Policy

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.

New guidelines for the registration of the Pension Fund Managers under the NPS

Last month, the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) issued revised guidelines for the registration of the Pension Fund Managers (PFMs).  These guidelines are for the PFMs to manage the National Pension System (NPS) in the non-governmental and private sector.  See here.  The NPS was implemented in 2004 for all government employees and later extended to the private sector in 2009. The guidelines bring about the following changes in the NPS:

  • No limitation on the number of PFMs – Under the previous system, the number of PFMs was predetermined and bidders would then fill up these slots.  There are seven PFMs in the NPS.
  •  No bidding process – In the earlier system, interested parties had to go through a bidding process to become a PFM.  The lowest bidders would be appointed the PFMs.  However, the new guidelines have done away with the bidding system.  Any player interested in becoming a PFM can now do so by fulfilling certain eligibility criteria laid down by the PFRDA.
  • No uniform fee to be charged by all PFMs – The PFMs earlier had to charge a fixed fee amount, which was uniform for all the PFMs.  The new guidelines states that the PFRDA would lay down an overall ceiling and the PFMs would be at liberty to prescribe their own fee provided it is under this overall ceiling.

Although NPS was made accessible on a voluntary basis to non-government employees and those working in the private sector since 2009, the subscription to the schemes under NPS was lower than expected.  In August 2010, a committee was set up under the chairmanship of Mr. G.N. Bajpai to review the implementation of NPS in the informal sector.  The Committee noted that since NPS was opened to the general public there were only 50,000 private sector subscribers until May 2011.  According to the Committee, the low subscription was due to the low-to-negligible distribution incentive to the PFMs to distribute the different schemes to the subscribers to invest their funds.  The Committee thus recommended that PFRDA should consider revising the structure of the NPS so as to increase subscription.  It suggested making the fee structure dynamic for PFMs.  The Committee had also suggested that there should be some revision in the bidding as well as the selection process for the PFMs to increase competition and thereby incentivise them to distribute the schemes. These changes, as suggested by the Bajpai Committee and now notified by the PFRDA, are different from the original design of the NPS.  The Old Age Social and Income Security (OASIS) Report of 2000, which had initially suggested the establishment of pension system for the unorganised sector in the country, had recommended a low-cost structure for the pension system.  The Report had stated that the choice of PFMs should be based on a bidding process where the lowest bidder should be made a PFM under the NPS.  The rationale for the auction base for the PFMs was that it would provide a system to the subscribers whereby they could make investments for their old age by paying a minimal fee.  A set uniform fee was meant to eliminate the large marketing expenses which would ultimately get passed on to the subscibers.  In addition, the intent behind keeping the fund managers from the distribution and marketing of the schemes was to prevent any mis-selling (misleading an investor about the characteristics of a product) that may happen. Recent newspaper reports have raised doubt if these new rules would help in increasing the penetration of the NPS in the markets.  However, the chairman of PFRDA, Mr. Yogesh Agarwal, in a recent interview explained that it was important to bring about changes in the structure of the NPS.  According to him a scheme which was mandatory for the government sector could not be expected to perform as well in the private sector (where it is voluntary) without any changes made to its structure.  He also stated that the NPS should be able to compete with other financial products such as insurance and mutual funds in the market. See here for the PRS Legislative Brief on the PFRDA Bill, 2011. Notes: The seven PFMs are LIC Pension Fund Ltd., UTI Retirement Solutions Ltd., SBI Pension Funds Pvt. Ltd., IDFC Pension Fund Management Co. Ltd., ICICI Prudential Pension Funds Management Co. Ltd., Kotak Mahindra Pension funds Ltd., and Reliance Capital Pension Fund Ltd..  

Debt restructuring plan for power distribution companies

Reports suggest that a debt restructuring plan is being prepared for power distribution companies (discoms) in seven states - Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh.  According to some estimates, the combined outstanding debt for discoms is Rs 2 lakh crore.  Discoms have been facing heavy losses.  According to a Planning Commission Report, the cost of supplying electricity increased at a rate of 7.4 per cent annually between 1998-99 and 2009-10.  The average tariff has also increased at an annual rate of 7.1 per cent over the same period.  However, the report shows that the average tariff per unit of electricity has consistently been much lower than average cost of supply per unit.  Between 2007-08 and 2011-12, the gap between average cost and average tariff per unit of electricity was between 20 and 30 per cent of costs.

