24 April 2017
ONGC plans $11 billion investment to boost gas production by 30%
ONGC plans to put into production its gas blocks in the KG Basin and Ratna and R-Series oilfields in Mumbai offshore by 2019
After more than a decade of nearly static output, state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC) expects to increase gas production by nearly 30% over the next three-four years with an investment of around $11 billion, according to two senior company officials with knowledge of the matter.
The officials said ONGC will put its blocks in the Krishna Godavari basin (KG-DWN-98/2) and Ratna and R-Series oilfields in Mumbai offshore into production by 2019. The coal bed methane (CBM) blocks in Jharkhand will begin production by 2020, while the Daman offshore fields, which have been pressed into production this month, will be ramped up next year.
“Our production has been stagnant but some discoveries are in the pipeline. In the next three-four years gas production for ONGC should be up by 30%,” the first ONGC official cited above said on condition of anonymity.
He said, while KG-DWN-98/2 will be pushed into production by 2019, Daman will begin production shortly and be ramped up by 2018.
ONGC currently produces around 23 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas a year, which is expected to go up to 29-30 bcm in four years. However, gas production at some existing fields is projected to drop to 11.8 bcm in four years from the current 19.73 bcm.
The first official said given that production from the existing fields is declining, some part of the fresh gas production would go toward compensating that loss.
ONGC did not reply to an email sent on 13 April.
The company plans to invest more than $10-11 billion in exploration, a major chunk of which would go towards developing the KG block. It plans to develop KG-DWN-98/2 in three clusters, said the first official cited above.
The ONGC board last month approved the field development plan for fields falling under Cluster II, the first cluster to be developed. The development will involve a capital expenditure of $5.08 billion, ONGC said in a statement on its website. Cluster II will produce its first gas by June 2019, according to the statement.
The Ratna and R-series fields, lying 130km off the Mumbai coast, will be put to production from 2019. The fields were returned to ONGC last March, 22 years after they were awarded to Essar Oil. The Ratna and R-series oil fields hold an estimated 87 million barrels of oil and 1.2 bcm of gas reserves.
Last fiscal, ONGC drilled 501 wells against 386 in 2015-16. The second official quoted above said the company has achieved this number for the first time in more than two decades. “Success of drilling will ensure establishment of newer resources and augment production,” he added. ONGC spent Rs15,747 crore in drilling these wells.
The Daman offshore project, which will begin production from this month end or early next month, will contribute around 2 to 3 million metric standard cubic metres per day (mmscmd) of gas from May.
Phase II of the Daman project will be completed by next May and would add another 3 mmscmd to overall production. Total production would be ramped up to 8 mmscmd by 2020.
“ONGC has become quite aggressive on its discoveries and production, something that was lacking thus far. At a time when the government is pushing to bring down natural gas imports by 10%, it bodes well for ONGC and its prospects going forward,” said an oil and gas analyst with a Mumbai-based broking firm, speaking on condition of anonymity as he is not allowed to speak to the media.
ONGC has also started work on its coal bed methane (CBM) project. Methane is a form of natural gas extracted from coal beds. “Land acquisition for the project has been completed. By September, we would begin the drilling and then once we have sufficient number of wells, we can put them into production,” said the second official quoted above.
ONGC holds four CBM blocks. Two—North Karanpura and Bokaro in Jharkhand—will start production by the second half of 2017-18. Production after the development of all four blocks is estimated to be about 1.7 mmscmd.
The company has sold a 25% stake in its North Karanpura CBM block to Prabha Energy Pvt. Ltd, a unit of Deep Industries Ltd. The block in Bokaro will be developed by ONGC.
The explorer also plans to begin work shortly on the high-pressure high temperature Deen Dayal West field in which it acquired 80% from Gujarat State Petroleum Corp. this February for $1.2 billion.
New types of blood cells discovered
The cells are new classes of types of white blood cells called dendritic cells and monocytes, researchers said
cientists, including those of Indian origin, have identified new types of blood cells in the human immune system. The cells are new classes of types of white blood cells called dendritic cells and monocytes, researchers said.
Researchers, including Rahul Satija from New York University and Karthik Shekhar from Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in the US, identified two new dendritic cell subtypes and two monocyte subtypes. They have also discovered a new dendritic cell progenitor.
Researchers used a technique called single-cell genomics to analyse gene expression patterns in individual human blood cells. Previously, different types of immune cells were investigated and defined by the set of marker proteins that they express on their surface.
This new technique is much more powerful and can reveal previously unrecognised and rare cell types that would be otherwise difficult to find. Dendritic cells display molecules called antigens on their surfaces. These molecules are recognised by T cells which then mount an immune response. Monocytes are the largest type of white blood cell and can develop into macrophages that digest debris in our cells.
“Two important white blood cell types in our bodies help defend us from infection - dendritic cells and monocytes,” said Divya Shah, from Wellcome Trust’s Infection and Immunobiology team. “In this study, scientists have used cutting-edge technologies to find that there are many more types of cell than we originally thought.
“The next step is to find out what each of these cell types do in our immune system, both when we’re healthy and during disease,” said Shah. The finding was published in the journal Science.
Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft sets up Saturn ‘grand finale’
Cassini’s fuel tank is practically empty, so with little left to lose, Nasa has opted for a risky, but science-rich grand finale
Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft faces one last perilous adventure around Saturn.
Cassini swings past Saturn’s mega moon Titan early Saturday for a gravity-assisted, orbit-tweaking nudge.
“That last kiss goodbye,” as project manager Earl Maize calls it, will push Cassini onto a path no spacecraft has gone before — into the gap between Saturn and its rings. It’s treacherous territory. A particle from the rings — even as small as a speck of sand — could cripple Cassini, given its velocity.
Cassini will make its first pass through the relatively narrow gap on Wednesday. Twenty-two crossings are planned, about one a week, until September, when Cassini goes in and never comes out, vaporizing in Saturn’s atmosphere.
Launched in 1997, Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 and has been exploring it from orbit ever since. Its European travelling companion, Huygens, landed on Titan in 2005. Cassini’s fuel tank is practically empty, so with little left to lose, Nasa has opted for a risky, but science-rich grand finale.
“What a spectacular end to a spectacular mission,” said Jim Green, Nasa’s planetary science division director. “I feel a little sad in many ways that Cassini’s discoveries will end. But I’m also quite optimistic that we’re going to discover some new and really exciting science as we probe the region we’ve never probed before.”
There’s no turning back once Cassini flies past Titan, Maize said. The spacecraft on Wednesday will hurtle through the 1,200-mile-wide gap (1,900 kilometers) between Saturn’s atmosphere and its rings, at a breakneck 70,000-plus mph (113,000 kph).
From a navigation standpoint, “this is an easy shot,” Maize said. The operation will be run from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The concern is whether computer models of Saturn’s rings are accurate. On a few of the crossings, Cassini is “kind of flirting with the edge of where we think it’s safe,” he noted.
For at least the first trip through the gap, Cassini’s big dish antenna will face forward to shield the science instruments from any ring particles that might be lurking there. A couple instruments will provide a quick rundown on the dust situation.
Scientists anticipate lots of lightweight impacts, since the spacecraft will be going through extremely small material, more like smoke than distinct particles. Material from the innermost D ring — which is slowly extending into Saturn — should be diffuse enough “that we should be fine,” Maize said.
If the models are wrong and Cassini is clobbered by BB-size material, it still will end up exactly where Nasa is aiming for on 15 September — at Saturn. The space agency wants to keep the 22-foot-high, 13-foot-wide spacecraft away from Titan and its lakes of liquid methane and from the ice-encrusted moon Enceladus and its underground ocean and spouting geysers. It doesn’t want to shower contaminating wreckage onto these worlds that might harbour life.
This last leg of Cassini’s 20-year, $3.27 billion voyage should allow scientists to measure the mass of the multiple rings — shedding light on how old they are and how they formed — and also to determine the composition of the countless ring particles. First spotted by Galileo in 1610, the rings are believed to be 99% ice; the remaining 1% is a mystery, said project scientist Linda Spilker. A cosmic dust analyzer on Cassini will scoop up ring particles and analyze them.
“Imagine the pictures we’re going to get back of Saturn’s rings,” Spilker said.
Cassini will have the best views ever of Saturn’s poles, as it skims its surface. Near mission’s end, Spilker said, “we’re actually going to dip our toe” into Saturn’s atmosphere, sending back measurements until the last possible moment.
All this is on top of a science mission that already has rewritten the textbooks on the Saturnian system.
“But the best is still yet to come — perhaps,” Maize said at a news conference in early April. “But we are certainly going to provide more excitement.”
The relationship between economics and politics
As election outcomes are apparently random, elected politicians have no incentive to deliver good economic performance on their watch
ecent political developments in India, in particular the choice of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) thundering victory in that state’s recent election, has again cast light on an evergreen question in the Indian political economy: What is the relationship of economic performance and a party’s electoral prospects? Does good economics help assure, if not guarantee, an incumbent party’s re-election chances, or do these hinge rather on non-economic considerations, such as the pursuit of a social or cultural agenda?
Unfortunately, fables, morality tales and armchair narratives have typically substituted for evidence-based analysis of these questions. Thus, it is frequently asserted that the BJP-led government lost the general election in 2004 because of a backlash from poor and rural voters against its triumphalist “India Shining” campaign. Likewise, it is asserted that it was the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), appealing to the selfsame rural poor, which helped win re-election for the Congress-led government in 2009. As it happens, neither of these narratives can be confirmed by data.
Thus, on the former, as Rupa Subramanya and I argued in our 2012 book, Indianomix: Making Sense Of Modern India, the most parsimonious explanation for the BJP’s defeat in 2004 is that the close election was a coin-toss and they came up the losers. Any specific hypothesis to explain their defeat—whether India Shining, middle-class apathy, poor alliance choices, or old-fashioned anti-incumbency—could well hold some truth at the margin but none of them can be conclusively established by data as the sole, or even the most important, explanation. Likewise, a data analysis of the 2009 election by political economist Praveen Chakravarty shows that neutralizing for all other effects, most crucially for pre-poll alliances, there is no statistically meaningful relationship between the Congress vote share and the level of MGNREGA spending across constituencies. Similarly, there is no statistically significant evidence that the Congress vote share went up between 2004 and 2009 in constituencies with higher MGNREGA spending. This data analysis thus busts yet another morality tale.
