Prachee Mishra's blog

English translation unavailable for .

Impact of COVID-19 on Railway’s finances

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, all passenger trains were suspended till April 14, 2020.  However, goods services have been continuing with trains carrying essential commodities to various parts of the country.   Railways has also made railway parcel vans available for quick mass transportation for e-commerce entities and other customers including state governments to transport certain goods.   These include medical supplies, medical equipment, food, etc. in small parcel sizes.  Besides these, Railways has taken several other actions to provide help during the pandemic. 

Since the travel ban extends from March 23 till April 14, 2020 (and may extend further), it will impact Railways’ finances for both 2019-20 and 2020-21.  In this post, we discuss the situation of Railways’ finances, and what could be the potential impact of the travel ban on Railways’ revenues.  

Impact of the travel ban on Railways’ internal revenue

Railways generates internal revenue primarily from passenger and freight traffic.  In 2018-19 (latest actuals), freight and passenger traffic contributed to about 67% and 27% of the internal revenue respectively.  The remaining is earned from other miscellaneous sources such as parcel service, coaching receipts, and sale of platform tickets.  In 2020-21, Railways expects to earn 65% of its internal revenue from freight and 27% from passenger traffic.  

Passenger traffic:   In 2020-21, Railways expects to earn Rs 61,000 crore from passenger traffic, an increase of 9% over the revised estimates of 2019-20 (Rs 56,000 crore).  

As per numbers provided by the Ministry of Railways, up to February 2020, passenger revenue was approximately Rs 48,801 crore.  This is Rs 7,199 crore less than the 2019-20 revised estimates for passenger revenue, implying that this much amount will have to be generated in March 2020 to meet the revised estimate targets (13% of the year’s target).  However, the average passenger revenue in 2019-20 (for the 11 months) has been around Rs 4,432 crore.  Note that in March 2019 passenger revenue was Rs 4,440 crore.  With passenger travel completely banned since March 23, Railways will fall short of its target for passenger revenue in 2019-20.

As of now, it is unclear when travel across the country will resume to business as usual.  Some states have started extending the lockdown within their state.  In such a situation, the decline in passenger revenue could last longer than these three weeks of lockdown. 

Freight traffic:   In 2020-21, Railways expects to earn Rs 1,47,000 crore from goods traffic, an increase of 9% over the revised estimates of 2019-20 (Rs 1,34,733 crore).   

As per numbers provided by the Ministry of Railways, up to February 2020, freight revenue was approximately Rs 1,08,658 crore.  This is Rs 26,075 crore less than the 2019-20 revised estimates for freight revenue.  This implies that Rs 26,075 crore will have to be generated by freight traffic in March 2020 to meet the revised estimate targets (19% of the year’s target).   However, the average freight revenue in 2019-20 (for the 11 months) has been around Rs 10,029 crore.  Note that in March 2019, freight revenue was Rs 16,721 crore.  

While passenger traffic has been completely banned, freight traffic has been moving.  Transportation of essential goods, and operations of Railways for cargo movement, relief and evacuation and their related operational organisations has been allowed under the lockdown.  Several goods carried by Railways (coal, iron-ore, steel, petroleum products, foodgrains, fertilisers) have been declared to be essential goods.  Railways has also started operating special parcel trains (to carry essential goods, e-commerce goods, etc.) since the lockdown.  These activities will help continue the generation of freight revenue. 

However, some goods that Railways transports, such as cement which contributes to about 8% of Railways’ freight revenue, have not been classified as essential goods.  Railways has also relaxed certain charges levied on freight traffic.  It remains to be seen if Railways will be able to meet its targets for freight revenue.  

Figure 1: Share of freight volume and revenue in 2018-19 (in %)

image

Sources: Expenditure Profile, Union Budget 2020-21; PRS.  

Freight has been cross-subsidising passenger traffic; it may worsen this year

Railways ends up using profits from its freight business to provide for such losses in the passenger segment, and also to manage its overall financial situation.  Such cross-subsidisation has resulted in high freight tariffs.  With the ban on passenger travel and if the lockdown (in some form) were to continue, passenger operations will face more losses.  This may increase the cross-subsidy burden on freight.  Since Railways cannot increase freight charges any further, it is unclear how such cross-subsidisation would work. 

For example, in 2017-18, passenger and other coaching services incurred losses of Rs 37,937 crore, whereas freight operations made a profit of Rs 39,956 crore.   Almost 95% of profit earned from freight operations was utilised to compensate for the loss from passenger and other coaching services.  The total passenger revenue during this period was Rs 46,280 crore.  This implies that losses in the passenger business are about 82% of its revenue.  Therefore, in 2017-18, for every one rupee earned in its passenger business, Indian Railways ended up spending Rs 1.82.  

Railways expenditure 

While the travel ban has meant that Railways cannot run all its services, it still has to incur much of its operating expenditure.  Staff wages and pension have to be paid and these together comprise 66% of the Railways’ revenue expenditure.  Between 2015 and 2020 (budget estimate), Railways’ expenditure on salary has grown at an average annual rate of 13%.  

About 18% of the revenue expenditure is on fuel expenses, but that may see some decline due to a fall in oil prices.  Railways will also have to continue spending on maintenance, safety and depreciation as these are long-term costs that cannot be done away with.  In addition, regular maintenance of rail infrastructure will be necessary for freight operations.  

Revenue Surplus and Operating Ratio could further worsen

Railways’ surplus is calculated as the difference between its total internal revenue and its revenue expenditure (this includes working expenses and appropriation to pension and depreciation funds).  Operating Ratio is the ratio of the working expenditure (expenses arising from day-to-day operations of Railways) to the revenue earned from traffic.  Therefore, a higher ratio indicates a poorer ability to generate a surplus that can be used for capital investments such as laying new lines, or deploying more coaches.  A decline in revenue surplus affects Railways’ ability to invest in its infrastructure.  

In the last decade, Railways has struggled to generate a higher surplus.  Consequently, the Operating Ratio has consistently been higher than 90% (see Figure 2).  In 2018-19, the ratio worsened to 97.3% as compared to the estimated ratio of 92.8%.   The CAG (2019) had noted that if advances for 2018-19 were not included in receipts, the operating ratio for 2017-18 would have been 102.66%.

In 2020-21, Railways expects to generate a surplus of Rs 6,500 crore, and maintain the operating ratio at 96.2%.   With revenue generation getting affected due to the lockdown, this surplus may further decline, and the operating ratio may further worsen.  

Figure 2: Operating Ratio 

image

Note: RE – Revised Estimates, BE – Budget Estimates.
Sources:  Expenditure Profile, Union Budget 2020-21; PRS.  

Other sources of revenue

Besides its own internal resources, Railways has two other primary sources of financing: (i) budgetary support from the central government, and (ii) extra-budgetary resources (primarily borrowings but also includes institutional financing, public-private partnerships, and foreign direct investment).  

