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)

















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.