The reality is that when hundreds of millions of people vote in a complex election with many issues at play, there is an ineluctable element of randomness in the final outcome, which aggregates across the preferences of all these individuals. The attempt to anthropomorphize all these hundreds of millions of differently motivated individuals into one representative voter with a specific motivation is doomed to failure.
Debunking simplistic narratives is one thing, but does a rigorous, data-based analysis show any relationship, in the aggregate, between good economic management by incumbent governments and their subsequent re-election prospects? Here, too, evidence is mixed. For instance, a recent Mint analysis by Pramit Bhattacharya and Tadit Kundu (“Does Good Economics Make For Good Politics In India?”, 24 March) analyses all the assembly elections after 2001 in 18 major states, dividing the states into three buckets: moderate incumbency, strong incumbency, and anti-incumbency. In the former two categories, there is some correlation between incumbency and higher growth rates during the incumbency period, while the relationship is weaker in the anti-incumbency states. Of course, correlation does not prove the existence of a causal relationship, suggestive though it may be.
Other recent research, cited in the Mint analysis referred to above, also appears to suggest India’s fabled anti-incumbency may be weakening, with incumbents more likely to be rewarded for good economic stewardship in the past decade than was the case in previous years. Yet such findings are very fragile in a statistical sense.
Thus, the more basic point, which I argued some time back (“Do Indian Voters Really Care For Economic Growth?”, Mint On Sunday, 29 November 2015), is that selection of data, time period and methodology can yield very different and even confounding results.
Thus, Chakravarty analyses assembly elections from 2004-14 in the 12 largest states—a different data set than in the recent Mint analysis—and finds no statistically meaningful relationship between economic performance (as measured by economic growth during time in office) and an incumbent government’s re-election prospects.
It is tempting but ultimately unhelpful to draw the nihilistic conclusion that as election outcomes are apparently random, elected politicians have no incentive to deliver good economic management (which hopefully translates into good economic performance) on their watch. For, if it is difficult to prove that good economics is good politics, it is equally difficult to prove that bad economics is good politics. In other words, once elected, a politician of conviction, freed from the notion that there is some strong provable relationship between what they do while in office and their re-election prospects, may be guided to do what they believe is right, simply because it is the right thing to do.
The relationship between good economics and good politics may, ironically, come down to morality in the end.
The rising concerns over the growing deficits of states are reflected in the widening spread between state development loans (SDLs) and Central government bonds
Ever since the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act (FRBM) was introduced in India, state governments have largely been conservative spenders, limiting their spending far more effectively than the Union government. This trend seems to be reversing in recent years, with the aggregate fiscal deficit of states rising at a time when the aggregate fiscal deficit of the Union government has been declining.
Overturning years of fiscal conservatism, Indian states have become much more profligate than before, a Mint analysis of major state budgets show. These states, accounting for 86% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 76% of the country’s population, have witnessed their aggregate gross fiscal deficit rising sharply to around 3.2% of India’s GDP in 2016-17, significantly higher than the budget estimates of 2.8%. The analysis uses final (actual) budget figures where available, and relies on revised estimates where such actuals are not available.
As the chart below shows, the aggregate fiscal deficit of states has been trending upwards over the past few years. At a time when the Union government has been bringing down its fiscal deficit-GDP ratio, state governments seem to be on an expansionary mode.
The sharp deterioration in state finances over the past couple of years is partly because of the restructuring of state-run power utilities under the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY).
For instance, one of the states which posted a sharp increase in its fiscal deficit in the just-ended fiscal year was Madhya Pradesh, which saw its deficit rising from 2.5% of gross state domestic product (GSDP) in 2015-16 to 4.7% in 2016-17. A recent analysis by PRS Legislative Research shows that Madhya Pradesh had to borrow Rs7,361 crore from the market last year on account of the UDAY scheme. This means that in the absence of UDAY, the deficit would have only risen from 2.5% of the GSDP in 2015-16 to 3.5% of the GSDP in 2016-17, instead of the actual 4.7% deficit. Similarly, Rajasthan’s huge deficit in 2015-16, amounting to more than 9% of GSDP, could be attributed in large part to the UDAY scheme.
While the UDAY scheme might have led to the sharp downturn in state finances, state government deficits would have worsened even without UDAY in 2016-17, as JP Morgan economists Sajjid Chinoy and Toshi Jain pointed out in a 22 February note on state finances.
While the debt created on account of UDAY is a one-time cost, the resultant increase in interest burden would persist in the coming years. States have as yet provisioned for only around 60 of the new interest liabilities arising out of UDAY in their budgets which means further fiscal slippages are likely, a recent report on state finances by the HSBC economists Pranjul Bhandari and Dhiraj Nim said. Besides, the HSBC report estimates that states’ increased wages and pension bill on account of their respective Pay Commission revisions could inflate their total deficit by another 0.2% of the GDP this year (2017-18).