Budgetary support from central government:  The central government supports Railways to expand its network and invest in capital expenditure.  In 2020-21, the gross budgetary support from the central government is proposed at Rs 70,250 crore.  This is 3% higher than the revised estimates of 2019-20 (Rs 68,105 crore).  Note that with government revenue also getting affected due to the COVID pandemic, this amount may also change during the course of the year. 

Borrowings:  Railways mostly borrows funds through the Indian Railways Finance Corporation (IRFC).  IRFC borrows funds from the market (through taxable and tax-free bond issuances, term loans from banks and financial institutions), and then follows a leasing model to finance the rolling stock assets and project assets of Indian Railways.

In the past few years, Railways’ borrowings have increased sharply to bridge the gap between the available resources and expenditure.  Earlier, majority of the Railways’ capital expenditure used to be met from the budgetary support from central government.  In 2015-16, this trend changed with the majority of Railways’ capital expenditure being met through extra budgetary resources (EBR).   In 2020-21, Rs 83,292 crore is estimated to be raised through EBR, which is marginally higher than the revised estimates of 2019-20 (Rs 83,247 crore).  

Note that both these sources are primarily used to fund Railways’ capital expenditure.  Some part of the support from central government is used to reimburse Railways for the operating losses made on strategic lines, and for the operational cost of e-ticketing to IRCTC (Rs 2,216 crore as per budget estimates of 2020-21).  

If Railways’ revenue receipts decline this year, it may require additional support from the central government to finance its revenue expenditure, or finance it through its borrowings.  However, an increased reliance on borrowings could further exacerbate the financial situation of Railways.  In the last few years, there has been a decline in the growth of both rail-based freight and passenger traffic (see Figure 3) and this has affected Railways’ earnings from its core business.  A decline in growth of revenue will affect the transporter’s ability to pay off its debt in the future. 

Figure 3: Volume growth for freight and passenger (year-on-year)

 

Note: RE – Revised Estimates; BE – Budget Estimates. 
Sources:  Expenditure Profile, Union Budget 2020-21; PRS.  

Social service by Railways

Besides running freight trains, Railways has also been carrying out several other functions, to help deal with the pandemic.  For example, Railways’ manufacturing capacity is being harnessed to help deal with COVID-19.  Production facilities available with Railways are being used to manufacture items like PPE gear.  Railways has also been exploring how to use its existing manufacturing facilities to produce simple beds, medical trolleys, and ventilators.  Railways has also started providing bulk cooked food to needy people at places where IRCTC base kitchens are located.   The transporter also opened up its hospitals for COVID patients.  

As on April 6, 2,500 rail coaches had been converted as isolation coaches.  On average, 375 coaches are being converted in a day, across 133 locations in the country. 

Considering that railways functions as a commercial department under the central government, the question is whether Railways should bear these social costs.  The NITI Aayog (2016) had noted that there is a lack of clarity on the social and commercial objectives of Railways.  It may be argued that such services could be considered as a public good during a pandemic.  However, the question is who should bear the financial burden of providing such services?  Should it be Indian Railways, or should the central or state government provide this amount through an explicit subsidy?  

For details on the number of daily COVID cases in the country and across states, please see here.  For details on the major COVID related notifications released by the centre and the states, please see here.  For a detailed analysis of the Railways’ functioning and finances, please see here, and to understand this year’s Railways budget numbers, see here.

Understanding the AERA (Amendment) Bill, 2019

Earlier this week, Rajya Sabha passed the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2019, and the Bill is now pending in Lok Sabha.  The Bill amends the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India Act, 2008.  The Act established the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (AERA).  AERA regulates tariffs and other charges for aeronautical services provided at civilian airports with annual traffic above 15 lakh passengers.  It also monitors the performance standard of services across these airports.  In this post, we explain the amendments that the Bill seeks to bring in and some of the issues around the functioning of the regulator.

Why was AERA created, and what is its role?

Few years back, private players started operating civilian airports.  Typically, airports run the risk of becoming a monopoly because cities usually have one civilian airport which controls all aeronautical services in that area.  To ensure that private airport operators do not misuse their monopoly, the need for an independent tariff regulator in the airport sector was felt.  Consequently, the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India Act, 2008 (AERA Act) was passed which set up AERA. 

AERA regulates tariffs and other charges (development fee and passenger service fee) for aeronautical services (air traffic management, landing and parking of aircraft, ground handling services) at major airports.  Major airports include civilian airports with annual traffic above 15 lakh passengers.  In 2018-19, there were 32 such airports (see Table 1).  As of June 2019, 27 of these are being regulated by AERA (AERA also regulates tariffs at the Kannur airport which was used by 89,127 passengers in 2018-19).  For the remaining airports, tariffs are determined by the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which is a body under the Ministry of Civil Aviation that also operates airports. 

What changes are being proposed in the Bill?

The Bill seeks to do two things:

Definition of major airports:  Currently, the AERA Act defines a major airport as one with annual passenger traffic over 15 lakh, or any other airports as notified by the central government.  The Bill increases the threshold of annual passenger traffic for major airports to over 35 lakh. 

Tariff determination by AERA:  Under the Act, AERA is responsible for determining the: (i) tariff for aeronautical services every five years, (ii) development fees, and (iii) passengers service fee.  It can also amend the tariffs in the interim period.  The Bill adds that AERA will not determine: (i) tariff, (ii) tariff structures, or (iii) development fees, in certain cases.  These cases include those where such tariff amounts were a part of the bid document on the basis of which the airport operations were awarded.  AERA will be consulted (by the concessioning authority, the Ministry of Civil Aviation) before incorporating such tariffs in the bid document, and such tariffs must be notified.

Why is the Act getting amended?

The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that the exponential growth of the sector has put tremendous pressure on AERA, while its resources are limited.  Therefore, if too many airports come under the purview of AERA, it will not be able to perform its functions efficiently.  If the challenge for AERA is availability of limited resources, the question is whether this problem may be resolved by reducing its jurisdiction (as the Bill is doing), or by improving its capacity. 

Will the proposed amendments strengthen the role of the regulator?

When AERA was created in 2008, there were 11 airports with annual passenger traffic over 15 lakh.  With increase in passenger traffic across airports, currently 32 airports are above this threshold.  The Bill increases the threshold of annual passenger traffic for major airports to over 35 lakh.  With this increase in threshold, 16 airports will be regulated by AERA.  It may be argued that instead of strengthening the role of the regulator, its purview is being reduced. 

Before AERA was set up, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) fixed the aeronautical charges for the airports under its control and prescribed performance standards for all airports and monitored them.  Various committees had noted that AAI performed the role of airport operator as well as the regulator, which resulted in conflict of interest.  Further, there was a natural monopoly in airports and air traffic control.  In order to regulate the growing competition in the airline industry, and to provide a level playing field among different categories of airports, AERA was set up.  During the deliberations of the Standing Committee examining the AERA Bill, 2007, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had noted that AERA should regulate tariff and monitor performance standards only at major airports.  Depending upon future developments in the sector, other functions could be subsequently assigned to the regulator.

