There have been some recent developments in the sugar sector, which pertain to the pricing of sugarcane and deregulation of the sector. On January 31, the Cabinet approved the fair and remunerative price (FRP) of sugarcane for the 2013-14 season at Rs 210 per quintal, a 23.5% increase from last year’s FRP of Rs 170 per quintal. The FRP of sugarcane is the minimum price set by the centre and is payable by mills to sugarcane farmers throughout the country. However, states can also set a State Advised Price (SAP) that mills would have to pay farmers instead of the FRP. In addition, a recent news report mentioned that the food ministry has decided to seek Cabinet approval to lift controls on sugar, particularly relating to levy sugar and the regulated release of non-levy sugar. The Rangarajan Committee report, published in October 2012, highlighted challenges in the pricing policy for sugarcane. The Committee recommended deregulating the sugar sector with respect to pricing and levy sugar. In this blog, we discuss the current regulations related to the sugar sector and key recommendations for deregulation suggested by the Rangarajan Committee. Current regulations in the sugar sector A major step to liberate the sugar sector from controls was taken in 1998 when the licensing requirement for new sugar mills was abolished. Delicensing caused the sugar sector to grow at almost 7% annually during 1998-99 and 2011-12 compared to 3.3% annually during 1990-91 and 1997-98. Although delicensing removed some regulations in the sector, others still persist. For instance, every designated mill is obligated to purchase sugarcane from farmers within a specified cane reservation area, and conversely, farmers are bound to sell to the mill. Also, the central government has prescribed a minimum radial distance of 15 km between any two sugar mills. However, the Committee found that existing regulations were stunting the growth of the industry and recommended that the sector be deregulated. It was of the opinion that deregulation would enable the industry to leverage the expanding opportunities created by the rising demand of sugar and sugarcane as a source of renewable energy. Rangarajan Committee’s recommendations on deregulation of the sugar sector Price of sugarcane: The central government fixes a minimum price, the FRP that is paid by mills to farmers. States can also intervene in sugarcane pricing with an SAP to strengthen farmer’s interests. States such as Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have set SAPs for the past few years, which have been higher than FRPs. The Committee recommended that states should not declare an SAP because it imposes an additional cost on mills. Farmers should be paid a uniform FRP. It suggested determining cane prices according to scientifically sound and economically fair principles. The Committee also felt that high SAPs, combined with other controls in the sector, would deter private investment in the sugar industry. Levy sugar: Every sugar mill mandatorily surrenders 10% of its production to the central government at a price lower than the market price – this is known as levy sugar. This enables the central government to get access to low cost sugar stocks for distribution through the Public Distribution System (PDS). At present prices, the centre saves about Rs 3,000 crore on account of this policy, the burden of which is borne by the sugar sector. The Committee recommended doing away with levy sugar. States wanting to provide sugar under PDS would have to procure it directly from the market. Regulated release of non-levy sugar: The central government allows the release of non-levy sugar into the market on a periodic basis. Currently, release orders are given on a quarterly basis. Thus, sugar produced over the four-to-six month sugar season is sold throughout the year by distributing the release of stock evenly across the year. The regulated release of sugar imposes costs directly on mills (and hence indirectly on farmers). Mills can neither take advantage of high prices to sell the maximum possible stock, nor dispose of their stock to raise cash for meeting various obligations. This adversely impacts the ability of mills to pay sugarcane farmers in time. The Committee recommended removing the regulations on release of non-levy sugar to address these problems. Trade policy: The government has set controls on both export and import of sugar that fluctuate depending on the domestic availability, demand and price of sugarcane. As a result, India’s trade in the world trade of sugar is small. Even though India contributes 17% to global sugar production (second largest producer in the world), its share in exports is only 4%. This has been at the cost of considerable instability for the sugar cane industry and its production. The committee recommended removing existing restrictions on trade in sugar and converting them into tariffs. For more details on the committee’s recommendations on deregulating the sugar sector, see here.
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.