Policy

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.

Petrol price hiked by over Rs 7 per litre

Government owned Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) raised the price of petrol by Rs 6.28 per litre on May 23, 2012.  After the inclusion of local taxes, this price hike amounts to an increase of Rs 7.54 per litre in Delhi.  India met 76 per cent of its total petroleum requirement in 2011-12 through imports.  Petrol prices have officially been decontrolled since June 2010.  However, it has been argued by experts that prices of petroleum products have not been increased sufficiently in order to pass on cost increases to consumers.  The inability to pass on international crude prices to consumers has affected OMCs more in recent months due to the depreciating rupee, which has further increased their losses.  The total under recoveries faced by OMCs for diesel, PDS kerosene and domestic LPG for 2011-12 stands at Rs 138,541 crore.  It was recently announced that the OMCs will receive Rs 38,500 crore from the Ministry of Finance to partially compensate for the high under recoveries. The prices of diesel, LPG and kerosene, which are responsible for the large under recoveries, are unchanged.  Experts suggest that the price hike would have a limited impact on inflation, since petrol has a weightage of around 1 per cent on the Wholesale Price Index, whereas diesel has a weightage of around 4.7 per cent.  The petrol price hike is unlikely to have an impact on the fiscal deficit, since petrol prices are technically deregulated.  Reports suggest that a panel of ministers is due to meet on Friday to discuss diesel, kerosene and LPG prices. In a 2010 report, the Expert Group on "A Viable and Sustainable System of Pricing of Petroleum Products" (Kelkar Committee) observed that given India’s dependence on imports and rising oil prices, domestic prices of petroleum products must match international prices.  It stated that price controls on diesel and petroleum in particular had resulted in major imbalances in consumption patterns across the country.  This had also led to the exit of private sector oil marketing companies from the market, and affected domestic competition.  Its recommendations included the following:

  • Since petrol and diesel are both items of final consumption, their prices should be market determined at both the refinery gate and the retail level.
  • An additional excise duty should be levied on diesel cars.
  • A transparent and effective distribution system for PDS kerosene and domestic LPG should be ensured through UID.
  • Price of kerosene and domestic LPG should be increased by Rs 6/litre and Rs 100 per cylinder respectively.  The prices should be periodically revised based on growth in per capita agricultural GDP (for kerosene) and rising per capita income (LPG).

Reports suggest that a partial rollback of petrol prices might be considered soon.  

Power producers refuse to sign supply agreements with Coal India

There has been no resolution so far to the issue of assured fuel supply from Coal India Limited (CIL) to power producers.  According to reports, while CIL released a model supply agreement in April 2012, so far only around 13 Fuel Supply Agreements (FSAs) have been signed.  Originally around 50 power units were expected to sign FSAs with CIL.  Power producers have objected to the model FSA released by CIL, particularly its force majeure provisions and the dilution of financial penalties in case of lower than contracted supply. Background The adverse power supply situation has attracted greater attention in the past few months.  According to Central Electricity Authority's data, the gap between peak demand and peak supply of power in March 2012 was 11 per cent.  The decreasing availability of fuel has emerged as a critical component of the worsening power supply situation.  As of March 31, 2012, there were 32 critical thermal power stations that had a coal stock of less than 7 days.  The gap between demand and supply of coal in the past three years is highlighted below: Table 1: Coal demand/Supply gap (In millions of tonnes)

 

2009-10

2010-11

2011-12

Demand

604

656

696

Supply

514

523

535

Gap

90

133

161

Source: PIB News Release dated May 7, 2012

Coal accounts for around 56 per cent of total installed power generation capacity in India.  Increased capacity in thermal power has also accounted for almost 81 per cent of the additional 62,374 MW added during the 11th Plan period.  Given the importance of coal in meeting national energy needs, the inability of CIL to meet its supply targets has become a major issue.  While the production target for CIL was 486 MT for 2011-12, its actual coal production was 436 MT. Fuel Supply Agreements In March 2012, the government asked CIL to sign FSAs with power plants that have been or would be commissioned by March 31, 2015.  These power plants should also have entered into long term Power Purchase Agreements with distribution companies.  After CIL did not sign FSAs by the deadline of March 31, 2012 the government issued a Presidential Directive to CIL on April 4, 2012 directing it to sign the FSAs.  The CIL board approved a model FSA in April 2012, which has not found acceptance by power producers. According to newspaper reports, many power producers have expressed their dissatisfaction with the model FSA released by CIL.  They have argued that it differs from the 2009 version of FSAs in some major ways.  These include:

  • The penalty for supplying coal below 80 per cent of the contracted amount has been reduced from 10 per cent to 0.01 per cent.  The penalty will be applicable only after three years.
  • The new FSA has extensive force majeure provisions that absolve CIL of non-supply in case of multiple contingencies – including equipment breakdown, power cuts, obstruction in transport, riots, failure to import coal due to “global shortage or delays… or no response to enquiries (by CIL) for supply of coal.”
  • CIL would have the discretion to annually review the supply level that would trigger a financial penalty.  There was no provision for such a review in the earlier FSA.

