Policy

Ban on cryptocurrencies: Understanding the proposed legislation

In July, a Committee set up by the Ministry of Finance to study issues related to virtual currencies, submitted its report.  The Committee recommended that all private cryptocurrencies should be banned in India.  Correspondingly, the Committee proposed a draft Bill banning cryptocurrency in the country.  In this blog, we explain cryptocurrencies and how they are used, recommendations of the Committee with respect to cryptocurrencies and the regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies in India and other countries.

What are virtual currencies and what is their use?

Virtual currency is a digitally tradable form of value, which can be used as a medium of exchange, or a stored value which can be utilised later.  It does not have the status of a legal tender.  A legal tender is guaranteed by the central government and all parties are legally bound to accept it as a mode of payment.

Cryptocurrency is a specific type of virtual currency, which is decentralised and protected by cryptographic encryption techniques.  Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple are a few notable examples of cryptocurrencies.  Decentralisation implies that there is no central authority where records of transactions are maintained.  Instead, anyone can create a transaction.  This transaction data is recorded and shared across multiple distributor networks, through independent computers as shown in Figure 1.  This technology is known as Distributed Ledger Technology.

Figure 1: Distributed Ledger Technology

  The Committee noted that there are two principal ways in which cryptocurrencies are raising money.  First, through Initial Coin Offerings, where digital tokens are issued in exchange for other currencies.  Second, through using it as a means of exchange or a payment system.  As of February 2019, there were more than 2,000 cryptocurrencies across the world, with a market capitalisation of approximately USD 120 billion.

Why has the Committee recommended banning of cryptocurrencies?

The Committee noted various regulatory concerns around virtual currencies, and cryptocurrencies in particular.  These include:

Fluctuation in prices: Cryptocurrencies are subjected to market fluctuations and the lack of a centralised authority makes it difficult to regulate them.  For instance, in December 2017, the value of Bitcoin cryptocurrency was around USD 20,000 per coin, which reduced to USD 3,800 per coin by November 2018.  The Ministry of Finance, in a press statement, noted that the price of virtual currencies is a matter of mere speculation resulting in spurt and volatility in their prices.

Risk to consumers: The Committee also noted that there are several vulnerabilities in the design of cryptocurrencies which leave consumers open to risk of fraud.  These include phishing cyber-attacks and ponzi schemes.  For instance, a Rs 2,000 crore ponzi scheme was unveiled in April 2018.  Further, cryptocurrency transactions are irreversible, which means once a transaction is done, there is no way to remedy it.

Impact on power consumption: The Committee also observed that cryptocurrencies can have unfavourable consequences on India’s energy demand.  Validating transactions in a distributed network involves high electricity consumption and requires high computation power.  The Committee noted a study which estimated that 19 households in USA can be powered for one day by the electricity consumed in a single transaction of bitcoin cryptocurrency.

Potential use for criminal activity: The Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental organisation to combat money laundering, in its report (2014) observed that virtual currencies provide greater anonymity than traditional payment methods.  This makes them more vulnerable to money-laundering and illicit funding for terror financing.  The Committee noted that the decentralised nature and the anonymity which cryptocurrencies provide makes it difficult for law enforcement authorities to track down people involved in illicit activities.  

Is there any country which has permitted use of cryptocurrencies?

Different countries have adopted different regulatory frameworks with respect to cryptocurrencies.  Some countries have permitted the use of cryptocurrencies as a payment system while there is a complete ban on cryptocurrencies in some others.  Note that no country has allowed use of any virtual currency as legal tender.

Table 1: Regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies in different countries

Country

Regulatory Framework

Canada

Permitted as a payment system and as a form of investment, income from it is taxed

Switzerland

Permitted as a payment system (including consumer to government transactions) and as a form of investment

Japan

Permitted and regulated as a payment system

China

Use of cryptocurrency is banned for all purposes

What are the present regulations in India with respect to cryptocurrencies?

In the last few years, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has notified the potential financial, operational, legal and security risks related to cryptocurrencies on multiple occasions (December 2013, February 2017 and December 2017).  In December 2017, the Ministry of Finance issued a statement which clarified that virtual currencies are not legal tender and do not have any regulatory permission or protection in India.  Further, the investors and participants dealing with them are doing so entirely at their risk and should best avoid participating.  In the 2018-19 budget speech, the Finance Minister announced that the government does not consider cryptocurrencies as legal tender and will take all measures to eliminate their use in financing illegitimate activities or as a part of payment system.  In April 2018, RBI notified that entities regulated by it should not deal in virtual currencies or provide services for facilitating any person or entity in dealing with or settling virtual currencies.

How does the draft Bill proposed by the Committee change these regulations?

Currently, only the entities regulated by the central bank are prohibited from dealing in, or providing services for dealing in virtual currencies.  The draft Bill prohibits any form of mining (creating cryptocurrency), issuing, buying, holding, selling or dealing in cryptocurrency in the country.  Further, it provides that cryptocurrency should not be used as legal tender or currency in India.  The Bill allows for the use of technology or processes underlying cryptocurrency for the purpose of experiment, research or teaching. 

The Bill also provides for offences and punishments for the contravention of its provisions.  For instance, it states that mining, holding, selling, issuing or using cryptocurrency is punishable with a fine, or imprisonment up to 10 years, or both.  For individuals who might be in possession of cryptocurrencies, the Bill provides for a transition period of 90 days from the commencement of the Act, during which a person may dispose of any cryptocurrency in their possession, as per the notified rules.

Are there any areas where the Committee recommended use of cryptocurrencies?

