Recently there have been news reports about the NITI Aayog submitting its recommendations on improving the financial health of Air India to the Ministry of Finance., The Civil Aviation Ministers have also mentioned that the Ministry will soon propose a roadmap for the rejuvenation of the national airline. While the NITI Aayog report is not out in the public domain yet, we present a few details on the financial health of the airline.
Finances of Air India
In 2015-16, Air India earned a revenue of Rs 20,526 crore and registered losses of Rs 3,837 crore. As of March 31, 2015, the total debt of Air India was at Rs 51,367 crore. This includes Rs 22,574 crore outstanding on account of aircraft loans. The figure below shows the losses incurred by Air India in the last few years (2007-16).
According to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, reasons for Air India’s losses include: (i) the adverse impact of exchange rate variation due to the weakening of Indian Rupee, (ii) high interest burden, (iii) increase in competition, especially from low cost carriers, and (iv) high fuel prices. The National Transport Development Policy Committee (NTDPC), in its report in 2013, had observed that with the increase in the number of airlines in the market, Air India has been struggling to make a transition from a monopoly market to a competitive one. These struggles have been primarily regarding improving its efficiency, and competing with the private airlines.
Turnaround Plan and Financial Restructuring
In order to bail out the company, the government had approved the Turnaround Plan (TAP) and Financial Restructuring Plan (FRP) of Air India in April 2012. Under the plans, the government would infuse equity into Air India subject to meeting certain milestones such as Pay Load Factor (measures capacity utilisation), on time performance, fleet utilisation, yield factor (average fare paid per mile, per passenger), and rationalisation of the emolument structure of employees.7 The equity infusion included financial support towards the repayment of the principal, as well as the interest payments on the government loans for aircraft acquisition. Under the TAP/FRP, the central government was to infuse Rs 30,231 crore till 2020-21. As of 2016-17, the Ministry has infused an equity amount of Rs 24,745 crore.
In 2017-18, the Ministry has allocated Rs 1,800 crore towards Air India which is 67% of the Ministry’s total budget for the year. However, this amount is 30% lower than the TAP commitment of Rs 2,587 crore.3 In 2016-17, while Air India had sought and equity infusion of Rs 3,901 crore, the government approved Rs 2,465 crore as the equity infusion. The Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism, and Culture examining the 2017-18 budget estimates noted that reducing the equity infusion in Air India might adversely affect the financial situation of the company. It recommended that the government must allocate the amount committed under TAP. The Ministry had also observed that due to reduction of equity infusion, Air India has to arrange funds through borrowing which costs additional amount of interest to be paid by the government.
As per the Ministry, Air India has achieved most of the targets set out in TAP. Despite running into losses, it achieved an operating profit of Rs 105 crore in FY 2015-16. Air India’s performance in some of the segments are provided in the table below.
Table 1: Air India’s performance
|Overall Network On Time Performance (measures adherence to time schedule)||68.2%||72.7%|
|Passenger Load Factor (measures capacity utilisation of the airline)||67.9%||73.7%|
|Network Yield achieved (in Rs/ RPKM)*||3.74||4.35|
|Number of Revenue Passengers (in million)||13.4||16.9|
|Operating Loss (in Rs crore)||5,139||2,171|
* Note: RPKM or Revenue Passenger Kilometre performed refers to number of seats for which the carrier has earned revenue.
Sources: Lok Sabha Questions; PRS.
The NTDPC had observed that with its excessive and unproductive manpower, failure to invest in the technology required to keep it competitive, and poor operations, Air India’s future looks risky. It had also questioned the rationale for a national airline. It had suggested that the government must frame a decisive policy with regard to Air India, and clarify its future accordingly.5 It had recommended that Air India’s liabilities should be written off and be dealt with separately, and the airline should be run on complete operational and financial autonomy.5
Need for competitive framework in the sector
With the entrance of several private players in the market, the domestic aviation market has grown significantly in the last decade. The market share of an airline is directly related to its capacity share in the market. While private carriers have added capacity in the domestic market, the capacity induction (adding more aircrafts) of Air India has not kept up with the private carriers. This has resulted in decrease in market share of Air India from 17% in 2008-09 to 14% in 2016-17.
The Committee looking at the competitive framework of the civil aviation sector had observed that the national carrier gets preferential treatment through access to government funding, and flying rights. It had recommended that competitive neutrality should be ensured between private carriers and the national carrier, which could be achieved by removing the regulations that provide such preferential treatment to Air India. The NTDPC had also noted that the presence of a state-owned enterprise should not distort the market for other private players.6 It had recommended that the Ministry should consider developing regulations that improve the overall financial health of the airline sector.
While Air India’s performance has improved following the TAP, along with the equity infusion from government, its debt still remains high and has been gradually increasing. In light of this, it remains to be seen what the government will propose with regard to the rejuvenation of the national airline, and ensure a competitive and fair market for all the players in the airline market.
