacity by 6% (including state, private and centrally owned generating entities). The interactive table below provides a state-level breakdown of key power sector indicators.  To view data in ascending or descending order, simply click the relevant column heading.  (For a detailed overview of the power sector and even more state-wise statistics, see here.) [table id=4 /]   Source: Central Electricity Authority; Planning Commission; PRS. Note: capacity for states includes allocated shares in joint and central sector utilities. T&D (transmission and distribution) losses refer to losses in electricity in the process of delivery  

FAQ on Civil Aviation

According to a press release, the Ministry of Civil Aviation is considering abolishing the development fee being levied at the Delhi and Mumbai airports.  The Ministry has already asked the Kolkata and Chennai airports not to levy a development fee.  According to the Ministry, this is being done to make air travel more affordable.  Currently, development fee charged at the Delhi Airport ranges from Rs 200 to Rs 1300.  At the Mumbai airport, the fee ranges from Rs 100 to Rs 600. It is pertinent to note that though, the Ministry has proposed abolishing the development fee, the airport operators may still levy a user development fee.  In this blog we discuss some of the aspects of development fee and user development fee. What is a development fee and a user development fee? Development Fee (DF) is primarily intended to fund the establishment or upgradation of an airport.  It is intended to bridge the gap between the cost of the project and the finance available with the airport operator.  Currently only the Mumbai and Delhi Airports levy a DF. However, there are other types of tariffs, such as a user development fee (UDF), which may be levied by the airports. UDF is generally regarded as a revenue enhancing measure.  It is levied by the airport operators to meet operational expenditure Section 22 A of the Airports Authority Act, 1994 (amended in 2003) gives the Airport Authority of India (AAI) the power to levy and collect a development fee on embarking passengers.  The Act provides that the development fee can be utilised only for: (a) funding or financing the upgradation of the airport; (b) establishing a new airport in lieu of the airport at which is levied; and (c) investing in shares of a private airport in lieu of an existing airport . Unlike DF,  UDF is not levied and collected under the Airport Authority of India Act but under Rule 89 of the Aircraft Rules, 1937. Under the Aircraft Rules, UDF may be levied and collected by either the AAI or the private operator.   According to the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority, UDF is levied to ensure that the airport operators can get a fair return on their investments. What is the role of the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority? In 2008, the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) was established to regulate aeronautical tariffs.  Among others, AERA’s functions include determining the amount of DF and UDF for major airports.  In case of non-major airports, the UDF shall be determined by the central government. What has been the role of the Supreme Court? In 2009, the central government permitted the Mumbai and Delhi Airports to levy a DF.  The rate of was prescribed by the central government and not by AERA.  In 2011, the Supreme Court held that this levy of DF was illegal.  The Court based its decision on two grounds. Firstly, the court held that the rate of DF has to be determined by the AERA and not the central government.  Secondly, the Court held that the power to levy the fee lies with the Airport Authority as the development fee can only be utilised for the performance of the purpose specified in the Act.  The court held that while the Airport Authority can utilise the development fee for any of the functions prescribed in the Act, it can assign the power to levy a development fee to a private operator only for funding or financing the upgradation or expansion of the airport. Can private operators collect a development fee and a user development fee? In 2003, the government amended the Airport Authority of India Act to allow the AAI with the prior permission of the central government to: (i) to lease the premises of airports to private entities to undertake some of the functions of the AAI; (ii) levy and collect a development fee on the embarking passengers at a rate that may be prescribed. Till 2011, the power to collect the development fee lay only with the Airport Authority.  However with the notification of the Airports Authority of India (Major Airports) Development Fees Rules, 2011, private operators have also been permitted to collect the development fee.  

Kelkar Fiscal Report - Highlights

Recently, the Kelkar Committee published a roadmap for fiscal consolidation.  The report stresses the need and urgency to address India’s fiscal deficit.  A high fiscal deficit – the excess of government expenditure over receipts – can be problematic for many reasons.  The fiscal deficit is financed by government borrowing; increased borrowing can crowd out funds available for private investment. High government spending can also lead to a rise in price levels.  A full PRS summary of the report can be found here. Recent fiscal trends Last year (2011-12), the central government posted a fiscal deficit of 5.8% (of GDP), significantly higher than the targeted 4.6%.  This is in stark contrast to five years ago in 2007-08, when after embarking on a path of fiscal consolidation the government’s fiscal deficit had shrunk to a 30 year low of 2.5%. In 2008-09, a combination of the Sixth Pay Commission, farmers’ debt waiver and a crisis-driven stimulus led to the deficit rising to 6% and it has not returned to those levels since.  As of August this year, government accounts reveal a fiscal deficit of Rs 3,37,538 crore which is 65.7% of the targeted deficit with seven months to go in the fiscal year.   With growth slowing this year, the committee expects tax receipts to fall short of expectations significantly and expenditure to overshoot budget estimates, leaving the economy on the edge of a “fiscal precipice”.