According to the Committee, while cryptocurrencies or virtual currencies do not offer any advantages, the underlying technology behind them (Distributed Ledger Technology, DLT) has many potential applications, both in finance and non-finance sectors.  Some of these are listed in Table 2.  The Committee observed that DLT makes it easier to identify duplicate transactions, and therefore can be utilised for fraud-detection, processing KYC requirements, and claim management for insurance.  Further, it can be helpful for removing errors and frauds in land markets, if used for maintaining land records.  The Committee was also of the view that the idea of an official digital currency in India can be explored further, and that the government may setup a group to examine and develop an appropriate model of digital currency in India.

Table 2: Applications of Distributed Ledger Technology

Sector

Possible uses of DLT

Payments

Faster and cheaper cross-border payments

Reduced transaction cost for micro-payments

Identification

Storing personal records such as birth, marriage or death certificates

Removing duplicates in identification platforms such as KYC

Insurance

Fraud detection and risk prevention

Claims prevention and management

Ownership registries

Removing errors and frauds in land markets

Administrative ease of maintaining land records

Trade Financing

Reduced operational complexity and transaction costs

Explaining the draft Bill on violence against healthcare professionals and clinical establishments

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a draft Bill to address incidences of violence against healthcare professionals and damage to the property of clinical establishments.  Public comments on the draft Bill are invited till the end of September.  In this context, we discuss key provisions of the draft Bill below.

What does the draft Bill seek to do?

The draft Bill prohibits any acts of violence committed against healthcare service personnel including doctors, nurses, para medical workers, medical students, and ambulance drivers, among others.  It also prohibits any damage caused to hospitals, clinics, and ambulances. 

Under the draft Bill, violence means any act which may cause: (i) harm, injury or danger to the life of a healthcare service personnel, while discharging their duty, (ii) obstruction or hindrance to healthcare service personnel, while discharging their duty, and (ii) loss or damage to any property or documents in a clinical establishment. 

What are the penalties for committing such acts of violence?

Currently, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides for penalties for any harm caused to an individual or any damage caused to property.  Further, the Code prescribes penalties for causing grievous hurt i.e., permanent damage to another individual.  The draft Bill additionally specifies penalties for similar offences caused to healthcare professionals and clinical establishments. 

Under the draft Bill, any person who commits violence, or abets such violence may be punished with imprisonment between six months to five years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees.  However, if any person causes grievous hurt to a healthcare service professional, he will be imprisoned for a period between three years to ten years, along with a fine between two lakh rupees and Rs 10 lakh.  Note that, currently under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, an individual who commits grievous hurt is punishable with imprisonment of up to seven years, along with a fine.

In addition to the punishment for offences committed under the draft Bill, the convicted person will also be liable to pay compensation to the affected parties.  This includes: (i) payment of twice the amount of the market value of the damaged property, (ii) one lakh rupees for causing hurt to healthcare service personnel, and (iii) five lakh rupees for causing grievous hurt to healthcare service personnel.  In case of non-payment of compensation, the amount may be recovered under the Revenue Recovery Act, 1890.  The Act provides for recovering certain public arrears by attaching the property of an individual. 

How will these cases of violence be investigated?

All offences under the draft Bill will be cognizable (i.e., a police officer can arrest without a warrant) and non-bailable.  An aggrieved healthcare service professional can write a request to the person-in-charge of the clinical establishment to inform the police of an offence committed under the draft Bill.  Further, any case registered under this Bill will be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.

This Bill is currently in the draft stage and has been released for comments by stakeholders and experts in the field.  The draft will be revised to incorporate such suggestions.  Note that, comments can be emailed to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare at us-ms-mohfwnic.in by the end of September.

Examining pendency of cases in the Judiciary

Yesterday, Parliament passed a Bill to increase the number of judges in the Supreme Court from 30 to 33 (excluding the Chief Justice of India).  The Bill was introduced in view of increasing pendency of cases in the Supreme Court.  In 2012, the Supreme Court approved the Scheme of National Court Management System to provide a framework for case management.  The scheme estimated that with an increase in literacy, per capita income, and population, the number of new cases filed each year may go up to 15 crore over the next three decades, which will require at least 75,000 judges.  In this blog, we analyse the pendency of cases at all three levels of courts, i.e. the Supreme Court, the Highs Courts, and the subordinate courts, and discuss the capacity of these courts to dispose of cases.

Pendency in courts has increased over the years; 87% of all pending cases are in subordinate courts

Sources:  Court News, 2006, Supreme Court of India; National Data Judicial Grid accessed on August 7, 2019; PRS.

Overall, the pendency of cases has increased significantly at every level of the judicial hierarchy in the last decade.  Between 2006 and now, there has been an overall increase of 22% (64 lakh cases) in the pendency of cases across all courts.  As of August 2019, there are over 3.5 crore cases pending across the Supreme Court, the High Courts, and the subordinate courts.  Of these, subordinate courts account for over 87.3% pendency of cases, followed by 12.5% pendency before the 24 High Courts.  The remaining 0.2% of cases are pending with the Supreme Court.  The primary reason for growing pendency of cases is that the number of new cases filed every year has outpaced the number of disposed of cases.  This has resulted in a growing backlog of cases.

In High Courts and subordinate courts, over 32 lakh cases pending for over 10 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:  National Data Judicial Grid accessed on August 7, 2019; Court News, 2006-17, Supreme Court of India; PRS.

In the High Courts, over 8.3 lakh cases have been pending for over 10 years.  This constitutes 19% of all pending High Court cases.  Similarly, in the subordinate courts, over 24 lakh cases (8%) have been pending for over 10 years.  Overall, Allahabad High Court had the highest pendency, with over seven lakh cases pending as of 2017.