How would the Bill affect the regulatory regime?

Currently, there are 32 major airports (annual traffic above 15 lakh), and AERA regulates tariffs at 27 of these.  As per the Bill, AERA will regulate 16 major airports (annual traffic above 35 lakh).  The remaining 16 airports will be regulated by AAI.  Till 2030-31, air traffic in the country is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 10-11%.  This implies that in a few years, the traffic at the other 16 airports will increase to over 35 lakh and they will again fall under the purview of AERA.  This may lead to constant changes in the regulatory regime at these airports.  The table below provides the current list of major airports:

Table 1: List of major airports in India (as on March 2019) 

Airports with annual traffic above 35 lakh Airports with annual traffic between 15 and 35 lakh

Ahmedabad

Goa

Mumbai

Amritsar

Madurai*

Srinagar

Bengaluru

Guwahati

Patna

Bagdogra

Mangalore

Trichy*

Bhubaneswar

Hyderabad

Pune

Calicut

Nagpur

Varanasi

Chennai

Jaipur

Thiruvananthapuram

Chandigarh

Port Blair*

Vishakhapatnam

Cochin

Kolkata

 

Coimbatore

Raipur*

 

Delhi

Lucknow

 

Indore

Ranchi*

 

* - AERA does not regulate tariffs at these airports currently. 

Sources: AAI Traffic News; AERA website; PRS.

Indian Railways rationalises freight fares

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

Railways’ sources of internal revenue

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

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

Railways fig1

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

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

Railways’ ability to generate its own revenue has been slowing

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

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

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

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

Figure 2_Railways

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

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

Freight traffic cross-subsidises passenger traffic

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

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

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

Fig 3_Railways

Impact of increasing freight rates

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

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

Amendments to the IBC: Implications for real estate allottees

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 was enacted to provide a time-bound process to resolve insolvency among companies and individuals.  Insolvency is a situation where an individual or company is unable to repay their outstanding debt.  Last month, the government promulgated the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 amending certain provisions of the Code.  The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Second Amendment) Bill, 2018, which replaces this Ordinance, was introduced in Lok Sabha last week and is scheduled to be passed in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament.  In light of this, we discuss some of the changes being proposed under the Bill and possible implications of such changes.

What was the need for amending the Code?

In November 2017, the Insolvency Law Committee was set up to review the Code, identify issues in its implementation, and suggest changes.  The Committee submitted its report in March 2018.  It made several recommendations, such as treating allottees under a real estate project as financial creditors, exempting micro, small and medium enterprises from certain provisions of the Code, reducing voting thresholds of the committee of creditors, among others.  Subsequently, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018, was promulgated on June 6, 2018, incorporating these recommendations.

What amendments have been proposed regarding real estate allottees?

The Code defines a financial creditor as anyone who has extended any kind of loan or financial credit to the debtor.  The Bill clarifies that an allottee under a real estate project (a buyer of an under-construction residential or commercial property) will be considered as a financial creditor.  These allottees will be represented on the committee of creditors by an authorised representative who will vote on their behalf.

This committee is responsible for taking key decisions related to the resolution process, such as appointing the resolution professional, and approving the resolution plan to be submitted to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).  It also implies that real estate allottees can initiate a corporate insolvency resolution process against the debtor.

Can the amount raised by real estate allottees be considered as financial debt?

The Insolvency Law Committee (2017) had noted that the amount paid by allottees under a real estate project is a means of raising finance for the project, and hence would classify as financial debt.  It had also noted that, in certain cases, allottees provide more money towards a real estate project than banks.  The Bill provides that the amount raised from allottees during the sale of a real estate project would have the commercial effect of a borrowing, and therefore be considered as a financial debt for the real estate company (or the debtor).

However, it may be argued that the money raised from allottees under a real estate project is an advance payment for a future asset (or the property allotted to them).  It is not an explicit loan given to the developer against receipt of interest, or similar consideration for the time value of money, and therefore may not qualify as financial debt.

Do the amendments affect the priority of real estate allottees in the waterfall under liquidation?

During the corporate insolvency resolution process, a committee of creditors (comprising of all financial creditors) may choose to: (i) resolve the debtor company, or (ii) liquidate (sell) the debtor’s assets to repay loans.  If no decision is made by the committee within the prescribed time period, the debtor’s assets are liquidated to repay the debt.  In case of liquidation, secured creditors are paid first after payment of the resolution fees and other resolution costs.  Secured creditors are those whose loans are backed by collateral (security).  This is followed by payment of employee wages, and then payment to all the unsecured creditors.

While the Bill classifies allottees as financial creditors, it does not specify whether they would be treated as secured or unsecured creditors.  Therefore, their position in the order of priority is not clear.

What amendments have been proposed regarding Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)?

Earlier this year, the Code was amended to prohibit certain persons from submitting a resolution plan.  These include: (i) wilful defaulters, (ii) promoters or management of the company if it has an outstanding non-performing asset (NPA) for over a year, and (iii) disqualified directors, among others.  Further, it barred the sale of property of a defaulter to such persons during liquidation.  One of the concerns raised was that in case of some MSMEs, the promoter may be the only person submitting a plan to revive the company.  In such cases, the defaulting firm will go into liquidation even if there could have been a viable resolution plan.

The Bill amends the criteria which prohibits certain persons from submitting a resolution plan.  For example, the Code prohibits a person from being a resolution applicant if his account has been identified as a NPA for more than a year.  The Bill provides that this criterion will not apply if such an applicant is a financial entity, and is not a related party to the debtor (with certain exceptions).  Further, if the NPA was acquired under a resolution plan under this Code, then this criterion will not apply for a period of three years (instead of one).  Secondly, the Code also bars a guarantor of a defaulter from being an applicant.  The Bill specifies that such a bar will apply if such guarantee has been invoked by the creditor and remains unpaid.

In addition to amending these criteria, the Bill also states that the ineligibility criteria for resolution applicants regarding NPAs and guarantors will not be applicable to persons applying for resolution of MSMEs.  The central government may, in public interest, modify or remove other provisions of the Code while applying them to MSMEs.

What are some of the other key changes being proposed?

The Bill also makes certain changes to the procedures under the Code.  Under the Code, all decisions of the committee of creditors have to be taken by a 75% majority of the financial creditors.  The Bill lowers this threshold to 51%.  For certain key decisions, such as appointment of a resolution professional, approving the resolution plan, and making structural changes to the company, the voting threshold has been reduced from 75% to 66%.

The Bill also provides for withdrawal of a resolution application, after the resolution process has been initiated with the NCLT.  Such withdrawal will have to be approved by a 90% vote of the committee of creditors.

Indian Railways: Analysing the Budget

Finances of the Railways were presented along with the Union Budget on February 1, 2018 (the Railways Budget was merged with the Union Budget last year).  In the current Budget Session, Lok Sabha is scheduled to discuss the allocation to the Ministry of Railways.  In light of this, we discuss Railways’ finances, and issues that the transporter has been facing with regard to financing.