The rising concerns over the growing deficits of states are reflected in the widening spread between state development loans (SDLs) and Central government bonds. As state government borrowings have increased, spreads have moved up. While markets may not be very selective when it comes to punishing state governments, treating fiscally responsible state governments and less responsible ones in similar fashion, market participants seem to be taking note of the rising risk profile of state governments as a whole.
Ironically, the deterioration in state finances has coincided with the implementation of the 14th Finance Commission recommendations, which have led to an increase in aggregate transfers from the Centre to the states.
Indeed the Centre to states transfers were more than expected (or budgeted) in 2016-17. However, they were offset by lower-than-expected own tax collections by the states (mainly indirect taxes) and higher-than-expected expenditure, leading to deficits exceeding the initial budget estimates for the year.
The excessive spending by states is not just on account of schemes such as UDAY or linked to pay and pension expenses. Aggregate deficits have gone up also because states have stepped in to invest in social infrastructure such as health and education. With the Centre is curtailing expenditure on these areas over the past few years, states have had to step in to fill the gap, raising spending on these sectors (more on this issue in the next part of this series).
The states which exceeded their deficit targets by the biggest margins of error were also generally the states with high deficits such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. The pattern in these states was more or less similar—less-than-expected tax collections and more-than-budgeted expenditure led to higher deficits.
Although state deficits or the net addition by states to public debt has been rising, states account for only a third of the overall public debt in the country. As the recent report of the FRBM review committee led by N.K. Singh pointed out, states not only have a much lower level of aggregate debt compared to the Centre, they also collectively run a revenue surplus (i.e., their aggregate current expenditure has been less than their aggregate revenue receipts) unlike in the case of the Centre. This is partly because of limited borrowing powers of the states (they often need approval from the Central government to undertake additional market borrowings).
The Singh committee recommends that the states “be allowed to maintain their debt GDP ratios at FY17 levels (i.e. 21% of GDP)” in the near future. However, states may contest this cap, given that their stock of debt is far lower than the Centre and their responsibilities have been rising over the years. It is also not clear how the cap on debt will apply to different states, with different levels of debt, and with different developmental needs. The 15th Finance Commission will likely grapple with these issues to find a debt path for states that is fair, equitable and sustainable.
Meanwhile, it will be important to keep a close watch on the deficit levels of states as the health of public finances in India will in great measure depend upon the performance of states. The upcoming pay commission hikes and the growing clamour for farm loan waivers across several states are likely to strain the already stressed finances of states.
Every thing you want to know about Indian bond market but were afraid to ask
The Indian bond market is vertically split between foreign banks who make profits trading government securities, and state-owned banks that have 70% market share in banking assets
A senior executive of an old private bank who had spent many years in a large state-owned bank’s treasury was all smiles last week, narrating to me what happened in the bond market on 3 April. “The foreign banks were begging for securities... They were shorting the market, bringing down the prices. How long the public sector banks would tolerate that and make losses? Why would they lend securities to the short sellers to meet their delivery obligations?” he asked. The short selling and short squeeze that the market witnessed were hotly debated early this month at the Fixed Income Money Markets and Derivatives Association’s annual offsite in Sydney which this gentleman attended.
My last week’s column dealt with this in detail (The untold story of India’s bond market, 17 April). At the moment, the Indian bond market is vertically split: On the one side, are the foreign banks and primary dealers who make profits trading government securities and, on the other, are state-owned banks that have roughly 70% market share in banking assets and believe in holding on to their bond portfolio to earn coupon or a periodic interest payment earn during the time between the issuance of a bond and its redemption.
The intense fight between the two groups (or, bulls and bears) came to the surface in March, the last month of the financial year 2017, and April, which marks the beginning of a new financial year.
The timing is critical to appreciate the development. All banks in India need to mandatorily invest 20.5% of their net demand and time liability or NDTL, a loose proxy for their deposits, in government bonds and many hold even a larger bond portfolio. The mandated 20.5% holding can be kept in the so-called held to maturity or HTM segment, insulating it from the movement of the bond prices in the market. However, the rest of the portfolio—kept in the so-called available for sale (AFS) and held for trading (HFT) baskets—needs to be valued in accordance with the prevailing market price or marked to market.
As the financial year draws to a close, treasury managers in public sector banks would always be happy if the prices rise as that prevents the mark to market losses. If the prices go down below the price at which the bonds were bought, the banks are required to set aside money or provide for the notional loss. So, they buy heavily and the demand for bonds leads to a rise in the prices. The foreign banks and primary dealers go short—meaning, they sell the securities which they do not own. The selling pressure brings down the prices and hits the public sector banks hard.
In the beginning of a financial year too, we often see a repeat of this. There are a couple of reasons behind this. Unlike the foreign banks and even the private sector banks where one spends decades on the treasury floor understanding the nuances of the business, in most public sector banks, treasury is among several divisions where one would spend a few years before being transferred to another. Typically, this transfer takes place in May-June and the treasury managers want to say goodbye with a winning note. This means, they buy heavily leading to the rise in bond prices.