Despite high pendency, some High Courts have managed to reduce their backlog.  Between 2006 and 2017, pendency of cases reduced the most in Madras High Court at a rate of 26%, followed by Bombay High Court at 24%.  Conversely, during the same period, the pendency of cases doubled in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, and increased by 2.5 times in Karnataka High Court.

As a result of pendency, number of under-trials in prison is more than double that of convicts

Sources:  Prison Statistics in India, 2015, National Crime Record Bureau; PRS.

Over the years, as a result of growing pendency of cases for long periods, the number of undertrials (accused awaiting trial) in prisons has increased.  Prisons are running at an over-capacity of 114%.  As of 2015, there were over four lakh prisoners in jails.  Of these, two-thirds were undertrials (2.8 lakh) and the remaining one-third were convicts. 

The highest proportion of undertrials (where the number of inmates was at least over 1,000) were in J&K (85%), followed by Bihar (82%).  A total of 3,599 undertrials were detained in jails for more than five years.  Uttar Pradesh had the highest number of such undertrials (1,364) followed by West Bengal (294). 

One interesting factor to note is that more criminal cases are filed in subordinate courts than in High Courts and Supreme Court.  Of the cases pending in the subordinate courts (which constitute 87% of all pending cases), 70% of cases were related to criminal matters.  This increase in the pendency of cases for long periods over the years may have directly resulted in an increase in the number of undertrials in prisons.  In a statement last year, the Chief Justice of India commented that the accused in criminal cases are getting heard after serving out their sentence.

Vacancies in High Courts and Subordinate Courts affect the disposal of cases

Sources:  Court News, 2006-17, Supreme Court of India; PRS.

Vacancy of judges across courts in India has affected the functioning of the judiciary, particularly in relation to the disposal of cases.  Between 2006 and 2017, the number of vacancies in the High Courts has increased from 16% to 37%, and in the subordinate courts from 19% to 25%.  As of 2017, High Courts have 403 vacancies against a sanctioned strength of 1,079 judges, and subordinate courts have 5,676 vacancies against a sanctioned strength of 22,704 judges.  As of 2017, among the major High Courts (with sanctioned strength over 10 judges), the highest proportion of vacancies was in Karnataka High Court at 60% (37 vacancies), followed by Calcutta High Court at 54% (39 vacancies).  Similarly, in major subordinate courts (with sanctioned strength over 100 judges), the highest proportion of vacancies was in Bihar High Court at 46% (835 vacancies), followed by Uttar Pradesh High Court at 42% (1,348 vacancies).

Explainer: The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Bill, 2019

Explainer:  The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Bill, 2019

The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Bill, 2019 was passed by Parliament today.  It replaces an Ordinance that was promulgated in February 2019.  The Bill brings about two major changes in reservation of teaching posts in central educational institutions.  Firstly, it establishes that for the purpose of reservation, a university/college would be considered as one single unit. This means that posts of the same level across all departments (such as assistant professor) in a university would be grouped together when calculating the total number of reserved seats.  Secondly, it extends reservations beyond Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST), to include socially and educationally backward classes (OBC) and economically weaker sections (EWS). 

In this post, we look at how the Bill will impact the reservation of teaching posts in central educational institutions.  

How has teachers’ reservation been implemented in the past?

In 2006, the University Grants Commission (UGC) issued guidelines for teacher reservations in central educational institutions.[1]  These guidelines required central educational institutions to consider a university as one unit for the purpose of reservation.  It stated that reservations would be calculated using a roster system specified by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension.[2]

However, the UGC Guidelines (2006) were challenged in the Allahabad High Court in 2017.  The question before the Court was whether a university should be taken as a unit when applying the roster.[3] The Court found that individual departments should be taken as a unit for the purpose of reservation, instead of universities.  It held that taking a university as a unit could result in some departments having only reserved candidates and others having only unreserved candidates.  Following the judgment, departments were treated as a single unit for reservation at central educational institutions.

In March 2019, the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Ordinance, 2019 was promulgated, and passed as a Bill in July 2019.  The Bill overturns the Allahabad High Court judgment and reverts to the system where a university is regarded as one unit for the purpose of reservation. 

Over the years, there has been deliberation on whether the university or department should be taken as a unit for reservation of teaching posts.  This has to do with the manner in which the roster system [4]specified by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension is applied in both situations.

What was the roster system specified by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension?

The roster system calculates reservation based on cadre strength.  A cadre includes all posts available to be filled within a unit, i.e. either department or university.  For instance, all associate professor positions within a university or within a department would be considered a cadre.

At present, the roster system is applied in two ways, i.e., the 13-point system or the 200-point system. For initial recruitment in both systems, all posts in a cadre are numbered and allocated.  This means that in a cadre with 18 posts, each post will be assigned a number from 1 to 18 and allocated to a particular category, i.e., either SC, ST, OBC, EWS or unreserved.  Therefore, hiring of teachers for all posts takes place on the basis of this list.

However, there are two fundamental differences between the 200 point and 13 point systems.

  1. Cadre size: The 13-point system is applied to cadres with two to 13 posts, and the 200-point roster is applied to cadres with 14 or more posts.
  2. Filling of vacancies: In the 200-point system, once a post is designated as a reserved seat for a specific category (for example, ST), all future vacancies of that post must be filled by a candidate of that category. However, in the 13-point system vacancies are filled in a rotational manner.

When a university is taken as the unit for reservation, the 200-point system is used, as there tend to be more than 13 posts in a university.  However, when a department is taken as a unit, the 13-point system or the 200-point system may be used, depending on the size of the department.