What are the different sources of revenue for Railways?

Indian Railways has three primary sources of revenue: (i) its own internal resources (revenue from freight and passenger traffic, leasing of railway land, etc.), (ii) budgetary support from the central government, and (iii) extra budgetary resources (such as market borrowings, institutional financing).

Figure 1Railways’ internal revenue for 2018-19 is estimated at Rs 2,01,090 crore which is 7% higher than the revised estimates of 2017-18.  Majority of this revenue comes from traffic (both freight and passenger), and is estimated at Rs 2,00,840 crore.  In the last few years, Railways has been struggling to run its transportation business, and generate its own revenue.  The growth rate of Railways’ earnings from its core business of running freight and passenger trains has been declining.  This is due to a decline in the growth of both freight and passenger traffic (see Figure 1).  Railways is also slowly losing traffic share to other modes of transport such as roads and airlines.  The share of Railways in total freight traffic has declined from 89% in 1950-51 to 30% in 2011-12.

 

The Committee on Restructuring Railways (2015) had observed that raising revenue for Railways is a challenge because: (i) investment is made in projects that do not have traffic and hence do not generate revenue, (ii) the efficiency improvements do not result in increasing revenue, and (iii) delays in projects results in cost escalation, which makes it difficult to recover costs.  Railways also provides passenger fares that are heavily subsidised, which results in the passenger business facing losses of around Rs 33,000 crore in a year (in 2014-15).  Passenger fares are also cross-subsidised by charging higher rates for freight.  The consequence is that freight rates have been increasing which has resulted in freight traffic moving towards roads.

Figure 2Figure 2 shows the trends in capital outlay over the last decade.  A decline in internal revenue generation has meant that Railways funds its capital expenditure through budgetary support from the central government and external borrowings.  While the support from central government has mostly remained consistent, Railways’ borrowings have been increasing.  Various committees have noted that an increased reliance on borrowings will further exacerbate the financial situation of Railways.

The total proposed capital outlay (or capital expenditure) for 2018-19 is Rs 1,48,528 crore which is a 24% increase from the 2017-18 revised estimates (Rs 1,20,000 crore).  Majority of this capital expenditure will be financed through borrowings (55%), followed by the budgetary support from the central government (37%).  Railways will fund only 8% of its capital expenditure from its own internal resources.

How can Railways raise more money?

The Committee on Restructuring Railways had suggested that Railways can raise more revenue through private participation in the following ways: (i) service and management contracts, (ii) leasing to and from the private sector, (iii) joint ventures, and (iv) private ownership.  However, private participation in Railways has been muted as compared to other sectors such as roads, and airports.

Figure 3One of the key reasons for the failure of private participation in Railways is that policy making, the regulatory function, and operations are all vested within the same organisation, that is, the Ministry of Railways.  Railways’ monopoly also discourages private sector entry into the market.  The Committee on Restructuring Railways had recommended that the three roles must be separated from each other.  It had also recommended setting up an independent regulator for the sector.  The regulator will monitor whether tariffs are market determined and competitive.

Where does Railways spend its money?

The total expenditure for 2018-19 is projected at Rs 1,88,100 crore, which is 4% higher than 2017-18.  Staff wages and pension together comprise more than half of the Railways’ expenditure.  For 2018-19, the expenditure on staff is estimated at Rs 76,452 crore.  Allocation to the Pension Fund is estimated at Rs 47,600 crore.  These constitute about 66% of the Railways’ expenditure in 2018-19.

Railways’ primary expenditure, which is towards the payment of salaries and pension, has been gradually increasing (with a jump of around 15% each year in 2016-17 and 2017-18 due to implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations).  Further, the pension bill is expected to increase further in the years to come, as about 40% of the Railways staff was above the age of 50 years in 2016-17.

The Committee on Restructuring Railways (2015) had observed that the expenditure on staff is extremely high and unmanageable.  This expense is not under the control of Railways and keeps increasing with each Pay Commission revision.  It has also been observed that employee costs (including pensions) is one of the key components that reduces Railways’ ability to generate surplus, and allocate resources towards operations.

What is the allocation towards depreciation of assets?

Railways maintains a Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF) to finance the costs of new assets replacing the old ones.  In 2018-19, appropriation to the DRF is estimated at Rs 500 crore, 90% lower than 2017-18 (Rs 5,000 crore).  In the last few years, appropriation to the DRF has decreased significantly from Rs 7,775 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 5,000 crore last year.  Provisioning Rs 500 crore towards depreciation might be an extremely small amount considering the scale of infrastructure managed by the Indian Railways, and the requirement to replace old assets to ensure safety.

The Standing Committee on Railways (2015) had observed that appropriation to the DRF is the residual amount after appropriation to the Pension Fund, instead of the actual requirement for maintenance of assets.  Under-provisioning for the DRF has also been observed as one of the reasons behind the decline in track renewals, and procurement of wagons and coaches.

Is there any provision towards safety?

Last year, the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh was created to provide for passenger safety.  It was to have a corpus of one lakh crore rupees over a period of five years (Rs 20,000 crore per year).  The central government was to provide a seed amount of Rs 1,000 crore, and the remaining amount would be raised by the Railways from their own revenues or other sources.

As per the revised estimates of 2017-18, no money was allocated towards this fund.  In 2018-19, Rs 5,000 crore has been allocated for it.  With the Railways struggling to meet its expenditure and declining internal revenues, it is unclear how Railways will fund the remaining amount of Rs 95,000 crore for the Rail Sanraksha Kosh.

What happened to the dividend that was waived off last year?

Railways used to pay a return on the budgetary support it received from the government every year, known as dividend.  The rate of this dividend was about 5% in 2015-16.  From 2016-17, the requirement of paying dividend was waived off.  The last dividend amount paid was Rs 8,722 crore in 2015-16.

The Standing Committee on Railways (2017) had noted that part of the benefit from dividend is being utilised to meet the shortfall in the traffic earnings of Railways.  This defeats the purpose of removing the dividend liabilities since they are not being utilised in creating assets or increasing the net revenue of Railways.

Making Smart Cities

In the last decade, the government has implemented several schemes to address issues related to urbanisation and aid the process of urban development.  One of the schemes is the Smart Cities Mission, which intends to take advantage of the developments in information technology in developing the urban development strategy, across 100 cities.  Last week the government announced the list of 9 new Smart Cities, taking the total to 99.  In light of this, we look at the Smart Cities Mission and a few issues with it.

What is a Smart City?

The primary objective of the Mission is to develop cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment, and apply ‘smart’ solutions.