Besides, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) every year gives all banks one opportunity to reshuffle their bond portfolio—shifting securities from the HTM basket to the AFS and HFT baskets. This typically happens in the beginning of the year. The banks can also sell securities from the HTM basket but only up to 5% of the portfolio. If they cross the limit, then the entire HTM portfolio becomes vulnerable as it would need to be marked to market.
The bond dealers in foreign banks, by being there for decades, know exactly what the state-run banks’ treasury managers are up to at different parts of a fiscal year and accordingly, they plan their actions. For the first time on two successive occasions in March and April, we have seen the public sector banks ganging up and launching a counter attack.
On both occasions, the banking regulator stepped in and brokered a truce, but how do we prevent recurrence of such ugly fights that threatens the stability of the bond market? As on 31 March, the total outstanding government securities (both central government as well as state development loans) were around Rs47.5 trillion and close to 60% of this or Rs28.63 trillion was being held by commercial banks. Insurance companies, provident funds, pension funds, mutual funds, primary dealers and cooperative banks also buy government bonds. Even though banks buy the bonds to meet their statutory liquidity ratio or SLR obligation, there is not much of liquidity in the market as the banks and insurance companies mostly buy them but don’t trade.
The challenge is to get liquidity across the yield curve. Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan in 2016 tried to use the primary dealers (there are 21 of them) to play the role of market makers by giving two-way quotes for four securities each but that experiment has not been a success. Lifting the 5% limit on sale of securities from the HTM basket and doubling it to 10% may help in creating liquidity in the market. Banks need flexibility in managing their bond portfolio as anyway they are forced into directed bond buying in an imperfect market where yields get manipulated even by the regulator at times to bring down the cost of government borrowing. Bringing down the HTM portion will force the banks to trade bonds and create liquidity but this may end up creating too much volatility which the banks may not be able to handle.
I understand that the department of financial services in the finance ministry is in favour of ending the SLR requirements that forces banks to buy bonds and curbs their ability to lend. The N.K. Singh committee that reviewed the rules on fiscal discipline has in its report also advocated paring SLR. Indeed, it has been progressively coming down—from 38.5% of deposits in early 1990 to 20.5% now—but unless the fiscal deficit of the government comes down, the SLR requirement cannot come down dramatically. The government has pegged the fiscal deficit at 3.2% of India’s gross domestic product in 2018 and after adjusting for buyback of bonds, the net borrowing programme in 2018 remains almost unchanged from the previous year—Rs3.48 trillion. Without the adjustments, the net borrowing is Rs4.23 trillion and the gross annual borrowing Rs5.8 trillion.
Most Indian banks have made treasury losses in the last quarter of fiscal 2017 but overall, it has been a great year for treasury managers. Between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017, the benchmark 10-year bond yield dropped from 7.45% to 6.68%. After fiscal year 2009 when bond yields dramatically dropped following an ultra-loose monetary policy by the RBI in the aftermath of the collapse of iconic US investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., both 2015 and 2017 have been great years for the treasury managers. However, unlike Indian farmers who always pray for a good monsoon for a bumper crop, bond dealers cannot forever look for a drop in yield and rise in prices to make money; they need to build expertise in risk management.
Indeed, the short sellers in the bond market spoil the party of the public sector banks but the public sector banks have the crutches of HTM to ward off the adverse impact of the rising yield while foreign banks typically mark to market their entire bond portfolio following international practice. The state-owned banks also have a much a larger bond portfolio to move the market. Moreover, there have been occasions when these banks managed to convince the banking regulator to allow them back dated transfer of securities from AFS to HTM to shield them from the impact of rising bond yields. It happened in June 2004 when the yield rose some 75 basis points in May-June (from 5.16% to 5.92%) and also in August 2013 after a 200 basis points rise in 10-year benchmark bond yield (from 7.15% to 9.15%). On both occasions, the RBI bailed them out.
All bond dealers are expected to follow the principle of PVBP (price value of 1 basis point) on a continuous basis or remain aware of the risk that a 1 basis point movement in yield poses to the bond portfolio. Do all dealers in the state-owned banks follow this? If they do, then why did they buy the long-dated securities in January-February when the banks were flush with fresh deposits (and hence they had to invest in bonds) because of the demonetization drive but they knew well that the bulk of those deposits would flow out soon (and this would bring down their SLR requirement).
While the bond dealers in the state-owned banks need to appreciate the finer aspects of risk management, the aggressive short sellers must be forced to pay a higher price for taking risks. This can be done by introducing negative interest rates when they borrow securities from others in the market through the repo or repurchase deals on the Clearcorp Repo Order Matching System or CROMS platform of Clearing Corporation of India Ltd. Currently, CROMs does not have a provision for a negative interest rate for repo deals but I am sure that the software can be tweaked to introduce this.
Niti Aayog meet: States to get greater say in new national planning regime
At Niti Aayog meeting, PM Narendra Modi vows to address growth imbalance, asks states to take lead in move to a January to December fiscal year
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state chief ministers on Sunday considered a new approach in policy planning that aims to give states a greater say in determining national priorities—including in internal security and defence—set out in a 15-year vision and a draft three-year short-term action plan ending 2019-20.