 “Govt to prepare Air India revival plan within 3 months, amid calls for privatization”, Livemint, May 31, 2017, http://www.livemint.com/Politics/0koi5Hyidj1gVD3wOWTruM/Govt-says-all-options-open-for-Air-India-revival.html.
 “Air India selloff: Fixing airline’s future is more important than past”, Financial Express, May 31, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/why-fixing-air-indias-future-more-important-than-past/693777/.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 382, Ministry of Civil Aviation, February 25, 2016, http://220.127.116.11/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=28931&lsno=16.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 353, Ministry of Civil Aviation, November 17, 2016, http://18.104.22.168/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=40733&lsno=16.
 “Volume 3, Chapter 3: Civil Aviation”, India Transport Report: Moving India to 2032, National Transport Development Policy Committee, June 17, 2014, http://planningcommission.nic.in/sectors/NTDPC/volume3_p1/civil_v3_p1.pdf.
 “Government Approves Financial Restructuring and Turn Around Plan of Air India”, Press Information Bureau, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), April 12, 2012, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=82231.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 472, Ministry of Civil Aviation, April 6, 2017, http://22.214.171.124/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=51752&lsno=16.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 4809, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 30, 2017, http://126.96.36.199/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=51108&lsno=16.
 “244th report: Demand for Grants (2017-18) of Ministry of Civil Aviation”, Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, March 17, 2017, http://188.8.131.52/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20Transport,%20Tourism%20and%20Culture/244.pdf.
 “218th report: Demand for Grants (2015-16) of Ministry of Civil Aviation”, Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, April 28, 2015.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 307, Ministry of Civil Aviation, February 25, 2016, http://184.108.40.206/loksabhaquestions/annex/7/AU307.pdf.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 1566, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 9, 2017, http://www.loksabha.nic.in/Members/QResult16.aspx?qref=47532.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 312, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 23, 2017, http://220.127.116.11/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=49742&lsno=16.
 Report of the Committee Constituted for examination of the recommendations made in the Study Report on Competitive Framework of Civil Aviation Sector in India, Ministry of Civil Aviation, June 2012, http://civilaviation.gov.in/sites/default/files/moca_001870_0.pdf.
Need for Urban Co-operative Banks
The history of UCBs in India can be traced to the 19th century when such societies were set up drawing inspiration from the success of the co-operative movement in Britain and the co-operative credit movement in Germany. Urban co-operative credit societies, were organised on a community basis to meet the consumption-oriented credit needs of their members. UCBs are primary cooperative banks in urban and semi-urban areas. They are co-operative societies that undertake banking business. Co-operative banks accept deposits from the public and lend to their members. Co-operative banks are different from other co-operatives as they mobilise resources for lending and investment from the wider public rather than only their members.
Concerns regarding the professionalism of urban cooperative banks gave rise to the view that they should be better regulated. Large cooperative banks with paid-up share capital and reserves of one lakh rupees were brought under the scope of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 with effect from March 1, 1966. Prior to this, such banks were regulated under the scope of state-specific cooperative laws. The revised framework brought them under the ambit of supervision of the RBI. Till 1996, these banks could lend money only for non-agricultural purposes. However, this distinction does not apply today.
The Expert Committee noted that UCBs play a key role in financial inclusion. It further observed that the focus area for UCBs has traditionally been communities and localities including workplace groups. They play an important role in the delivery of last-mile credit, even more so for those sections of the population who are not integrated into the mainstream banking framework. UCBs primarily lend to wage earners, small entrepreneurs, and businesses in urban and semi-urban areas. UCBs can be more responsive than formal banking channels to the needs of the local people.
Over the years, concerns have been raised about non-professional management in UCBs and that this can lead to weaker governance and risk management in these entities. RBI has also taken regulatory action on several UCBs. For instance, in September 2019, RBI placed Punjab and Maharashtra Co-operative Bank under restrictions on allegations of serious underreporting of non-performing assets. The bank could not grant loans, make investments or accept deposits without prior approval from RBI. While these restrictions were originally put in place for six months, the time frame was extended several times and has now been extended till December 31, 2021. In addition, low capital base, poor credit management and diversion of funds have also been issues in the sector.
Shrinking share in the banking sector
There were 1,539 UCBs in the country as of March 31, 2020, with deposits worth Rs 5,01,180 crore and advances worth Rs 3,05,370 crore. Even though 94% of the entities in the banking sector were UCBs their market share in the banking sector has been low and declining and stands at around 3%. UCBs accounted for 3.24% of the deposits and 2.69% of the advances in the banking sector. The Committee noted that state-of-the-art technology adopted by new players, such as small finance banks and fintech entities, along with commercial banks can disrupt the niche customer segment of the UCBs.