However, the Mission document does not provide one definition of a Smart City.  Instead it allows cities to come up with their own solutions of what they identify as a Smart City.  The guidelines suggest that the core infrastructure elements in a Smart City will include: (i) adequate water supply, (ii) assured electricity supply, (iii) sanitation, including solid waste management, (iv) efficient urban mobility and public transport, (v) affordable housing, (vi) robust IT connectivity, and (vii) good governance.  ‘Smart’ solutions may include (i) energy efficient buildings, (ii) electronic service delivery, (iii) intelligent traffic management, (iv) smart metering, (v) citizen engagement, etc.

How were the Smart Cities selected?

The Mission was introduced in the form of a competition, called the Smart City challenge.  The first stage was in July 2015 when states nominated their cities for the competition.  In August 2015, the Ministry of Urban Development selected 100 of those cities to participate in the competition.  These cities were required to develop their smart city plans (SCPs) and compete against each other.  The SCPs were evaluated on the basis of the solutions, the processes followed, the feasibility and cost effectiveness of the plans, and citizen engagement.  Over the last 2 years, the Ministry has announced winner cities in batches.  So far, 99 cities have been selected under the Mission.

What information do these SCPs contain?

The cities had to prepare their SCPs with two primary strategic components: (i) area-based development, and (ii) pan-city development.  The area-based development would cover a particular area of the city, and could have either a redevelopment model, or be a completely new development.  Pan-city development would envisage application of certain smart solutions across the city to the existing infrastructure.

Each city had to formulate its own concept, vision, mission and plan for a Smart City that was appropriate to its local context and resources.  The Ministry of Urban Development provided technical assistance, through consultancy firms, to cities for helping them prepare these strategic documents.

How will the Mission be implemented?

The Mission will be implemented at the city level by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV).  The SPV will plan, approve, release funds, implement, manage, monitor, and evaluate the Smart City development projects.

The SPV will be a limited company incorporated under the Companies Act, 2013 at the city-level.  It will be chaired by the Collector/ Municipal Commissioner of the Urban Development Authority.  The respective state and the Urban Local Body (ULB or municipality) will be the promoters in this company having 50:50 equity shareholding.

How are the Plans getting financed?

The Mission will be operated as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme.  The central government will provide financial support of up to Rs 48,000 crore over five years, that is, an average of Rs 500 crore per city.  The states and ULBs will have to contribute an equal amount.  The central government allocated Rs 4,000 crore towards the Mission in the 2017-18 budget.

Since funding from the government will meet only a part of the funding required, the rest will have to be raised from other sources including: (i) states/ ULBs own resources from collection of user fees, land monetization, etc., (ii) innovative finance mechanisms such as municipal bonds, (iii) leverage borrowings from financial institutions (such as banks), and (iv) the private sector through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).

The total cost of projects proposed under the various SCPs of the 90 winner cities is Rs 1.9 lakh crore.  About 42% of this amount will come from central and state funding, 23% through private investments and PPPs, and 19% through convergence with other schemes (such as HRIDAY, AMRUT, Swachh Bharat-Urban).  The remaining will be generated by the cities through the levy of local taxes, and user fees.

What are some of the issues to consider?

Financial capacity of cities:  Under the Mission, cities have to generate additional revenue through various sources including market borrowings, PPPs, and land monetization.  The High Powered Expert Committee on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services (HPEC) had observed that ULBs in India are among the weakest in the world, both in terms of capacity to raise resources and financial autonomy.  Even though ULBs have been getting higher allocations from the centre and states, and tax devolution to them has increased, their own tax bases are narrow.  Further, owing to their poor governance and financial situation, ULBs find it difficult to access external financing.

Such a situation may pose problems when implementing the Mission, where the ULBs have to raise a significant share of the revenue through external sources (PPPs, market borrowings).  For example, the Bhubaneswar Smart City Plan has a total project cost of Rs 4,537 crore (over five years), while the city’s annual budget for 2014-15 was Rs 469 crore.

In order to improve the finances of the ULBs, committees have made various recommendations, which include:

  • State governments make legislative changes to give more taxation powers and autonomy to ULBs for improving their revenue collections.
  • ULBs could raise their own revenue by tapping into land-based financing sources, and introducing reforms to strengthen non-tax revenues (such as water and sewerage charges, parking fees, etc.).
  • Municipal bonds may also be used as a source of revenue for ULBs.

The government has recently introduced a few policies and mechanisms to address municipal financing.  Examples include value capture financing through public investments in infrastructure projects, and a credit rating system for cities.  In June 2017, the Pune Municipal Corporation raised Rs 200 crore by issuing municipal bonds.

Technical capacity of the ULBs:  The Smart Cities Mission seeks to empower ULBs to raise their own revenue, and also lays emphasis on the capacity building of ULBs.  The HPEC had observed that municipal administration has suffered due to: (i) presence of untrained and unskilled manpower, and (ii) shortage of qualified technical staff and managerial supervisors.  It had recommended improving the technical capacity of ULBs by providing technical assistance to state governments, and ULBs in planning, financing, monitoring, and operation of urban programmes.  The central government had allocated Rs 10.5 crore towards the capacity building component of the Mission in 2017-18.

The Ministry of Urban Development has been running several programmes to improve capacity of ULBs.  This includes MoUs with 18 states to conduct training programmes for their ULB staff.

Coverage of the Mission:  The Mission covers 100 cities, of which 99 have been announced as winners so far.   The urban population that will be impacted through the Mission is around 96 million (data for 90 cities excluding the recently announced 9 cities).

As per Census 2011, India’s urban population was 377 million.  The Mission impacts about 25% of this population.  Further, most of the SCPs approved so far focus on area-based development, thus affecting a particular area of the cities.  About 80% of the total project cost proposed is towards this model of development.  In each city, this area-based development will cover up to 50 acres of area.  The remaining 20% of the project cost is towards pan-city development proposals, which provide smart planning solutions for the entire city.  It may be argued that even within the selected cities, the Mission will only impact few selected areas, and not necessarily help with development of the entire city.

Electrification in India: ‘Saubhagya’ scheme

Recently, the central government launched the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (or Saubhagya).[i],[ii]  The scheme seeks to ensure universal household electrification (in both rural and urban areas) by providing last mile connectivity.  The scheme is expected to cover three crore households.  Note that currently about four crore households are un-electrified.  A rural electrification scheme has also been under implementation since 2005.  In light of this, we discuss the current situation of, and key issues related to rural electrification in the country.

Regulatory and policy framework

Under the Electricity Act, 2003, the central and state governments have the joint responsibility of providing electricity to rural areas.  The 2003 Act also mandates that the central government should, in consultation with the state governments, provide for a national policy on (i) stand-alone power systems for rural areas (systems that are not connected to the electricity grid), and (ii) electrification and local distribution in rural areas.  Consequently, the Rural Electrification Policy was notified in August 2006.[iii]

The Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), launched in 2005, was the first scheme on rural electrification.  In December 2014, Ministry of Power launched the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), which subsumed the RGGVY.[iv]  Components of DDUGJY include: (i) separation of agricultural and non-agricultural electricity feeders to improve supply for consumers in rural areas, (ii) improving sub-transmission and distribution infrastructure in rural areas, and (iii) rural electrification by carrying forward targets specified under the RGGVY.