How are the number of reserved seats calculated in the roster system?

For both the systems, the number of seats reserved for SC, ST, OBC, and EWS is determined by multiplying the cadre strength with the percentage of reservation prescribed by the Constitution.  The percentage of reserved seats for each category is as follows:  (i) 7.5% for ST, (ii) 15% for SC, (iii) 27% for OBC, and (iv) 10% for EWS.

If the number of posts needed to be filled is 200, and the percentage of reservation for ST is 7.5%, we would use the following formula to calculate the number of reserved posts for that class:

Number of posts needed to be filled x percentage of reservation/100

= 200 x 7.5/100

= 15

Thus, the number of seats reserved for ST in a cadre with the strength of 200 posts is 15.  Using the same formula, the number of seats reserved for SC is 30, OBC is 54, and EWS is 20.

How are these reserved seats distributed across posts?

To determine the position of each reserved seat in the roster systems, 100 is divided by the percentage of the reservation for each category.  For instance, the OBC quota is 27%.  Therefore, 100/27 = 3.7, that is, approximately every 4th post in the cadre list.   Likewise, SC is approximately every 7th post, ST is approximately every 14th post, and EWS will be approximately every 10th post.

What is the difference in the application of the roster between the department and university systems?

To demonstrate the difference between the department and university systems, a hypothetical example of a university with 200 posts for associate professors, and nine departments with varying number of posts is provided below.

When the university is taken as a unit

If the university is taken as the unit for reservation, then the total number of posts for the reserved categories would be 119 (i.e., 30 for SC, 15 for ST, 54 for OBC, and 20 for EWS), whereas the number of unreserved (UR) seats would be 81.  This is mentioned in Table 1.  The method of calculation of these numbers is based on the roster system prescribed by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension.

Table 1:  No. of posts reserved when university is taken as a unit

Type of Post

No. of Reserved Seats

SC

30

ST

15

OBC

54

EWS

20

UR

81

Total

200

When departments are taken as separate units

If different departments of a university are taken as separate units for reservation, then the total number of posts for the reserved categories would be 101 (i.e., 25 for SC, 9 for ST, 49 for OBC, and 18 for EWS), whereas the number of unreserved (UR) seats would be 99.  This is mentioned in Table 2.  The method of calculation of these numbers is based on the roster system prescribed by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension.

Table 2:  No. of posts reserved when department is taken as the unit

Department

No.

of posts

UR

SC

ST

OBC

EWS

A

5

4

0

0

1

0

B

13

8

1

0

3

1

C

20

9

3

1

5

2

D

2

2

0

0

0

0

E

50

22

7

3

13

5

F

10

6

1

0

2

1

G

25

13

3

1

6

2

H

25

13

3

1

6

2

I

50

22

7

3

13

5

Total

200

99

25

9

49

18

Note:  Number of posts in each department are hypothetical

As can be seen in the above example, if departments are taken as separate units, there is a decrease in the number of reserved posts.  The number of reserved posts decreased by five for SC, six for ST, five for OBC, and two for EWS.  This example is corroborated by the special leave petition filed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in the Supreme Court against the 2017 order of Allahabad High Court. It demonstrates that the number of reserved seats in Banaras Hindu University (BHU) decreased when departments were taken as separate units.  The number of reserved posts decreased by 170 for SC, 114 for ST, and 90 for OBC.[5] EWS was not included in the reservation system when the BHU numbers were calculated. 

Thus, the trade off between the two systems is as follows. On the one hand, when the university is taken as a unit there is a possibility that some departments would only have reserved candidates and others would have only unreserved candidates. However, when a department is taken as a unit, there is a decrease in the total number of reserved posts within the university.

 

[1] Circular No. F. 1-5/2006(SCT), University Grants Commission, 2006.

[2] O.M. No. 36012/2/96-Esst. (Res), ‘Reservation Roster- Post based- Implementation of the Supreme Court Judgement in the case of R.K. Sabharwal Vs. State of Punjab, Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension, July 1997, http://documents.doptcirculars.nic.in/D2/D02adm/36012_2_96_Estt(Res).pdf.

[3] Vivekanand Tiwari v. Union of India, Writ petition no.  43260, Allahabad High Court, April 2017.

[4] O.M. No.36039/1/2019-Estt (Res), ‘Reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWSs) in direct recruitment in civil posts and services in the Government of India’, Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pension, https://dopt.gov.in/sites/default/files/ewsf28fT.PDF.

[5] Special Leave Petition filed in Supreme Court by Ministry of Human Resource Development, January 2019, as reported in Indian Express, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/simply-put-the-unit-in-teachers-quota-5554261/.

Context to the Supreme Court Order on stressed assets of banks

The increasing Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) in the Indian banking sector has recently been the subject of much discussion and scrutiny.  Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down a circular dated February 12, 2018 issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).  The RBI circular laid down a revised framework for the resolution of stressed assets.  In this blog, we examine the extent of NPAs in India, and recent events leading up to the Supreme Court judgement.

What is the extent and effect of the NPA problem in India?

Banks give loans and advances to borrowers. Based on the performance of the loan, it may be categorised as: (i) a standard asset (a loan where the borrower is making regular repayments), or (ii) a non-performing asset. NPAs are loans and advances where the borrower has stopped making interest or principal repayments for over 90 days.

As of 2018, the total NPAs in the economy stand at Rs 9.6 lakh crore.  About 88% of these NPAs are from loans and advances of public sector banks.  Banks are required to lend a certain percentage of their loans to priority sectors.  These sectors are identified by the RBI and include agriculture, housing, education and small scale industries.[1]  In 2018, of the total NPAs, 22% were from priority sector loans, and 78% were from non-priority sector loans. 

