Recently, the government announced that it plans to transfer benefits under various schemes directly into the bank accounts of individual beneficiaries. Benefits can be the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) wages, scholarships, pensions and health benefits. Beneficiaries shall be identified through the Aadhaar number (Aadhaar is an individual identification number linked to a person’s demographic and biometric information). The direct cash transfer (DCT) system is going to be rolled out in 51 districts, starting January 1, 2013. It will later be extended to 18 states by April 1, 2013 and the rest by April 1, 2014 (or earlier). Presently, 34 schemes have been identified in 43 districts to implement the DCT programme. Currently, the government subsidises certain products (food grains, fertilizers, water, electricity) and services (education, healthcare) by providing them at a lower than market price to the beneficiaries. This has led to problems such as high fiscal deficit, waste of scarce resources and operational inefficiencies. The government is considering replacing this with an Aadhaar enabled DCT system. It has claimed that the new system would ensure timely payment directly to intended beneficiaries, reduce transaction costs and leakages. However, many experts have criticised both the concept of cash transfer as well as Aadhaar (see here, here, here and here). In this blog, we provide some background information about cash transfer, explain the concept of Aadhaar and examine the pros and cons of an Aadhaar enabled direct cash transfer system. Background on cash transfer Under the direct cash transfer (DCT) scheme, government subsidies will be given directly to the beneficiaries in the form of cash rather than goods. DCTs can either be unconditional or conditional. Under unconditional schemes, cash is directly transferred to eligible households with no conditions. For example, pension schemes. Conditional cash transfers provide cash directly to poor households in response to the fulfillment of certain conditions such as minimum attendance of children in schools. DCTs provide poor families the choice of using the cash as they wish. Having access to cash also relieves some of their financial constraints. Also, DCTs are simpler in design than other subsidy schemes. Even though cash transfer schemes have a high fixed cost of administration when the programme is set up, running costs are far lower (see here, here and here). Presently, the government operates a number of DCT schemes. For example, Janani Suraksha Yojana, Indira Awas Yojana and Dhanalaksmi scheme. In his 2011-12 Budget speech, the then Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, had stated that the government plans to move towards direct transfer of cash subsidy for kerosene, Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), and fertilizers. A task force headed by Nandan Nilekani was set up to work out the modalities of operationalising DCT for these items. This task force submitted its report in February 2012. The National Food Security Bill, 2011, pending in Parliament, includes cash transfer and food coupons as possible alternative mechanisms to the Public Distribution System. Key features of Aadhaar The office of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was set up in 2009 within the Planning Commission. In 2010, the government later introduced the National Identification Authority of India Bill in Parliament to give statutory status to this office.
For a PRS analysis of the Bill, see here. Aadhaar enabled direct cash transfers Advantages Identification through Aadhaar number: Currently, the recipient has to establish his identity and eligibility many times by producing multiple documents for verification. The verification of such documents is done by multiple authorities. An Aadhaar enabled bank account can be used by the beneficiary to receive multiple welfare payments as opposed to the one scheme, one bank approach, followed by a number of state governments. Elimination of middlemen: The scheme reduces chances of rent-seeking by middlemen who siphon off part of the subsidy. In the new system, the cash shall be transferred directly to individual bank accounts and the beneficiaries shall be identified through Aadhaar. Reduction in duplicate and ghost beneficiaries: The Aadhaar number is likely to help eliminate duplicate cards and cards for non-existent persons or ghost beneficiaries in schemes such as the PDS and MNREGS. Disadvantages Lack of clarity on whether Aadhaar is mandatory: According to UIDAI, it is not mandatory for individuals to get an Aadhaar number. However, it does not prevent any service provider from prescribing Aadhaar as a mandatory requirement for availing services. Therefore, beneficiaries may be denied a service if he does not have the Aadhaar number. It is noteworthy that the new direct cash transfer policy requires beneficiaries to have an Aadhaar number and a bank account. However, many beneficiaries do not yet have either. (Presently, there are 229 million Aadhaar number holders and 147 million bank accounts). Targeting and identification of beneficiaries: According to the government, one of the key reasons for changing to DCT system is to ensure better targeting of subsidies. However, the success of Aadhaar in weeding out ‘ghost’ beneficiaries depends on mandatory enrollment. If enrollment is not mandatory, both authentication systems (identity card based and Aadhaar based) must coexist. In such a scenario, ‘ghost’ beneficiaries and people with multiple cards will choose to opt out of the Aadhaar system. Furthermore, key schemes such as PDS suffer from large inclusion and exclusion errors. However, Aadhaar cannot address errors in targeting of BPL families. Also, it cannot address problems of MNREGS such as incorrect measurement of work and payment delays. Safeguard for maintaining privacy: Information collected when issuing Aadhaar may be misused if safeguards to maintain privacy are inadequate. Though the Supreme Court has included privacy as part of the Right to Life, India does not have a specific law governing issues related to privacy. Also, the authority is required to maintain details of every request for authentication and the response provided. However, maximum duration for which such data has to be stored is not specified. Authentication data provides insights into usage patterns of an Aadhaar number holder. Data that has been recorded over a long duration of time may be misused for activities such as profiling an individual’s behaviour.