Figure 1 (source: RBI)

 

  Committee recommendations - expenditure To tackle the deficit on the expenditure side, the committee wants to ease the subsidy burden.  Subsidy expenditure, as a percentage of GDP, has crept up in the last two years (see Figure 2) and the committee expects it to reach 2.6% of GDP in 2012-13.  In response, the committee calls for an immediate increase in the price of diesel, kerosene and LPG.  The committee also recommends phasing out the subsidy on diesel and LPG by 2014-15.   Initial reports suggest that the government may not support this phasing out of subsidies.

Figure 2 (source: RBI, Union Budget documents, PRS)

 

  For the fertiliser subsidy, the committee recommends implementing the Department of Fertilisers proposal of a 10% price increase on urea.  Last week , the government raised the price of urea by Rs 50 per tonne (a 0.9% increase). Finally, the committee explains the rising food subsidy expenditure as a mismatch between the issue price and the minimum support price and wants this to be addressed. Committee recommendations - receipts Rising subsidies have not been matched by a significant increase in receipts through taxation: gross tax revenue as a percentage of GDP has remained around 10% of GDP (see Figure 3). The committee seeks to improve collections in both direct and indirect taxes via better tax administration.  Over the last decade, income from direct taxes – the tax on income – has emerged as the biggest contributor to the Indian exchequer.  The committee feels that the pending Direct Tax Code Bill would result in significant losses and should be reviewed. To boost income from indirect taxes – the tax on goods and services – the committee wants the proposed Goods and Service Tax regime to be implemented as soon as possible.

Figure 3 (source: RBI)

 

  Increasing disinvestment, the process of selling government stake in public enterprises, is another proposal to boost receipts. India has failed to meet the disinvestment estimate set out in the Budget in the last two years (Figure 4).  The committee believes introducing new channels [1.  The committee suggests introducing a ‘call option model’. This is a mechanism allowing  the government to offer for sale multiple securities over a period of time till disinvestment targets are achieved.  Investors would have the option to purchase securities at the cost of a premium.  They also propose introducing ‘exchange traded funds’ which would comprise all listed securities of Central Public Sector Enterprises and would provide investors with the benefits of diversification, low cost access and flexibility.] for disinvestment would ensure that disinvestment receipts would meet this year’s target of Rs 30,000 crore.

Figure 4 (source: Union Budget documents, PRS)

 

  Taken together, these policy changes, the committee believe would significantly improve India’s fiscal health and boost growth.  Their final projections for 2012-13, in both a reform and no reform scenario, and the medium term (2013-14 and 2014-15) are presented in the table below: [table id=2 /]  


 

Explaining FDI in Broadcasting

On September 14, 2012 the government announced a new FDI policy for the broadcasting sector.  Under the policy, FDI up to 74% has been allowed in broadcasting infrastructure services.  Previously the maximum level of FDI permitted in most infrastructure services in the sector was 49% through automatic route. There could be three reasons for the increase in FDI in the sector.  First, the broadcasting sector is moving towards an addressable (digital) network.  As per Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), this upgradation could cost Rs 40,000 crore.  Second, the increase in FDI was mandated because a higher FDI was allowed for telecommunication services, which too are utilised for broadcast purposes.  In telecommunications 74% FDI is allowed under the approval route.  Third, within the broadcasting sector, there was disparity in FDI allowed on the basis of the mode of delivery.  These issues were referred to by TRAI in detail in its recommendations of 2008 and 2010. Recent history of FDI in broadcasting services In 2008 and 2010 TRAI had recommended an increase in the level of FDI permitted.  A comparison of recommendations and the new policy is provided below.   As noted in the table, FDI in services that relate to establishing infrastructure, like setting up transmission hubs and providing services to the customers, is now at 49% under automatic route and 74% with government approval.  FDI in media houses, on the other hand, have a different level of FDI permitted. TRAI’s recommendations on the two aspects of FDI in broadcasting Digitisation of cable television network:  The Cable Televisions Networks Act, 1995 was amended in 2011 to require cable television networks to be digitised.  By October 31, 2012 all cable subscriptions in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata are required to be digitised.  The time frame for digitisation for the entire country is December 31, 2014.   However, this requires investment to establish infrastructure. As per the TRAI 2010 report, there are a large number of multi-system operators (who receive broadcasting signals and transmit them further to the cable operator or on their own).  As per the regulator, this has led to increased fragmentation of the industry, sub-optimal funding and poor services.  Smaller cable operators do not have the resources to provide set-top boxes and enjoy economies of scale.  As per news reports, the announcement of higher FDI permission would enable the TV distribution industry to meet the October 31 deadline for mandatory digitisation in the four metros. Diversity in television services:  FDI in transmitting signals from India to a satellite hub for further transmission (up-linking services) has not been changed.  This varies on the basis of the nature of the channel.  For non-news channels, FDI up to 100% with government approval was allowed even under the previous policy.  However, the FDI limit for news channels is 26% with government approval. In 2008 TRAI had recommended that this be increased to 49%.  However, it reviewed its position in 2010.  It argued that since FM and up-linking of news channels had the ability to influence the public, the existing FDI level of 26% was acceptable.  It also relied upon the level of FDI permitted in the press, stating that parity had to be maintained between the two modes of broadcast.  Under the new policy the level of FDI permitted in these sectors has not been changed.