The total financial outlay for DDUGJY over the implementation period (until 2021-22) is Rs 82,300 crore which includes budgetary support of Rs 68,900 crore.  The central government provides 60% of the project cost as grant, the state power distribution companies (discoms) raise 10% of the funds, and 30% is borrowed from financial institutions and banks.

Status of rural electrification

As of August 2017, about 1% of the villages in India remain un-electrified (3,146 villages).  However, with regard to households, around 23% (4.1 crore households) are yet to be electrified.  Table 1 at the end of this post shows the status of rural electrification across all states.

Issues with rural electrification

Definition of an electrified village

An electrified village is defined as one that has the following: (i) provision of basic infrastructure such as distribution transformers and lines in the inhabited locality, (ii) provision of electricity in public places like schools, panchayat office, health centers, dispensaries, and community centers, and (iii) at least 10% of the total number of households in the village are electrified.[iv]

Therefore, a village is considered to be electrified if 10% of the total number of households in the village have been electrified.  This is apart from the basic infrastructure and electrification of certain public centers in the village.  The Standing Committee on Energy (2013) had observed that according to this definition, a village would be called electrified even if up to 90% of households in it do not have an electricity connection.[v]  It also noted that the infrastructure being provided under the scheme is highly inadequate, unreliable and unsustainable.  The Committee recommended that the actual electrification requirement of villages must be assessed, and it should be ensured that the state discoms provide electricity to the remaining households in the village.

Supply of electricity

The Standing Committee had also noted that while the rural electrification scheme looks at creating infrastructure, the actual supply of electricity to households rests with the state discoms.[v]  These discoms are already facing huge financial losses and hence are unable to supply electricity to the villages.  Discoms continue to supply subsidised power to agricultural and residential consumers, resulting in revenue losses.  Further, the average technical and commercial losses (theft and pilferage of electricity) (AT&C losses) are at around 25%.  While the Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) has eased off some of the financial losses of the discoms, it remains to be seen whether discoms are able to reduce the cost-tariff gap and AT&C losses in the future.

It has been recommended that generation capacity should be augmented so that states can meet the additional demand under the rural electrification schemes. Further, the assistance to financially weaker states should be increased so that they can better implement the scheme.[v]

Electricity to below poverty line (BPL) households

Under the rural electrification scheme, the cost for providing free electricity connection per BPL household is Rs 3,000.  It has been observed that this cost per household may be inadequate.[v]  Due to the low cost, the quantity and the quality of work has been getting compromised leading to poor implementation of the scheme.  It has been recommended that the Ministry should revisit the cost provided under the scheme.[v]

The new electrification scheme: Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (or Saubhagya)

The new scheme, Saubhagya, seeks to ensure universal household electrification, that is, in both rural and urban areas.  Under Saubhagya, beneficiaries will be identified using the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011 data.  The identified poor households will get free electricity connections.  Other households not covered under the SECC, will be provided electricity connections at a cost of Rs 500.  This amount will be collected by the electricity distribution companies in 10 instalments.

The total outlay of the scheme will be Rs 16,320 crore, of which the central government will provide Rs 12,320 crore.  The outlay for the rural households will be Rs 14,025 crore, of which the centre will provide Rs 10,588 crore.  For urban households the outlay will be Rs 2,295 crore of which the centre will provide Rs. 1,733 crore.

The state discoms will execute the electrification works through contractors or other suitable agencies.  Information technology (mobile apps, web portals) will be used to organise camps in villages to identify beneficiaries.  In order to accelerate the process, applications for electricity connections will be completed on the spot.

So far the focus of electrification schemes has been on rural areas, where typically last mile connectivity has been difficult to provide.  Saubhagya extends the ambit of electrification projects to urban areas as well.  While DDUGJY has focused on the village as the principal unit to measure electrification, the new scheme shifts the targets to household electrification.  While the target for ensuring electricity connection in each household will be a significant step towards ensuring 24×7 power, the question of continuous and quality supply to these households will still rest on the ability of the discoms to provide electricity.  Further, while the scheme provides for free connections, the ability of these households to pay for the electricity they consume may be a concern.

Table 1: Status of rural electrification across states (as of August 2017)

Fig 1 edit

* all villages in Telangana were declared electrified before the bifurcation of the state.
Sources:  Ministry of Power; PRS.

 

[i] “PM launches Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana “Saubhagya””, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Power, September 25, 2017.

[ii] “FAQs on Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana “Saubhagya””, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Power, September 27, 2017.

[iii].  Rural Electrification Policy, Ministry of Power, August 23, 2006, http://powermin.nic.in/sites/default/files/uploads/RE%20Policy_1.pdf.

[iv].  “Office memorandum: Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana”, Ministry of Power, December 3, 2014, http://powermin.nic.in/rural_electrification/pdf/Deendayal_Upadhyaya_Gram_Jyoti_Yojana.pdf.

[v].  “41st Report: Implementation of Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana”, Standing Committee on Energy, December 13, 2013, http://164.100.47.134/lsscommittee/Energy/15_Energy_41.pdf.

Safety in Indian Railways

Safety has been one of the biggest concerns in the Indian Railways system.  While the number of accidents have gone down over the last few years, the number still remains over 100 accidents a year.  In light of the recent train accidents in Uttar Pradesh (UP), we present some details around accidents and safety in the Indian Railways.

Causes of rail accidents

The number of rail accidents has declined from 325 in 2003-04 to 106 in 2015-16.[1]  The number of rail accidents as per the cause are shown in the graph below.  In 2015-16, majority of the accidents were caused due to derailments (60%), followed by accidents at level crossings (33%).1  In the last decade, accidents caused due to both these causes have reduced by about half.  According to news reports, the recent railway accidents in UP were caused due to derailment of coaches.

1

Derailments

Between 2003-04 and 2015-16, derailments were the second highest reason for casualties.2  The Standing Committee on Railways, when examining the safety in railways, had noted that one of the reasons for derailments is defect in the track or coaches.  Of the total track length of 1,14,907 kms in the country, 4,500 kms should be renewed annually.2  However, in 2015-16, of the 5,000 km of track length due for renewal, only 2,700 km was targeted to be renewed.2  The Committee had recommended that Indian Railways should switch completely to the Linke Hoffman Busch (LHB) coaches as they do not pile upon each other during derailments and hence cause lesser casualties.2

Un-manned level crossings

Un-manned level crossings (UMLCs) continue to be the biggest cause of casualties in rail accidents.  Currently there are 14,440 UMLCs in the railway network.  In 2014-15, about 40% of the accidents occurred at UMLCs, and in 2015-16, about 28%.2  Between 2010 and 2013, the Ministry fell short of meeting their annual targets to eliminate UMLCs.  Further, the target of eliminating 1,352 UMLCs was reduced by about 50% to 730 in 2014-15, and 820 in 2015-16.2  Implementation of audio-visual warnings at level crossings has been recommended to warn road users about approaching trains.2  These may include Approaching Train Warning Systems, and Train Actuated Warning Systems.2  The Union Budget 2017-18 proposes to eliminate all unmanned level crossings on broad gauge lines by 2020.