In the last few years, gross NPAs of banks (as a percentage of total loans) have increased from 2.3% of total loans in 2008 to 9.3% in 2017 (see Figure 1). This indicates that an increasing proportion of a bank’s assets have ceased to generate income for the bank, lowering the bank’s profitability and its ability to grant further credit.

Figure 1: Gross NPAs (% of total loans)

Source: Reserve Bank of India; PRS

What has been done to address the problem of growing NPAs?

The measures taken to resolve and prevent NPAs can broadly be classified into two kinds – first, remedial measures for banks prescribed by the RBI for internal restructuring of stressed assets, and second, legislative means of resolving NPAs under various laws (like the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016).

Remedial Measures

Over the years, the RBI has issued various guidelines for banks aimed at the resolution of stressed assets in the economy. These included introduction of certain schemes such as: (i) Strategic Debt Restructuring (which allowed banks to change the management of the defaulting company), and (ii) Joint Lenders’ Forum (where lenders evolved a resolution plan and voted on its implementation).   A summary of the various schemes implemented by the RBI is provided in Table 1. 

Table 1: Non-legislative loan recovery framework

Loan restructuring

  • Banks internally undertake restructuring of loans, if the borrower is unable to repay the amount.  This involves changing the terms of repayment, which includes altering the payment schedule of loans or interest rates.

Corporate Debt Restructuring

  • Allows for restructuring of a borrower’s outstanding loans from more than one bank.  This mechanism is available if the borrower’s outstanding loans are more than Rs 10 crore.[2]

Joint Lender's Forum

  • Lenders evolve an action plan to resolve the NPA of a defaulter.[3]  If 60% of the creditors by value, and 50% of the creditors by number agree, a recovery plan will be implemented.[4]

5:25 Scheme

  • Banks can extend loan term to 25 years based on cash flow of projects for which the loan was given.  Interest rates and other terms of the loans may be readjusted every five years.[5]

Strategic Debt Restructuring

  • Banks convert their debt into equity to hold a majority of shares in a company.  This allows banks to change the management of the defaulting company.[6]

Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets

  • Allows for conversion of a part of the outstanding debt to equity or preference shares if: (i) project for which loan was taken has commenced operations, and (ii) borrower can repay over 50% of the loan.[7]

Sources: RBI scheme guidelines; Economic Survey 2016-17; PRS.

Legislative Measures

  • The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) was enacted in May 2016 to provide a time-bound 180-day recovery process for insolvent accounts. When a default occurs, the creditors or debtor may apply to the National Company Law Tribunal for initiating the resolution process. Once the application is approved, the resolution process will have to be completed within 180 days (extendable by 90 days) from the date of approval.  The resolution process will be presided over by an insolvency professional to decide whether to restructure the loan, or to sell the defaulter’s assets to recover the outstanding amount.  If a timely decision is not arrived at, the defaulter’s assets are liquidated.
  • The Banking Regulation (Amendment) Act, 2017: The amendment allows RBI to direct banks to initiate recovery proceedings against defaulting accounts under the IBC.  Further, under Section 35AA of the Act, RBI may also issue directions to banks for resolution of specific stressed assets. 

In June 2017, an internal advisory committee of RBI identified 500 defaulters with the highest value of NPAs.[8]  The committee recommended that 12 largest non-performing accounts, each with outstanding amounts greater than Rs 5,000 crore and totalling 25% of the NPAs of the economy, be referred for resolution under the IBC immediately.  Proceedings against the 12 largest defaulters have been initiated under the IBC. 

What was the February 12 circular issued by the RBI?

Subsequent to the enactment of the IBC, the RBI put in place a framework for restructuring of stressed assets of over Rs 2,000 crore on or after March 1, 2018.  The resolution plan for such restructuring must be unanimously approved by all lenders and implemented within 180 days from the date of the first default.  If the plan is not implemented within the stipulated time period, the stressed assets are required to be referred to the NCLT under IBC within 15 days.  Further, the framework introduced a provision for early identification and categorisation of stressed assets before they are classified as NPAs.

On what grounds was the RBI circular challenged?

Borrowers whose loans were tagged as NPAs before the release of the circular recently crossed the 180-day deadline for internal resolution by banks. Some of these borrowers, including various power producers and sugar mills, had appealed against the RBI circular in various High Courts. A two-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court ruled in favour of the RBI’s powers to issue these guidelines, and refused to grant interim relief to power producers from being taken to the NCLT for bankruptcy. These batch of petitions against the circular were transferred to the Supreme Court, which issued an order in September 2018 to maintain status quo on the same.

What did the Supreme Court order?

The Court held the circular issued by RBI was outside the scope of the power given to it under Article 35AA of the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Act, 2017.  The Court reasoned that Section 35AA was proposed by the 2017 Act to authorise the RBI to issues directions only in relation to specific cases of default by specific debtors.  It held that the RBI circular issued directions in relation to debtors in general and this was outside their scope of power.  The court also held that consequently all IBC proceedings initiated under the RBI circular are quashed. 

During the proceedings, various companies argued that the RBI circular applies to all corporate debtors alike, without looking into each individual’s sectors problems and attempting to solve them.  For instance, several power companies provided sector specific reasons for delay in payment of bank dues.  The reasons included: (i) cancellation of coal blocks by the SC leading to non-availability of fuel, (ii) lack of enough power purchase agreements by states, (iii) non-payment of dues by DISCOMs, and (iv) delays in project implementation leading to cost overruns.  Note that, in its 40th report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy analysed the impact of the RBI circular on the power sector and noted that the ‘one size fits all’ approach of the RBI is erroneous. 