The vision document and the draft 300-point action plan prepared with suggestions from states and gram sabhas rest upon the spirit of cooperative federalism that succeeds the Nehruvian era’s centralized five-year planning that drew to a close on 31 March with the end of the 12th five year plan. They were discussed as part of the Niti Aayog’s third governing body meeting. The vision document projects the economy to grow more than three-fold to Rs469 lakh crore by 2031-32, from Rs137 lakh crore in 2015-16, assuming an 8% annual growth.
“Niti Aayog is a collaborative federal body whose strength is in its ideas, rather than in administrative or financial control,” an official statement quoted Modi as saying in his opening remarks to the think tank. He promised states that regional growth imbalance will be addressed both nationally and within states. The Prime Minister also suggested that states should take the lead in changing the financial year to January-December and “carry forward the debate and discussion on simultaneous elections.” The idea is better economic and political management of the country. Modi also urged states to put in place State Goods and Services Tax (SGST) laws without delay and to speed up capital expenditure and infrastructure creation.
Niti Aayog tweeted that the long-term national development agenda up to 2031-32 extend the traditional plan mandate to include internal security and defence. By 2031-32, the country should be “highly educated, healthy, secure, corruption-free, energy abundant, environmentally friendly and globally influential,” it said.
Niti Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya told reporters after the meeting that the action plan assesses the revenue available to the union and state governments over the next three years to suggest enhanced spending on priority areas like health, infrastructure, agriculture and rural economy. The action plan will be finalized after states give their feedback.
The governing body also reviewed the progress in drafting a Regulatory Reforms Bill, a model Agriculture Land Leasing Act, changes to the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act, a national energy policy and strategic disinvestment of state-owned enterprises.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan made a presentation on doubling of farmers’ income, by focusing on irrigation, technology generation and dissemination, market reforms and livestock productivity.
The short-term action plan coincides with the remaining three years of the 14th Finance Commission’s award period ending in 2019-20 as it gives certainty on the cash flow of central and state governments for the period.
Shaping the country’s development plan with state governments consolidates the resetting of centre-state relations under the co-operative federalism achieved through higher untied fund allocation to states from the centre’s divisible pool of taxes (without specifying end-use) and the setting up of the goods and services tax (GST) Council, in which neither the Union nor the state governments can take decisions without the support of the other.
GST reflects the spirit of “one nation, one aspiration, one determination,” Modi said. He said that the share of central funds to states that are tied to specific central projects have come down from 40% of total allocation in 2014-15 to 25% in 2016-17 with a corresponding increase in funds which are not linked to specific schemes, giving states greater freedom in their utilization.
The meeting also reviewed Niti Aayog’s move to encourage states to excel in various governance parameters by comparing performance.
Experts welcomed the move to foster competition among states.
“Competitive federalism is a very good strategy. Comparing states on ‘ease of doing business’ is a good first step. Now states must be compared on the pace at which they are creating jobs and livelihoods, improving health and education for citizens, and developing local governance capabilities,” said Arun Maira, former member of the Planning Commission.
Modi said it was the collective responsibility of the gathering to envision the India of 2022—the 75th anniversary of independence—and see how the country could swiftly move forward the goals set in the vision document.
The prime minister told states that advancing of the Union budget date to 1 February in 2017 from the customary last day of the month was meant to make funds available for various schemes so that they could be utilized in time, especially for farming before the monsoon arrived. Dropping the distinction between plan and non-plan spending has enabled the authorities to focus on welfare spending, Modi said.
End of Red Beacons : A big blow to VIP culture
“Well begun is half done.” That was what the famous Greek philosopher said. Union Cabinet’s decision of doing away with the lal batti culture is a good start for a battle that can prove to be a long one.
On Wednesday, April 19, 2017, the Union Cabinet decided to amend the Motor Vehicle Rules to end the use of red or any coloured beacon by all, including the President, Vice President and the Prime Minister. “Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted soon after.
“The Union Cabinet, in its meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi today decided to do away with beacons of all kinds atop all categories of vehicles in the country. The government is of the considered opinion that beacons on vehicles are perceived symbols of VIP Culture, and have no place in a democratic country. They have no relevance whatsoever. Beacons, however, will be allowed on vehicles concerned with emergency and relief services, ambulance, fire service etc. In the light of this decision the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways will make necessary provisions in the law,” was the brief statement by the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways.
Immediately, the next day, i.e. on Thursday, April 20, 2017, gazette notification was issued.
Soon after, the television channels and news portals were flashing the breaking news even as the social media was full of gleeful messages. The wide spread joy at the news that had a direct bearing on few thousand people – those whose cars were allowed beacons, red, orange or any other colour – sent a message to the scores of tens and thousands of others. The message that can be seen as assurance. The message that can be seen as promise. The message that signifies a change. The message that can be seen to end discrimination.
The Supreme Court Ruling
The government has taken forward a Supreme Court ruling of December 2013. It had sought to restrict the use of red beacons even with an amendment in the relevant law. The Supreme Court, while hearing the petition on VIP culture, observed, “One of the issues highlighted in the note was that if the instinct of power is concentrated in few individuals, then naked greed for power will destroythe basics of democratic principles. But, what we have done in the last four decades would shock the most established political systems. … … … The best example of this is the use of symbols of authority including the red lights on the vehicles of public representatives from the lowest to the highest and civil servants of various cadres. The red lights symbolize power and a stark differentiation between those who are allowed to use it and the ones who are not”.