Casualties and compensation

In the last few years, Railways has paid an average compensation of Rs 3.03 crore every year for accidents (see figure below).[2]

2

Note: Compensation paid during a year relates to the cases settled and not to accidents/casualties during that year.

Consequential train accidents

Accidents in railways may or may not have a significant impact on the overall system.  Consequential train accidents are those which have serious repercussions in terms of loss of human life or injury, damage to railway property or interruption to rail traffic.  These include collisions, derailments, fire in trains, and similar accidents that have serious repercussions in terms of casualties and damage to property.  These exclude cases of trespassing at unmanned railway crossings.

As seen in the figure below, the share of failure of railways staff is the biggest cause of consequential rail accidents.  The number of rail accidents due to failure of reasons other than the railway staff (sabotage) has increased in the last few years.

3

Accidents due to failure of railway staff

It has been noted that more than half of the accidents are due to lapses on the part of railway staff.2  Such lapses include carelessness in working, poor maintenance, adoption of short-cuts, and non-observance of laid down safety rules and procedures.  To address these issues, conducting a regular refresher course for each category of railway staff has been recommended.2

Accidents due to loco-pilots2,[3]

Accidents also occur due to signalling errors for which loco-pilots (train-operators) are responsible.  With rail traffic increasing, loco-pilots encounter a signal every few kilometres and have to constantly be on high alert.  Further, currently no technological support is available to the loco-pilots and they have to keep a vigilant watch on the signal and control the train accordingly.2 These Loco-pilots are over-worked as they have to be on duty beyond their stipulated working hours.  This work stress and fatigue puts the life of thousands of commuters at risk and affects the safety of train operations.2  It has been recommended that loco-pilots and other related running staff should be provided with sound working conditions, better medical facilities and other amenities to improve their performance.2

Actions taken by Railways with regard to the recent train accident

According to news reports, the recent accident of Utkal Express in UP resulted in 22 casualties and over 150 injuries.[4]  It has also been reported that following this incident, the Railways Ministry initiated action against certain officials (including a senior divisional engineer), and three senior officers (including a General Manager and a Railway Board Member).

The Committee on Restructuring of Railways had noted that currently each Railway zone (headed by a General Manager) is responsible for operation, management, and development of the railway system under its jurisdiction.[5]  However, the power to make financial decisions does not rest with the zones and hence they do not possess enough autonomy to generate their own revenue, or take independent decisions.5

While the zones prepare their annual budget, the Railway Board provides the annual financial budget outlay for each of them.  As a result of such budgetary control, the GM’s powers have been reduced leaving them with little independence in planning their operations.5

The Committee recommended that the General Managers must be fully empowered to take all necessary decisions independent of the Railway Board.5  Zonal Railways should also have full power for expenditure and re-appropriations and sanctions.  This will make each Zonal Railway accountable for its transport output, profitability and safety under its jurisdiction.

Under-investment in railways leading to accidents

In 2012, a Committee headed by Mr. Anil Kakodkar had estimated that the total financial cost of implementing safety measures over the five-year period (2012-17) was likely be around Rs one lakh crore.  In the Union Budget 2017-18, the creation of a Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh was proposed for passenger safety.  It will have a corpus of Rs one lakh crore, which will be built over a five-year period (Rs 20,000 crore per year).

The Standing Committee on Railways had noted that slow expansion of rail network has put undue burden on the existing infrastructure leading to severe congestion and safety compromises.2  Since independence, while the rail network has increased by 23%, passenger and freight traffic over this network has increased by 1,344% and 1,642% respectively.2  This suggests that railway lines are severely congested.  Further, under-investment in the sector has resulted in congested routes, inability to add new trains, reduction of train speeds, and more rail accidents.2  Therefore, avoiding such accidents in the future would also require significant investments towards capital and maintenance of rail infrastructure.2

Tags: railways, safety, accidents, finances, derailment, casualty, passengers, train

[1] Railways Year Book 2015-16, Ministry of Railways, http://www.indianrailways.gov.in/railwayboard/uploads/directorate/stat_econ/IRSP_2015-16/Year_Book_Eng/8.pdf.

[2] “12th Report: Safety and security in Railways”, Standing Committee on Railways, December 14, 2016, http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/Railways/16_Railways_12.pdf.

[3] Report of High Level Safety Review Committee, Ministry of Railways, February 17, 2012.

[4] “Utkal Express derailment: Four railway officials suspended as death toll rises to 22”, The Indian Express, August 20, 2017, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/utkal-express-train-derailment-four-railway-officers-suspended-suresh-prabhu-muzaffarnagar-22-dead-4805532/.

[5] Report of the Committee for Mobilization of Resources for Major Railway Projects and Restructuring of Railway Ministry and Railway Board, Ministry of Railways, June 2015, http://www.indianrailways.gov.in/railwayboard/uploads/directorate/HLSRC/FINAL_FILE_Final.pdf.

Financing urban development

India’s urban population has grown by 32% from 2001 to 2011 as compared to 18% growth in total population of the country.[1]  As per Census 2011, 31% of the country’s population (377 million people) live in cities, and contribute to 63% of the country’s GDP.[2]  The urban population is projected to grow up to 600 million by 2031.2  With increasing urban population, the need for providing better infrastructure and services in cities is increasing.[3]  The government has introduced several schemes to address different urban issues.  These include the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Smart Cities Mission, Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – Housing for All (Urban) (PMAY-U), and Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban).

Last week the Ministry of Urban Development released the next batch of winners under the Smart Cities Mission.[4]  This takes the number of smart cities to 90.  The government has also announced a few policies and released data indicators to help with the implementation of the urban schemes.  In light of all this, we discuss how the new schemes are changing the mandate of urban development, the fiscal challenge of implementing such schemes, and the policies that are trying to address some of these challenges.

Urbanisation in India

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), launched in 2005, was one of the first urban development schemes implemented by the central government.  Under JnNURM, the central government specified certain mandatory and optional reforms for cities, and provided assistance to the state governments and cities that were linked to the implementation of these reforms.  JnNURM focused on improving urban infrastructure and service delivery, community participation, and accountability of city governments towards citizens.

In comparison, the new urban schemes move beyond the mandate that was set by JnNURM.  While AMRUT captures most of the objectives under JnNURM, the other schemes seek to address issues around sanitation (through Swachh Bharat), affordable housing (through PMAY-U), and technology innovation (through Smart Cities).  Further, the new schemes seek to decentralize the planning process to the city and state level, by giving them more decision making powers.2  So, while earlier, majority of the funding came from the central and state governments, now, a significant share of the funding needs to be raised by the cities themselves.