Clear signal for FDI in Civil Aviation

On September 14, 2012, the central government announced that foreign airlines would now be allowed to invest up to 49% in domestic airlines.  Under the policy announced by the government, the ceiling of 49% foreign investment includes foreign direct investment and foreign institutional investment.  Prior to investing in a domestic airline, foreign airlines would have to take approval of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board.  Additionally, the applicant will also be required to seek security clearance from the Home Ministry. In 2000, the government first permitted foreign direct investment up to 40% in the domestic airline sector.  However, no foreign airline was allowed to invest either directly or indirectly in the domestic airlines industry.  Non Resident Indians were permitted to invest up to 100%. Furthermore, the foreign investor was required to take prior approval of the government before making the investment.  Subsequently, the central government eased the foreign investment norms in this sector.  As of April 2012, foreign direct investment is permitted in all civil aviation sectors.  The Civil Aviation sector in India includes airports, scheduled and non-scheduled domestic passenger airlines, helicopter services / seaplane services, ground handling Services, maintenance and repair organizations, flying training institutes, and technical training institutions.  Foreign airlines were not permitted to invest either directly or indirectly in domestic passenger airlines.  However, they are permitted to invest in cargo companies and helicopter companies. Investment by foreign airlines in the domestic airline industry has been a long standing demand of domestic airlines.  According to the Report of the Working Group on Civil Aviation for formulation of twelfth five year plan (2012-17), India is currently the 9th largest civil aviation market in the world.  Between 2008 and 2011, passenger traffic (domestic and international) and freight traffic increased by a compounded annual growth rate of 7% and 11% respectively. The traffic growth (passenger and freight) at 18% exceeded the growth rate seen in China (9.7%) and Brazil (7.5%), and was higher than the global growth rate of 3.8%. According to the Centre for Civil Aviation, until February 2012, India had the second highest domestic air traffic growth.   However, due to the crisis faced by Air India and Kingfisher, the passenger numbers have declined in June-July 2012.  India was the only major domestic market that failed to show an expansion in demand in June 2012, as compared to the previous year.  Despite the rapid growth, the financial performance of airlines in India has been poor. According to the Report of the Working Group on Civil Aviation, the industry is expected to have a debt burden of approximately USD 20 billion in 2011-2012.  According to the same report, during the period 2007-2010 India's airlines suffered an accumulated loss of Rs 26,000 crores. According to the government, investment by foreign airlines shall bring in the much needed funds and expertise required by the domestic industry.  However, as per to some analysts, foreign investment alone cannot solve the problem.  According to them, the major cost impacting the growth of the industry is the high cost of Aviation Turbine Fuel.  As per the press release by the government on June 6, 2012,  ATF accounts for 40% of the operating cost of Indian carriers.  In comparison, fuel constitutes only 20% of the cost for international carriers. ATF in India is priced, on an average, 60% higher than international prices.  This is due to the high rate of taxation imposed on ATF by some states.  In most states, the VAT on ATF is around 25-30%.

CAG Performance Audit on the Allocation of Coal Blocks

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) released a Performance Audit of Allocation of Coal Blocks and Augmentation of Coal Production, on August 17, 2012.  Some of the main findings and recommendations of the report are highlighted below:

  • There were no criteria for allocating coal blocks for captive mining till 1993.  The process of bringing in transparency and objectivity began in January 2004.  However, the process has experienced delays and had yet to materialise as of February 2012.
  • In the intervening period, 194 coal blocks with geological reserves of 44,440 million tonnes were allocated to private and government parties until March 31, 2011.  The report finds that the benefit to private allottees has been estimated at Rs 1.86 lakh crore for Opencast mines.  The report states that the government could have tapped some of this financial benefit by expediting the decision on competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks.
  • The rate of increase in production of coal by Coal India Limited (CIL) during the 11th Plan period remained below the target set by the Planning Commission.  Capacity addition projects were delayed due to the lack of coordination of government agencies involved in statutory clearances and land acquisition.  There were mismatches in excavation and transportation capacities of mines, and suboptimal use of Heavy Earth Moving Machinery.
  • The CAG recommends that Ministry of Coal (MOC) should work out modalities to implement the procedure of allocation of coal blocks for captive mining through competitive bidding.
  • The CAG recommends that the MOC should constitute an empowered group along the lines of Foreign Investment Promotion Board as a single window mechanism for granting clearances, with representatives from central nodal ministries and state governments.

A one-page summary of the main findings and recommendations can be accessed here.  The full report can be accessed on the CAG website.