Most power producers, including NTPC, the country’s biggest power producer, have refused to sign the new FSA.  Reports suggest that the Power Minister has asked the Prime Minister’s Office to mandate CIL to sign FSAs within a month based on the 2009 format.  CIL has received a request from NTPC to consider signing FSAs based on the same parameters as their existing plants, but with the revised trigger point of 80 per cent (down from 90 per cent earlier). Underlying this situation is CIL’s own stagnating production.  Various experts have pointed to the prohibition on private sector participation in coal mining (apart from captive projects) and the backlog in granting environment and forest clearances as having exacerbated the coal supply situation.

 

TRAI's recommendations on auction of spectrum

TRAI released its recommendations on auction of spectrum on April 23, 2012.   The recommendations are in pursuance of the Supreme Court order cancelling 122 telecom licences.  The cancellation was ordered on grounds of procedural irregularities and arbitrariness in the first-cum-first-serve policy for allocation of spectrum.   The recommendations, if adopted by the Department of Telecommunications, would change various aspects of the present telecom policy, including (a) relationship between a telecom licence and spectrum; (b) procedure for allocation of spectrum; (c) pricing of spectrum; (d)  limits on spectrum allocation; and (e) use of spectrum. Relationship between telecom licences and spectrum Previously, under the Telecom Policy 1994 (updated in 1999), spectrum was tied in with telecom licences.  Since 2003, licence conditions provided for award of two blocks of 6.2 MHz of spectrum for GSM technology and two blocks of 5 MHz for CDMA technology.  As per the government’s decision of January 17, 2008 (as explained in TRAI's consultation paper, see page 3 paragraph 7) additional spectrum would be awarded on the basis of increment in the number of subscribers.  Service providers had to pay a licence fee (on obtaining the licence), an annual licence fee and a spectrum usage charge determined on the basis of their adjusted gross revenue. TRAI has recommended that telecom licences and spectrum should be de-linked.  The service provider would thus pay separately for the value of the licence and the spectrum.  With this formulation an entity that does not hold a licence, but is eligible to secure one, may also procure spectrum.  This would help in avoiding situations where licence holders have to wait to secure spectrum or offer wire line services in the absence of spectrum. Procedure for allocation of spectrum TRAI has recommended that spectrum be auctioned by means of a simultaneous multiple round ascending auction (SMRA).  This means that the service providers would bid for spectrum in different blocks simultaneously.  In the first round of auction a reserve price (base price) set by the government is used. Reserve price for auction and payment mechanism A reserve price indicates the minimum amount the bidder must pay to win the object.  In case it is too low, it may reduce the gains made by the seller and lead to a sub-optimal sale.  If it is too high, it may reduce the number of bidders and the probability of the good not being sold. Various countries have adopted a reserve price of 0.5 times the final price.  TRAI has recommended that the reserve price should be 0.8 times the expected winning bid.  It has also recommended that telecom companies pay 67% to 75% of the final price in installments over 10 years, depending on the spectrum band. TRAI has reasoned that a higher price would reduce the possibility of further sales upon bidders securing spectrum.  However, this may lead to fewer bidders and ultimately fewer service providers.  It is argued in news reports that this may increase investments to be made by the service providers and eventually an increase in tariffs. Spectrum blocks and caps TRAI has recommended that the spectrum cap should be determined on the basis of market share.  A service provider can now secure a maximum of 50% of spectrum assigned in each band in each service area.  However, a service provider cannot hold more than 25% of the total spectrum assigned in all the bands across the country. As per the January 2008 decision, additional spectrum could be awarded to telecom companies when they reached incremental slabs of subscribers.  This could extend to two blocks of 1 MHz for GSM technology, and two blocks of 1.25 MHz for CDMA, for each slab of subscribers. TRAI has recommended that spectrum should be auctioned in blocks of 1.25 MHz.  Each auction would at least offer 5 MHz of spectrum at a time.  Smaller blocks would ensure that service providers who are nearing the spectrum cap may secure spectrum without exceeding the cap.  However, experts have argued that 1.25 MHz block may be too limited for launching services.  Also, TRAI in the recommendation has noted that a minimum of 5 MHz of contiguous spectrum is required to launch efficient services with new technologies. Use of spectrum TRAI has recommended that the use of spectrum should be liberalised.  This implies that spectrum should be technology neutral.  Telecom companies would now be free to launch services with any technology of their choice.