For example, under the Smart Cities Mission, the total cost of projects proposed by the 60 smart cities (winners from the earlier rounds) is Rs 1.3 lakh crore.[5]  About 42% of this amount will come from central and state funding towards the Mission, and the rest will be raised by the cities.[6]

The new schemes suggest that cities may raise these funds through: (i) their own resources such as collection of user fees, land monetization, property taxes, etc., (ii) finance mechanisms such as municipal bonds, (iii) leveraging borrowings from financial institutions, and (iv) the private sector through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).[7]

In 2011, an Expert Committee on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services (HPEC) had projected that creation of the required urban infrastructure would translate into an investment of Rs 97,500 crore to Rs 1,95,000 crore annually.[8]  The current urban schemes are investing around Rs 32,500 crore annually.

Financial capacity of cities

Currently, the different sources of revenue that municipal corporations have access to include: (i) tax revenue (property tax, tax on electricity, toll tax, entertainment tax), (ii) non-tax revenue (user charges, building permission fees, sale and hire charges), (iii) grants-in-aid (from state and central governments), and (iv) debt (loans borrowed from financial institutions and banks, and municipal bonds).

While cities are now required to raise more financing for urban projects, they do not have the required fiscal and technical capacity.8,[9]  The HPEC had observed that cities in India are among the weakest in the world, both in terms of capacity to raise resources and financial autonomy.  Even though cities have been getting higher allocations from the centre and states, their own tax bases are narrow.8  Further, several taxes that cities can levy are still mandated by the state government.  Because of their poor governance and financial situation, cities also find it difficult to access external financing.8,7

In order to help cities improve their finances, the government has introduced a few policies, and released a few indicators.  Some of these are discussed below:

Policy proposals and data indicators

Value Capture Financing (VCF):  The VCF policy framework was introduced by the Ministry of Urban Development in February 2017.[10]  VCF is a principle that states that people benefiting from public investments in infrastructure should pay for it.  Currently when governments invest in roads, airports and industries in an area, private property owners in that area benefit from it.  However, governments recover only a limited value from such investments, constraining their ability to make further public investments elsewhere.  VCF helps in capturing a part of the increment in the value of land due to such investments, and use it to fund new infrastructure projects.

The different instruments of VCF include: land value tax, fee for changing land use, betterment levy, development charges, transfer of development rights, and land pooling systems.10  For example, Karnataka uses certain value capture methods to fund its mass transit projects.  The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), and City and Industrial Development Corporation Limited (CIDCO) have used betterment levy (tax levied on land that has gained in value because of public infrastructure investments) to finance infrastructure projects.

Municipal bonds:  Municipal bonds are bonds issued by urban local bodies (municipal corporations or entities owned by municipal bodies) to raise money for financing specific projects such as infrastructure projects.  The Securities and Exchange Board of India regulations (2015) regarding municipal bonds provide that, to issue such bonds, municipalities must: (i) not have negative net worth in any of the three preceding financial years, and (ii) not have defaulted in any loan repayments in the last one year.[11]  Therefore, a city’s performance in the bond market depends on its fiscal performance.  One of the ways to determine a city’s financial health is through credit ratings.

Credit rating of cities:  In September 2016, the Ministry of Urban Development started assigning cities with credit ratings.[12]  These credit ratings were assigned based on assets and liabilities of the cities, revenue streams, resources available for capital investments, accounting practices, and other governance practices.

Of the total 20 ratings ranging from AAA to D, BBB is the ‘Investment Grade’ rating and cities rated below BBB need to undertake necessary interventions to improve their ratings for obtaining positive response to the Municipal Bonds to be issued.  By March 2017, 94 cities were assigned credit ratings, 55 of which got ‘investment grade’ ratings.[13]

Credit ratings indicate what projects might be more lucrative for investments.  This, in turn, helps investors decide where to invest and determine the terms of such investments (based on the expected returns).

Earlier this month, the Pune Municipal Corporation raised Rs 200 crore through the sale of municipal bonds, to finance water supply projects under the Smart Cities Mission.[14]  The city had received an AA+ credit rating (second highest rating) in the recent credit rankings assigned by the central government.

Other than credit ratings, the Ministry of Urban Development has also come up with other data indicators around cities such as the Swachh Bharat rankings, and the City Liveability Index (measuring mobility, access to healthcare and education, employment opportunities, etc).  These rankings seek to foster a sense of competition across cities, and also help them map their performances year on year.

Some financing mechanisms, such as municipal bonds, have been around in India for the last two decades, but cities haven’t been able to make much use of them.  It remains to be seen whether the introduction of indicators such as credit ratings helps the municipal bond market take off.  While these mechanisms may improve the finances of cities, the question is would more funding solve the cities’ problems.  Or would it require municipal government to take a different approach to problem solving.

[1] Census of India, 2011.

[2] Mission Statement and Guidelines, Smart Cities, Ministry of Urban Development, June 2015, http://smartcities.gov.in/writereaddata/SmartCityGuidelines.pdf.

[3] Report on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services, March, 2011, The High Powered Expert Committee for estimating the investment requirements for urban infrastructure services, http://icrier.org/pdf/FinalReport-hpec.pdf.

[4] “30 more smart cities announced; takes the total to 90 so far”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Urban Development, June 23, 2017.

[5]  Smart Cities Mission, Ministry of Urban Development, last accessed on June 30, 2017, http://smartcities.gov.in/content/.

[6] Smart City Plans, Last accessed in June 2017.

[7] “Financing of Smart Cities”, Smart Cities Mission, Ministry of Urban Development, http://smartcities.gov.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/Financing%20of%20Smart%20Cities.pdf.

[8] “Report on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services”, March, 2011, The High Powered Expert Committee for estimating the investment requirements for urban infrastructure services, http://icrier.org/pdf/FinalReport-hpec.pdf.

[9] Fourteenth Finance Commission, Ministry of Finance, February 2015, http://finmin.nic.in/14fincomm/14fcrengVol1.pdf.

[10] Value Capture Finance Policy Framework, Ministry of Urban Development, February 2017, http://smartcities.gov.in/upload/5901982d9e461VCFPolicyFrameworkFINAL.pdf.

[11] Securities and Exchange Board of India (Issue and Listing of Debt Securities by Municipalities) Regulations, 2015, Securities and Exchange Board of India, July 15, 2015, http://www.sebi.gov.in/sebi_data/attachdocs/1436964571729.pdf.

[12] “Credit rating of cities under urban reforms begins”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Urban Development, September 6, 2016.

[13] “Credit Rating of Urban Local Bodies gain Momentum”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Urban Development, March 26, 2017.

[14] “Pune civic body raises Rs200 crore via municipal bonds”, LiveMint, June 19, 2017, http://www.livemint.com/Money/JOOzaSTKnC6k1EZGeFh8LJ/Pune-civic-body-raises-Rs200-crore-via-municipal-bonds.html.