The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has decided to conduct an off-cycle meeting today to discuss the failure to meet the inflation target under Section 45ZN of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934. As per the Reserve Bank of India Act (RBI), 1934, MPC is required to meet at least four times each year, to discuss the macroeconomic issues in the country, and take policy decisions to address those. This is the second time MPC has conducted an off-cycle meeting in 2022-23. The meeting is scheduled in light of inflation being consistently high for nine consecutive months.
In this blog, we discuss what the inflation targeting framework is, examine retail and wholesale prices, and the divergence between them.
What is the inflation targeting framework, and what happens if inflation is persistently high?
In 2016, Parliament amended the RBI Act, 1934 to change the monetary policy, and introduce an inflation targeting framework. This framework prioritises price stability to achieve sustainable GDP growth. Price stability allows investors to confidently invest their money for productive activities, without worrying about it losing value. Price stability also maintains the purchasing power of consumers, i.e., the ability to purchase a good (or service) with a given amount of money.
As per the new framework, the central government, in consultation with RBI sets: (i) an inflation target, and (ii) an upper and lower tolerance level for retail inflation. The target has been set at 4%, with an upper tolerance limit of 6% and a lower tolerance limit of 2%. The upper and lower limits indicate that although it is desirable for inflation to be close to 4%, deviation between these limits is acceptable. The target and bands are revised every five years. In March 2021, the existing targets were carried forward.
Retail inflation has been above 6% for the past nine months, and it has been above 4% from October 2019 onwards (See Figure 1).
Figure 1: Consumer price index (year-on-year; in percentage)
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India; PRS.
If inflation is above or below the prescribed limits for three quarters, RBI must submit a report to the central government explaining why prices have been rising (or falling) persistently, what will be done to correct that, and an estimate as to when the target will be achieved.
The MPC uses tools such as interest rates to control the level of inflation in the economy. One such rate is the policy repo rate, which is the rate at which RBI lends money to banks. An increase in the policy repo rate makes borrowing money more costly, and hence is expected to control inflation by reducing the money supply. MPC increased this rate from 4% in April 2022 to 4.4% in May 2022, to 4.9% in June 2022, to 5.4% in August 2022, and to 5.9% in September 2022.
Breaking down the Consumer Price Index and the Wholesale Price Index
Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures the general prices of goods and services such as food, clothing, and fuel over time. Retail inflation is calculated as the change in the CPI over a period of time. Goods and services such as petrol, food products, health, and education are considered for its calculation, which are assigned different weights (See Table 1). Between February 2022 and August 2022, the average annual inflation was 6.9%. The rise in prices of subcomponents of the CPI during this period is indicated in Table 2.
Table 1: Assigned weights for the calculation of CPI
Sources: MOSPI; PRS.
Table 2: Average inflation of some CPI components
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, RBI; PRS.
CPI is not the only index that measures inflation in an economy. The Wholesale Price Index (WPI) measures the wholesale prices of goods. A change in wholesale prices reflects wholesale inflation. Table 3 indicates the weights assigned to goods for calculating the WPI. Manufactured goods include metals, chemicals, food products, and textiles.
Primary articles (23%) include food articles, and crude petroleum and natural gas. Fuel and power (12%) include mineral oils, electricity, and coal. WPI has remained above 10% from April 2021 onwards. It reached an all-time high of 17% in May 2022. This was driven by the inflation in metals, kerosene and petroleum coke, fruits and vegetables, and palm oil.
Table 3:Assigned weights for the
Sources: Ministry of Commerce and Industry; PRS.
Why has WPI inflation been consistently above CPI inflation?
Movements in the WPI have an impact on the CPI. For almost a year and half, CPI inflation has remained below WPI inflation. However, as per the design of the indices, it is expected that CPI would remain above WPI, and that any increase in WPI would reflect in the CPI after a time lag. This is because retail prices include taxes (as a percentage of price), while wholesale prices do not. Additionally, some of the goods in WPI act as inputs in the goods considered in CPI. An increase in input prices would lead to higher retail prices after a time lag.
We discuss possible reasons for why CPI has remained below WPI for a year and a half.
Figure 2: Consumer Price Index and Wholesale Price Index
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India; PRS.
Composition of indices
As indicated in Table 2 and 3, the composition of the two indices varies. For instance, prices of manufacture of basic metals, chemicals, and machinery grew at an average rate of 13% between February 2021 and September 2022. They contribute 7% to the WPI. These are input goods for producing final goods and services such as automobiles, which are included in the CPI. The rise in prices of transport vehicles, communication devices, fuel for transport, and housing (CPI components) rose by 6% during this period.
The Ministry of Finance has observed that wholesale prices did not feed into retail prices (from March 2021 onwards) as wholesalers absorbed the rising input costs and did not pass them on to retailers. In August 2022, it noted that as retail prices are rising now, the pass-through may occur.