 

 

[1]Priority Sector Lending – Targets and Classification’ Reserve Bank of India, July 2012, https://rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=7460&Mode=0

[2] Revised Guidelines on Corporate Debt Restructuring Mechanism, Reserve Bank of India, https://www.rbi.org.in/upload/notification/pdfs/67158.pdf

[3]Framework for Revitalising Distressed Assets in the Economy – Guidelines on Joint Lenders’ Forum (JLF) and Corrective Action Plan (CAP)’, Reserve Bank of India, February 26, 2016, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=8754&Mode=0

[4] Timelines for Stressed Assets, Press Release, Reserve Bank of India, May 5, 2017, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=10957&Mode=0

[5] Flexible Structuring of Long Term Project Loans to Infrastructure and Core Industries, RBI, July 15, 2014, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=9101&Mode=0

[6] Chapter 4, The Economic Survey 2016-17, http://unionbudget.nic.in/es2016-17/echap04.pdf

[7]RBI introduces a ‘Scheme for Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets’’ Press Release, Reserve Bank of India, June 13, 2016, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=37210

[8] RBI identifies Accounts for Reference by Banks under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), Reserve Bank of India, June 13, 2017, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=40743

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.

Explained: The recent rise in petroleum prices

In the past few months, retail prices of petrol and diesel have consistently increased and have reached all-time high levels.  On September 24, 2018, the retail price of petrol in Delhi was Rs 82.72/litre, and that of diesel was Rs 74.02/litre.  In Mumbai, these prices were even higher at Rs 90.08/litre and Rs 78.58/litre, respectively.

The difference in retail prices in the two cities is because of the different tax rates levied by the respective state governments on the same products.  This blog post explains the major tax components in the price structure of petrol and diesel and how tax rates vary across states.  It also analyses the shift in the taxation of these products, its effect on retail prices, and the consequent revenue generated by the central and state governments.

What are the components of the price structure of petrol and diesel?

Retail prices of petrol and diesel in India are revised by oil companies on a daily basis, according to changes in the price of global crude oil.  However, the price paid by oil companies makes up 51% of the retail price in case of petrol, and 61% in the case of diesel (Table 1).  The break-up of retail prices of petrol and diesel in Delhi, as on September 24, 2018, shows that over 45% of the retail price of petrol comprises central and states taxes.  In the case of diesel, this is close to 36%.

At present, the central government has the power to tax the production of petroleum products, while states have the power to tax their sale.  The central government levies an excise duty of Rs 19.5/litre on petrol and Rs 15.3/litre on diesel.  These make up 24% and 21% of the retail prices of petrol and diesel, respectively.

Table 1

While excise duty rates are uniform across the country, states levy sales tax/value added tax (VAT), the rates of which differ across states.  The figure below shows the different tax rates levied by states on petrol and diesel, which results in their varying retail prices across the country.  For instance, the tax rates levied by states on petrol ranges from 17% in Goa to 39% in Maharashtra.

Effective Sales Tax

Note that unlike excise duty, sales tax is an ad valorem tax, i.e., it does not have a fixed value, and is charged as a percentage of the price of the product.  This implies that while the excise duty component of the price structure is fixed, the sales tax component is charged as a proportion of the price paid by oil companies, which in turn depends on the global crude oil price.  With the recent increase in the global prices, and subsequently the retail prices, some states such as Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, and Karnataka have announced tax rate cuts.

How have retail prices in India changed vis-à-vis the global crude oil price?

India’s dependence on imports for consumption of petroleum products has increased over the years.  For instance, in 1998-99, net imports were 69% of the total consumption, which increased to 93% in 2017-18.  Because of a large share of imports in the domestic consumption, any change in the global price of crude oil has a significant impact on the domestic prices of petroleum products.  The following figures show the trend in price of global crude oil and retail price of petrol and diesel in India, over the last six years.

Petrol

Diesel

The global price of crude oil (Indian basket) decreased from USD 112/barrel in September 2012 to USD 28/barrel in January 2016.  Though the global price dropped by 75% during this period, retail prices of petrol and diesel in India decreased only by 13% and 5%, respectively.  This disparity in decrease of global and Indian retail prices was because of increase in taxes levied on petrol and diesel, which nullified the benefit of the sharp decline in the global price.  Between October 2014and June 2016, the excise duty on petrol increased from Rs 11.02/litre to Rs 21.48/litre.  In the same period, the excise duty on diesel increased from Rs 5.11/litre to Rs 17.33/litre.

Over the years, the central government has used taxes to prevent sharp fluctuations in the retail price of diesel and petrol.  For instance, in the past, when global crude oil price has increased, duties have been cut.  Since January 2016, the global crude oil price has increased by 158% from USD 28/barrel to USD 73/barrel in August 2018.  However, during this period, excise duty has been reduced only once by Rs 2/litre in October 2017.  While the central government has not signalled any excise duty cut so far, it remains to be seen if any rate cut will happen in case the global crude oil price rises further.  With US economic sanctions on Iran coming into effect on November 4, 2018, India may face a shortfall in supply since Iran is India’s third largest oil supplier.  Moreover, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia have not indicated any increase in supply from their side yet to offset the possible effect of sanctions.  As a result, in a scenario with no tax rate cut, this could increase the retail prices of petrol and diesel even further.

How has the revenue generated from taxing petroleum products changed over the years?