The Amicus Curiae in the case had informed that the red beacon had actually become a status symbol and those using such vehicles treat themselves as a class different than ordinary citizens. He also told the Court that “the widespread use of red lights on government vehicles in the country is reflective of the mentality of those who served British Government in India and threatened the natives as slaves.”
Cabinet Announcement brings cheers
Soon after the announcement by the Union Cabinet, Chief Ministers of several states announced removal of beacons from their cars. These included Chief Ministers of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand to name a few. Several other states too followed suit. It was an attempt at redemption so to say. Some others like the Chief Ministers of Tripura and Delhi have not been using red beacons earlier too. More recently, soon after their swearing in as Chief Ministers of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, both Amarinder Singh and Yogi Adityanath declared that they will not be using any red beacon cars. Newspaper reports indicate that the Supreme Court Judges and the Election Commission of India have also ordered removing of beacons from their cars.
‘Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP’
The Union Cabinet’s decision to do away with the lal batti culture is indeed a welcome step in right direction. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP.”
Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP. https://t.co/epXuRdaSmY— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 19, 2017
After this, one can hope that the access or the privileges that come with the VIP tag would soon be gone and each Indian would have opportunities on par. One can hope the poor is not deprived of good education for his child because of some VIP quota snatched away his ward’s admission to good schools funded by government. One can hope that a patient from remote hamlet will get treatment for a rare heart problem and not be sent away because some people with influence are to be given preference at public health facilities.
We can take pride in the fact that it is the Prime Minister who has himself promised: “Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP.” Let us hope that this step will bring an end to the clout that red beacon symbolized.
Significant Achievements of NITI Aayog over the last three years.
I. Vision Document, Strategy & Action Agenda beyond 12th Five Year Plan: Replacing the Five Year Plans beyond 31st March, 2017, NITI Aayog is in the process of preparing the 15-year vision document keeping in view the social goals set and/ or proposed for a period of 15 years; A 7-year strategy document spanning 2017-18 to 2023-24 to convert the longer-term vision into implementable policy and action as a part of a “National Development Agenda” is also being worked upon. The 3-year Action Agenda for 2017-18 to 2019-20, aligned to the predictability of financial resources during the 14thFinance Commission Award period, has been completed and will be submitted before the Prime Minister on April 23rd at the 3rd Governing Council Meeting
II. Reforms in Agriculture:
a. Model Land Leasing Law
Taking note of increasing incidents of leasing in and out of land and suboptimal use of land with lesser number of cultivators, NITI Aayog has formulated a Model Agricultural Land Leasing Act, 2016 to both recognize the rights of the tenant and safeguard interest of landowners. A dedicated cell for land reforms was also set up in NITI. Based on the model act, Madhya Pradesh has enacted separate land leasing law and Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have modified their land leasing laws. Some States, including Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, are already at an advance stage of formulating legislations to enact their land leasing laws for agriculture.
b. Reforms of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act
NITI Aayog consulted with the States on 21 October 2016 on three critical reforms –
(i) Agricultural marketing reforms
(ii) Felling and transit laws for tree produce grown at private land
(iii) Agricultural land leasing
Subsequently, Model APMC Act version 2 prepared. States are being consulted to adopt APMC Act version 2.
c. Agricultural Marketing and Farmer Friendly Reforms Index
NITI Aayog has developed the first ever ‘Agriculture Marketing and Farmer Friendly Reforms Index’ to sensitise states about the need to undertake reforms in the three key areas of Agriculture Market Reforms, Land Lease Reforms and Forestry on Private Land (Felling and Transit of Trees). The index carries a score with a minimum value “0” implying no reforms and maximum value “100” implying complete reforms in the selected areas.
As per NITI Aayog’s index, Maharashtra ranks highest in implementation of various agricultural reforms. The State has implemented most of the marketing reforms and offers the best environment for undertaking agri-business among all the States and UTs. Gujarat ranks second with a score of 71.50 out of 100, closely followed by Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Almost two third States have not been able to reach even the halfway mark of reforms score, in the year 2016-17. The index aims to induce a healthy competition between States and percolate best practices in implementing farmer-friendly reforms.
III. Reforming Medical Education
A committee chaired by Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog recommended scrapping of the Medical Council of Indi and suggested a new body for regulating medical education. The draft legislation for the proposed National Medical Commission has been submitted to the Government for further necessary action.