Figure 1: Growth in deposits of UCBs (in Rs crore)
Figure 2: Growth in advances of UCBs (in Rs crore)
Burden of non-performing assets
UCBs had the highest net non-performing asset (NNPA) ratio (5.26%) and gross non-performing asset (GNPA) ratio (10.96%) across the banking sector as of March 2020. These levels correspond to around twice that of private sector banks, and around five times that of small finance banks. The Committee noted that, as of March 2020, UCBs have the lowest level of net interest margin (difference between interest earned and interest spent relative to total interest generating assets held by the bank) and negative return on assets and return on equity.
Figure 3: Asset quality across banks (in percentage)
Sources: Report of the Expert Committee on Urban Co-operative Banks; PRS.
Supervisory Action Framework (SAF): SAF envisages corrective action by UCB and/or supervisory action by RBI on breach of financial thresholds related to asset quality, profitability and level of capital as measured by Capital to Risk-weighted Asset Ratio (CRAR). The Committee recommended that SAF should consider only asset quality (based on net non-performing asset ratio) and CRAR with an emphasis on reducing the time spent by a UCB under SAF. The RBI should begin the mandatory resolution process including reconstruction or compulsory merger as soon as a UCB reaches the third stage under SAF (CRAR less than 4.5% and/or net non-performing asset ratio above 12%).
Constraints in raising capital
The Committee also observed that UCBs are constrained in raising capital which restricts their ability to expand the business. According to co-operative principles, share capital is to be issued and refunded only at face value. Thus, investment in UCBs is less attractive as it does not lead to an increase in its value. Also, the principle of one member, one vote means that an interested investor cannot acquire a controlling stake in UCBs. It was earlier recommended that UCBs should be allowed to issue fresh capital at a premium based on the net worth of the entity at the end of the preceding year.
Listing of securities: The Committee recommended making suitable amendments to the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 to enable RBI to notify certain securities issued by any co-operative bank or class of co-operative banks to be covered under the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956 and the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992. This will enable their listing and trading on a recognised stock exchange. Until such amendments are made, the Committee recommended that banks can be allowed to have a system on their websites to buy/sell securities at book value subject to the condition that the bank should ensure that the prospective buyer is eligible to be admitted as a member.
Conflict between Banking Regulation Act, 1949 and co-operative laws
The fundamental difference between banking companies and co-operative banks is in the voting rights of shareholders. In banking companies, each share has a corresponding vote. But in the case of co-operative banks, each shareholder has only one vote irrespective of the number of shares held. Despite RBI being the regulator of the banking sector, the regulation of co-operative banks by RBI was restricted to functions related directly to banking. This gave rise to dual regulation with governance, audit, and winding-up related functions regulated by state governments and central government for single-state banks and multi-state banks, respectively.
2020 Amendments to the Banking Regulation Act: In September 2020, the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 was amended to increase RBI’s powers over the regulation of co-operative banks including qualifications of management of these banks and supersession of board of directors. The Committee noted that due to the amendment of the Act, certain conflicts have arisen with various co-operative laws. For instance, the Act allows co-operative banks to issue shares at a premium, but it is silent on their redemption. It noted that if any co-operative societies’ legislation provides for redemption of shares only at par, then, while a co-operative bank incorporated under that legislation can issue shares at a premium, it can redeem them only at par.
Note that on September 3, 2021, the Madhya Pradesh High Court stayed a circular released by the RBI on appointment of managing director/whole-time director in UCBs. The circular provided for eligibility and propriety criteria for the appointment of such personnel in UCBs. The petitioner, Mahanagar Nagrik Sahakari Bank Maryadit, argued that the service conditions of the managing director and chief executive officer of co-operative banks are governed by bye-laws framed under the M.P. State Cooperative Societies Act, 1960. The petition noted that co-operative as a subject falls under the state list and hence the power to legislate in the field of co-operative societies falls under the domain of the states and not the central government.
Over the years, several committees have looked at the feasibility to set up an Umbrella Organisation (UO) for UCBs. It is an apex body of federating UCBs. In 2011, an expert committee on licensing of new UCBs recommended that there should be two separate UOs for the sector. In June 2019, RBI granted an in-principle approval to National Federation of Urban Co-operative Banks and Credit Societies Ltd to set up a UO in the form of a non-deposit taking non-banking finance company. The UO is expected to provide information technology and financial support to its federating members along with value-added services linked to treasury, foreign exchange and international remittances. It is envisaged to provide scale through network to smaller UCBs. The report of the current Committee recommended that the minimum capital of the UO should be Rs 300 crore. Once stabilised, the UO can explore the possibility of becoming a universal bank. It can also take up the role of a self-regulatory organisation for its member UCBs. The Committee also suggested that the membership of the UO can be opened-up to both financial and non-financial co-operatives who can make contributions through share capital in the UO.
Comments on the report of the Expert Committee are invited until September 30, 2021.