As a result of successive increases in excise duty between November 2014 and January 2016, the year-on-year growth rate of excise duty collections increased from 27% in 2014-15 to 80% in 2015-16.  In comparison, the growth rate of sales tax collections was 6% in 2014-15 and 4% in 2015-16.  The figure below shows the tax collections from the levy of excise duty and sales tax on petroleum products.  From 2011-12 to 2017-18, excise duty and sales tax collections grew annually at a rate of 22% and 11%, respectively.

Tax revenue

How is this revenue shared between centre and states?

Though central taxes are levied by the centre, it gets only 58% of the revenue from the levy of these taxes.  The rest 42% is devolved to the states as per the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission.  However, excise duty levied on petrol and diesel consists of two broad components – (i) excise duty component, and (ii) road and infrastructure cess.  Of this, only the revenue generated from the excise duty component is devolved to states.  Revenue generated by the centre from any cess is not devolved to states.

The cess component was increased by Rs 2/litre to Rs 8/litre in the Union Budget 2018-19.  However, this was done by reducing the excise duty component by the same amount, so as to keep the overall rate the same.  Essentially this provision shifted the revenue of Rs 2/litre of petrol and diesel from states’ divisible pool of taxes to the cess revenue, which is entirely with the centre.  This cess revenue is earmarked for financing infrastructure projects.

At present, of the Rs 19.5/litre excise duty levied on petrol, Rs 11.5/litre is the duty component, and Rs 8/litre is the cess component.  Therefore, accounting for 42% share of states in the duty component, centre effectively gets a revenue of Rs 14.7/litre, while states get Rs 4.8/litre.  Similarly, excise duty of Rs 15.3/litre levied on diesel consists of a cess component of Rs 8/litre.  Thus, excise duty on diesel effectively generates revenue of Rs 12.2/litre for the centre and Rs 3.1/litre for states.

Examining the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018

The Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 was introduced in Lok Sabha in January 2018. The Bill replaces the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Previously in 2015, a Bill had been introduced to replace the 1986 Act. The 2015 Bill acknowledged that the rapid change in consumer markets, introduction of practices such as misleading advertisements, and new modes of transactions (online, teleshopping, etc.) had necessitated the need for a new law. The Bill was subsequently referred to a Standing Committee, which recommended several changes to it. The Bill was withdrawn and replaced with the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018. The Bill is listed for passage in the ongoing Monsoon Session. In this post, we analyse the Bill in its current form.

How is the 2018 Bill different from the 1986 Act?

The Bill adds various provisions for consumer protection that were absent in the 1986 Act. Key among them are the provisions on product liability and unfair contracts. Under product liability, when a consumer suffers an injury, property damage or death due to a defect in a product or service, he can file a claim for compensation under product liability. The Bill outlines cases in which the product manufacturer, service provider and seller will be held guilty under product liability. Under the proposed law, to claim product liability, an aggrieved consumer has to prove any one of the conditions mentioned in the Bill with regard to a manufacturer, service provider and seller, as the case may be.

An unfair contract has been defined as a contract between a consumer and manufacturer/ service provider if it causes significant change in consumer rights. Unfair contracts cover six terms, such as payment of excessive security deposits in an arrangement, disproportionate penalty for a breach, and unilateral termination without cause. The consumer courts being set up under the Bill will determine contract terms to be unfair and declare them null and void.

What are the different bodies being set up under the Bill?

The Bill sets up Consumer Protection Councils as advisory bodies, who will advise on protection and promotion of consumer rights. However, it does not make it clear who these Councils will render advise to. Under the 1986 Act, the Consumer Protection Councils have the responsibility to protect and promote consumer rights.

To promote, protect, and enforce consumer rights, the Bill is setting up a regulatory body, known as the Central Consumer Protection Authority. This Authority can also pass orders to prevent unfair and restrictive trade practices, such as selling goods not complying with standards, and impose penalties for false and misleading advertisements.

The Bill also sets up the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions (known as consumer courts) at the district, state and national levels. These Commissions will adjudicate a broad range of complaints, including complaints on defective goods and deficient services of varying values. These Commissions are also present under the 1986 Act. However, their pecuniary jurisdiction (amount up to which they can hear complaints) has been revised under the Bill. The Bill also adds a provision for alternate dispute redressal mechanism. As part of this, mediation cells will be attached with the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions.

What are the penal provisions under the Bill?

The Bill increases penalties for different offences specified in it. It also adds penalties for offences such as issuing misleading advertisements, and manufacturing and selling adulterated or spurious goods. For example, in case of false and misleading advertisements, the Central Consumer Protection Authority can impose a penalty of up to Rs 10 lakh on a manufacturer or an endorser. For a subsequent offence, the fine may extend to Rs 50 lakh.  The manufacturer can also be punished with imprisonment of up to two years, which may extend to five years for every subsequent offence. The Authority can also prohibit the endorser of a misleading advertisement from endorsing any particular product or service for a period of up to one year.  For every subsequent offence, the period of prohibition may extend to three years.  There are certain exceptions when an endorser will not be held liable for such a penalty.

Are there any issues to think about in the Bill?

The 2018 Bill is a marked improvement over the 2015 Bill and addresses several issues in the 2015 Bill. However, two major issues with regard to the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions remain. We discuss them below.

First issue is with regard to the composition of these Commissions. The Bill specifies that the Commissions will be headed by a ‘President’ and will comprise other members.  However, the Bill delegates the power of deciding the qualifications of the President and members to the central government.  It also does not specify that the President or members should have minimum judicial qualifications.  This is in contrast with the existing Consumer Protection Act, 1986, which states that the Commissions at various levels will be headed by a person qualified to be a judge.  The 1986 Act also specifies the minimum qualification of members.