Average cost and average tariff per unit of electricity (Rs per kWh)

Year

Unit cost

Average tariff per unit

Gap between cost and tariff

Gap as percentage of unit cost

2007-08

4.04

3.06

0.98

24%

2008-09

4.6

3.26

1.34

29%

2009-10

4.76

3.33

1.43

30%

2010-11

4.84

3.57

1.27

26%

2011-12

4.87

3.8

1.07

22%

Source: “Annual Report 2011-12 on the Working of State Power Utilities and Electricity Departments”, Planning Commission State discoms have been losing money due to higher costs than revenues, as well as high transmission and distribution (T&D) losses.  The commercial losses for discoms in India (after including subsidies) increased from Rs 16,666 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 37,836 crore in 2011-12. Reports suggest that the restructuring plan being prepared will be worth Rs 1.2 lakh crore in short-term liabilities.  Half of the proposed amount would be issued as bonds by the discoms, backed by a state government guarantee.  Banks and financial institutions would reschedule the remaining Rs 60,000 crore of debt, with a moratorium of three years on payment of the principal amount.  State governments that adopt the financial restructuring plan would not recover any loans given to discoms before they start showing profits. Under a proposed transition finance mechanism, the central government would reimburse 25 per cent of the principal amount of bonds to states that fully implement the plan.  Also, states that achieve a reduction in T&D losses above a targeted level in three years may be given grants.  Newspaper reports also suggest that states will have to prepare plans for eliminating the gap between the average cost and average tariff per unit of electricity.

National Telecom Policy 2012

The National Telecom Policy was adopted by the cabinet on May 31, 2012.  It was released in public domain later in June.  Among other things, the policy aims to provide a single licence framework, un-bundle spectrum from licences, and liberalise spectrum. Previously, the central government had decided to unbundle spectrum and licenses for all future licences on January 29, 2011.  TRAI too in its recommendation dated May 11, 2010 and April 23, 2012 sought to de-link spectrum from licences.  The Supreme Court in the 2G judgment had held that spectrum should not be allocated on a first-cum-first-serve basis and should instead be auctioned.  In the April 23 recommendations, TRAI has detailed the mechanism for auctioning spectrum. TRAI has also recommended moving to a unified licence framework under which a single licence would be required to provide any telecom service.  It has also recommended that spectrum should be liberalised so that any technology could be used to exploit it. The new policy is in line with the government decisions and TRAI recommendations discussed above.  The policy also aims to achieve higher connectivity and quality of telecommunication services.  Its key features are detailed below.

  • Licensing:  Presently, as per the 2003 Amendment to the 1999 Telecom Policy, there are two forms of licences – Unified Service Licence (to provide any telegraph service in various geographical areas) and Unified Access Service Licence (to provide basic and cellular services in defined service areas).  The new policy targets simplification of licensing framework by establishing a unified license for all telecom services and conversion to a single-license system for the entire country.  It also seeks to remove roaming charges.
  • Spectrum:  As of now spectrum bands are reserved on the basis of technology that may be used to exploit them.  For instance, the 900 and 1800 bands are reserved for GSM technology and 800 for use of CDMA technology.  The new policy seeks to liberalise spectrum.  Further, spectrum would be de-linked from all future licenses.  Spectrum would be refarmed so that it is available to be used for new technology.  The policy aims to move to a system where spectrum can be pooled, shared and traded.  Periodic audits of spectrum usage would be conducted to ensure efficient utilization of spectrum.  The policy aims at making 300 MHz of additional spectrum available for mobile telecom services by the year 2017 and another 200 MHz by 2020.
  • Connectivity: The policy aims to increase rural tele-density from the current level of approximately 39% to 70% by 2017, and 100% by 2020.  It seeks to provide 175 million broadband connections by the year 2017 and 600 million by 2020 at a minimum 2 Mbps download speed.  Higher download speeds of 100 Mbps would be made available on demand.  Broadband access to all village panchayats would be made available by 2014 and to all villages by 2020.  The policy aims to recognise telecom, including broadband connectivity, as a basic necessity like education and health, and work towards the ‘Right to Broadband’.
  • Promotion of domestic industry: The policy seeks to incentivise and give preference to domestic telecom products in procurements that (i) have security implications for India; or (ii) are for the government’s own use.  It also seeks to establish a Telecom Finance Corporation to mobilise and channelise finances for telecom projects.
  • Legislations: The policy seeks to review the TRAI Act to remove impediments to effective functioning of TRAI.  It also seeks to review the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.  The need to review the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 was also recognised in the 1999 Telecom Policy.

The policy as adopted can be accessed here.