IV. Digital Payments Movement:
a. An action plan on advocacy, awareness and co-ordination of handholding efforts among general public, micro enterprises and other stakeholders was prepared. Appropriate literature in print and multimedia was prepared on the subject for widespread dissemination. Presentations/ interactions were organized by NITI Aayog for training and capacity building of various Ministries/Departments of Government of India, representatives of State/UTs, Trade and Industry Bodies as well as all other stakeholders.
b. NITI Aayog also constituted a Committee of Chief Ministers on Digital Payments on 30th November 2016 with the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu, as the Convener to promote transparency, financial inclusion and a healthy financial ecosystem nationwide. The Committee submitted its interim report to Hon’ble Prime Minister in January 2017.
c. To incentivize the States/UTs for promotion of digital transactions, Central assistance of Rs. 50 crore would be provided to the districts for undertaking Information, Education and Communication activities to bring 5 crore Jan Dhan accounts to digital platform.
d. Cashback and referral bonus schemes were launched by the Prime Minister on 14.4.2017 to promote the use of digital payments through the BHIM App.
e. Niti Aayog also launched two incentive schemes to to promote digital payments across all sections of society - the Lucky Grahak Yojana and the Digi Dhan Vyapar Yojana –Over 16 lakh consumers and merchants have won Rs. 256 crore under these two schemes .
f. Digi Dhan Melas were also held for 100 days in 100 cities, from December 25th to April 14th.
V. Atal Innovation Mission: The Government has set up Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) in NITI Aayog with a view to strengthen the country’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem by creating institutions and programs that spur innovation in schools, colleges, and entrepreneurs in general. In 2016-17, the following major schemes were rolled out:
a. Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs): To foster creativity and scientific temper in students, AIM is helping to establish 500 ATLs in schools across India, where students can design and make small prototypes to solve challenges they see around them, using rapid prototyping technologies that have emerged in recent years.
b. Atal Incubation Centres (AICs): AIM will provide financial support of Rs.10 crore and capacity buidling for setting AICs across India, which will help startups expand quicker and enable innovation-entrepreneurship, in core sectors such as manufacturing, transport, energy, education, agriculture, water and sanitation, etc.
VI. Indices Measuring States’ Performance in Health, Education and Water Management: As part of the Prime Minister’s Focus on outcomes, NITI has come out with indices to measure incremental annual outcomes in critical social sectors like health, education and water with a view to nudge the states into competing with each other for better outcomes, while at the same time sharing best practices & innovations to help each other - an example of competitive and cooperative federalism..
VII. Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Rationalization of Centrally Sponsored Schemes: Based on the recommendations of this Sub-Group, a Cabinet note was prepared by NITI Aayog which was approved by the Cabinet on 3rd August, 2016. Among several key decision, the sub-group led to the rationalization of the existing CSSs into 28 umbrella schemes.
VIII. Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan:Constituted by NITI Aayog on 9th March, 2015, the Sub-Group has submitted its report to the Hon’ble Prime Minister in October, 2015 and most of its recommendations have been accepted.
IX. Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Skill Development:Constituted on 9th March, 2015, the report of the Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Skill Development was presented before the Hon’ble Prime Minister on 31/12/2015. The recommendation and actionable points emerging from the Report were approved by the Hon’ble Prime Minister and are in implementation by the Ministry of Skill Development
X. Task Force on Elimination of Poverty in India:Constituted on 16th March, 2015 under the Chairmanship of Dr. Arvind Panagariya, Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog, the report of the Task Force was finalized and submitted to the Prime Minister on 11th July, 2016.The report of the Task Force primarily focusses on issues of measurement of poverty and strategies to combat poverty. Regarding estimation of poverty, the report of the Task Force states that “a consensus in favour of either the Tendulkar or a higher poverty line did not emerge. Therefore, the Task Force has concluded that the matter be considered in greater depth by the country’s top experts on poverty before a final decision is made. Accordingly, it is recommended that an expert committee be set up to arrive at an informed decision on the level at which the poverty line should be set.” With respect to strategies to combat poverty, the Task Force has made recommendations on faster poverty reduction through employment intensive sustained rapid growth and effective implementation of anti-poverty programs.
XI. Task Force on Agriculture Development: The Task Force on Agricultural development was constituted on 16th March, 2015 under the Chairmanship of Dr. Arvind Panagariya, Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog. The Task Force based on its works prepared an occasional paper entitled “Raising Agricultural Productivity and Making Farming Remunerative for Farmers” focusing on 5 critical areas of Indian Agriculture. These are (i) Raising Productivity, (ii) Remunerative Prices to Farmers, (iii) Land Leasing, Land Records & Land Titles; (iv) Second Green Revolution-Focus on Eastern States; and (v) Responding to Farmers’ Distress. After taking inputs of all the States on occasional paper and through their reports, the Task Force submitted the final report to Prime Minister on 31st May, 2016. It has suggested important policy measures to bring in reforms in agriculture for the welfare of the farmers as well as enhancing their income.
XII. Transforming India Lecture Series:As the government’s premier think-tank, NITI Aayog views knowledge building & transfer as the enabler of real transformation in States. To build knowledge systems for States and the Centre, NITI Aayog launched the ‘NITI Lectures: Transforming India’ series, with full support of the Prime Minister on 26th August 2016. The lecture series is aimed at addressing the top policy making team of the Government of India, including members of the cabinet and several top layers of the bureaucracy. It aims is to bring cutting edge ideas in development policy to Indian policy makers and public, so as to promote the cause of transformation of India into a prosperous modern economy. The Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, Shri Tharman Shanmugaratnam, delivered the first lecture on the topic: India and the Global Economy. On November 16th, 2016, Bill Gates, Co-Founder, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, delivered the second lecture in the series under the theme: 'Technology and Transformation'.
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