Under the current Bill, if the Commissions were to have only non-judicial members, it may violate the principle of separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary.  Since these Commissions are adjudicating bodies and will look at consumer dispute cases, it is unclear how a Commission that may comprise only non-judicial members will undertake this function.

Second issue is with regard to the method of appointment of members of the Commissions. The Bill permits the central government to notify the method of appointment of members of the Commissions.  It does not require that the selection involve members from the higher judiciary.  It may be argued that allowing the executive to determine the appointment of the members of Commissions could affect the independent functioning of the Commissions.  This provision is also at variance with the 1986 Act.  Under the Act, appointment of members to these Commissions is done through a selection committee.  These section committees comprise a judicial member.

As mentioned previously, the Commissions are intended to be quasi-judicial bodies, while the government is part of the executive.  There may be instances where the government is a party to a dispute relating to deficiency in service provided by a government enterprise, for e.g., the Railways.  In such a case, there would be a conflict of interest as the government would be a party to the dispute before the Commissions and will also have the power to appoint members to the Commission.

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.

Explained: Recent changes in MSPs

Recently, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved an increase in the Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for Kharif crops for the 2018-19 marketing season.  Subsequently, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) released its price policy report for Kharif crops for the marketing season 2018-19.

The central government notifies MSPs based on the recommendations of the CACP.  These recommendations are made separately for the Kharif marketing season (KMS) and the Rabi marketing season (RMS).  Post harvesting, the government procures crops from farmers at the MSP notified for that season, in order to ensure remunerative prices to farmers for their produce.

In this blog post, we look at how MSPs are determined, changes brought in them over time, and their effectiveness for farmers across different states.

How are Minimum Support Prices determined?

The CACP considers various factors such as the cost of cultivation and production, productivity of crops, and market prices for the determination of MSPs.  The National Commission on Farmers(Chair: Prof. M. S. Swaminathan) in 2006 had recommended that MSPs must be at least 50% more than the cost of production.  In this year’s budget speech, the Finance Minister said that MSPs would be fixed at least at 50% more than the cost of production.

The CACP calculates cost of production at three levels: (i) A2, which includes cost of inputs such as seeds, fertilizer, labour; (ii) A2+FL, which includes the implied cost of family labour (FL); and (iii) C2, which includes the implied rent on land and interest on capital assets over and above A2+FL.

Table 1 shows the cost of production as calculated by the CACP and the approved MSPs for KMS 2018-19.  For paddy (common), the MSP was increased from Rs 1,550/quintal in 2017-18 to Rs 1,750/quintal in 2018-19.  This price would give a farmer a profit of 50.1% on the cost of production A2+FL.  However, the profit calculated on the cost of production C2 would be 12.2%.  It has been argued that the cost of production should be taken as C2 for calculating MSPs.  In such a scenario, this would have increased the MSP to Rs 2,340/quintal, much above the current MSP of Rs 1,750/quintal.

Figure 1

Which are the major crops that are procured at MSPs?

Every year, MSPs are announced for 23 crops.  However, public procurement is limited to a few crops such as paddy, wheat and, to a limited extent, pulses as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 2

The procurement is also limited to a few states.  Three states which produce 49% of the national wheat output account for 93% of procurement.  For paddy, six states with 40% production share have 77% share of the procurement.  As a result, in these states, farmers focus on cultivating these crops over other crops such as pulses, oilseeds, and coarse grains.

Due to limitations on the procurement side (both crop-wise and state-wise), all farmers do not receive benefits of increase in MSPs.  The CACP has noted in its 2018-19 price policy report that the inability of farmers to sell at MSPs is one of the key areas of concern.  Farmers who are unable to sell their produce at MSPs have to sell it at market prices, which may be much lower than the MSPs.

How have MSPs for major crops changed over time?

Higher procurement of paddy and wheat, as compared to other crops at MSPs tilts the production cycle towards these crops.  In order to balance this and encourage the production of pulses, there is a larger proportional increase in the MSPs of pulses over the years as seen in Figure 2.  In addition to this, it is also used as a measure to encourage farmers to shift from water-intensive crops such as paddy and wheat to pulses, which relatively require less water for irrigation.

Figure 3

What is the effectiveness of MSPs across states?

The MSP fixed for each crop is uniform for the entire country.  However, the production cost of crops vary across states.  Figure 3 highlights the MSP of paddy and the variation in its cost of production across states in 2018-19.

Figure 4

For example, production cost for paddy at the A2+FL level is Rs 702/quintal in Punjab and Rs 2,102/quintal in Maharashtra.  Due to this differentiation, while the MSP of Rs 1,750/quintal of paddy will result in a profit of 149% to a farmer in Punjab, it will result in a loss of 17% to a farmer in Maharashtra.  Similarly, at the C2 level, the production cost for paddy is Rs 1,174/quintal in Punjab and Rs 2,481/quintal in Maharashtra.  In this scenario, a farmer in Punjab may get 49% return, while his counterpart in Maharashtra may make a loss of 29%.

Figure 5

Figure 4 highlights the MSP of wheat and the variation in its cost of production across states in 2017-18. In the case of wheat, the cost of production in Maharashtra and West Bengal is much more than the cost in rest of the states.  At the A2+FL level, the cost of production in West Bengal is Rs 1,777/quintal.  This is significantly higher than in states like Haryana and Punjab, where the cost is Rs 736/quintal and Rs 642/quintal, respectively.  In this case, while a wheat growing farmer suffers a loss of 2% in West Bengal, a farmer in Haryana makes a profit of 136%.  The return in Punjab is even higher at 1.5 times or more the cost of production.