Draft Policies on Telecom, Electronics and Information Technology: Some Issues

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology released three draft policies on telecommunications, information technology and electronics.  The Ministry has invited comments on the draft policies, which may be sent to epolicy2011@mit.gov.in. These policies have the common goal of increasing revenues and increasing global market share.  However, the policies may be incompatible with the Direct Taxes Code Bill, 2010 (DTC) and India’s international obligations under the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT).  Below we discuss these policies within the scope of the GATT and the DTC. The draft National Information Technology Policy, 2011 aims to formulate a fiscal structure to attract investment in the IT industry in tier II and III cities.  It also seeks to prepare SMEs for a competitive environment by providing fiscal benefits.  Similarly, the draft National Electronics Policy provides for fiscal incentives in manufacturing on account of infrastructure gaps relating to power, transportation etc. and to mitigate the relatively high cost of finance.  The draft policy also provides preferential market access for domestically manufactured or designed electronic products including mobile devices and SIM cards.  The draft National Telecom Policy seeks to provide fiscal incentives required by indigenous manufacturers of telecom products and R&D institutions. The theme of the DTC was to remove distortions arising from incentives.  The detailed note annexed to the Bill states that “tax incentives are inefficient, distorting, iniquitous, impose greater compliance burden on the tax payer and on the administration, result in loss of revenue, create special interest groups, add to the complexity of the tax laws, and encourage tax avoidance and rent seeking behaviour.”  It further notes that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on finance had recommended removal of exemptions other than in exceptional cases.  As per the Department of Revenue, tax holidays should only be given in businesses with extremely high risks, lumpy investments and lengthy gestation periods.  The DTC also removes location-based incentives as these “lead to diversion of resources to areas where there is no comparative advantage”.  These also lead to tax evasion and avoidance, and huge administrative costs.  The proposals to provide fiscal incentives in all three draft policies contradict the direction of the direct tax reforms. Article 3 of GATT provides that foreign products should be accorded the same treatment accorded to similar domestic products in respect of all laws, regulations and requirements affecting their internal sale, offering for sale, purchase, transportation, distribution and use.  The provisions in the draft electronics policy to secure preferential market access to products manufactured in India may contravene this Article. In granting such fiscal and trade incentives, the policies may be contrary to the approach adopted in the DTC and India’s obligations under the GATT.  These draft policies will have to be reconciled with tax reforms and trade obligations.

How is the poverty line measured?

Last week, the Planning Commission filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court updating the official poverty line to Rs 965 per month in urban areas and Rs 781 in rural areas. This works out to Rs 32 and and Rs 26 per day, respectively. The perceived inadequacy of these figures has led to widespread discussion and criticism in the media. In light of the controversy, it may be worth looking at where the numbers come from in the first place. Two Measures of the BPL Population The official poverty line is determined by the Planning Commission, on the basis of data provided by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO). NSSO data is based on a survey of consumer expenditure which takes place every five years.  The most recent Planning Commission poverty estimates are for the year 2004-05. In addition to Planning Commission efforts to determine the poverty line, the Ministry of Rural Development has conducted a BPL Census in 1992, 1997, 2002, and 2011 to identify poor households. The BPL Census is used to target families for assistance through various schemes of the central government. The 2011 BPL Census is being conducted along with a caste census, and is dubbed the Socio-Economic & Caste Census (SECC) 2011. Details on the methodology of SECC 2011 are available in this short Ministry of Rural Development circular. Planning Commission Methodology Rural and urban poverty lines were first defined in 1973-74 in terms of Per Capita Total Expenditure (PCTE). Consumption is measured in terms of a collection of goods and services known as reference Poverty Line Baskets (PLB). These PLB were determined separately for urban and rural areas and based on a per-day calorie intake of 2400 (rural) and 2100 (urban), each containing items such as food, clothing, fuel, rent, conveyance and entertainment, among others. The official poverty line is the national average expenditure per person incurred to obtain the goods in the PLB. Since 1973-74, prices for goods in the PLB have been periodically adjusted over time and across states to deduce the official poverty line. Uniform Reference Period (URP) vs Mixed Reference Period (MRP) Until 1993-94, consumption information collected by the NSSO was based on the Uniform Reference Period (URP), which measured consumption across a 30-day recall period. That is, survey respondents were asked about their consumption  in the previous 30 days. From 1999-2000 onwards, the NSSO switched to a method known as the Mixed Reference Period (MRP). The MRP measures consumption of five low-frequency items (clothing, footwear, durables, education and institutional health expenditure) over the previous year, and all other items over the previous 30 days. That is to say, for the five items, survey respondents are asked about consumption in the previous one year. For the remaining items, they are asked about consumption in the previous 30 days. Tendulkar Committee Report In 2009, the Tendulkar Committee Report suggested several changes to the way poverty is measured.  First, it recommended a shift away from basing the PLB in caloric intake and towards target nutritional outcomes instead. Second, it recommended that a uniform PLB be used for both rural and urban areas. In addition, it recommended a change in the way prices are adjusted, and called for an explicit provision in the PLB to account for private expenditure in health and education. For these reasons, the Tendulkar estimate of poverty for the years 1993-94 and 2004-05 is higher than the official estimate, regardless of whether one looks at URP or MRP figures. For example, while the official 1993-94 All-India poverty figure is 36% (URP), applying the Tendulkar methodology yields a rate of 45.3%. Similarly, the official 2004-05 poverty rate is 21.8% (MRP) or 27.5% (URP), while applying the the Tendulkar methodology brings the number to 37.2%. A Planning Commission table of poverty rates by state comparing the two methodologies by is available here.