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Governance

Surge pricing in railways is Suresh Prabhu's deliberate self-goal

Union railways minister Suresh Prabhu’s latest move of “surge pricing fare system” is a gambit to reduce finance minister Arun Jaitley’s pain, who looks all set to soon adopt country’s messy public transport behemoth. If everything goes by the plan, the 93-year old Rail Budget would cease to exist from the next financial year i.e. FY […]Read More »

Why Vajpayee stands taller than Rao, Manmohan and Modi put together

In India, privatising a public sector company is perhaps a bigger challenge than contesting an electoral battle or even conducting a nuclear test. Don’t see it as an incongruous claim. This may well be a credible reality if one looks at the 25-year-long history of India’s economic liberalisation. In two-and-a-half decades of economic reforms, despite […]Read More »

Modi's war on black money is a let-down, amnesty schemes cheat honest taxpayers

If one pays his or her taxes honestly and does not expect any favours from the government, he or she has every right to show angst over this never-ending business of amnesties to tax swindlers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi repudiated history when he, during his last Mann Ki Baat, reminded people of the September 30 […]Read More »

Special Category for Andhra will remain elusive

In February 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had assured the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu that he would consider conferring the special category status to his state. Apart from this privilege, Naidu has been demanding a special package for the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh after it was carved out from the erstwhile composite […]Read More »

India needs a water-sensitive food trade policy

If one lists the nations most suited to produce wheat, sugarcane, cotton and soybean, China and Egypt will definitely stand atop on historical, geographical and climatic counts. World’s largest river Nile flows in Egypt which every year collects fertile soil from different countries in Africa and deposits it in its delta. On the other side […]Read More »

Modi sarkar and telcos have both hung up on the consumers

Do you get full signal on your mobile? Is your data speed fast enough? Have mobile companies started compensating you for call drops? If your answers are a resounding “no” (naturally, they would!) then, more than the government, we ourselves are responsible. We Indians, afflicted with a strange kind of amnesia, tend to forget the […]Read More »

Modi's foreign trips can wait. Indian trade needs emergency landing

Howsoever spectacular Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diplomatic campaign might have been, the fact remains the void in the trade diplomacy has grown faster than ever. If the government’s own Economic Survey is to be believed, India’s foreign trade has gained momentum over the last decade with a flurry of free and preferential trade agreements signed […]Read More »

Modi sarkar should bet on services for dream growth

If one observes the samurais of growth driving the GDP rate above seven per cent, one wouldn’t find them in the swanky corporate offices of Mumbai and Delhi, but in the markets close to one’s home. These growth warriors make our lives easier by running eateries, repairing shops and providing dozens of similar services and […]Read More »

Don’t make India a circus of cartels and monopolies

Facebook’s Free Basics trial was so legendary that one Ganesh could double the yield from his fields with the knowledge FB-patented internet facilitated. While, advertisements are notorious for making lofty claims, this one goes beyond limit. Considering the state of agriculture in India, this can’t even be an exception let alone a norm. As it […]Read More »

Let’s fix the system instead of opting out

Allahabad High Court passed an interesting order last month, directing the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh to ensure that from the academic year beginning 2016, children of all officials serving with the government, including judiciary, local bodies and representatives of people, must send their children to study only in government primary schools, failing which the […]Read More »

That is retrograde, Mr Jaitley

An important step in clearing our institutional financial system of the cobwebs it has gathered over the years has now been reversed, with Mr. Arun Jaitley announcing deferment of his plan to set up an independent public debt management authority, which he had promised in the budget presented earlier this year. Till now, Reserve Bank […]Read More »

Coalgate Revisited

  The auction of 33 of the 204 coal mines, whose allocations were cancelled by the Sup¬re¬me Court, has just been completed. The auction has brought the government a ‘windfall gain’ of Rs 2.07 lakh crore for 19 operational blocks and 13 about-to-open blocks which were put under the hammer, against Rs 1.86 lakh crore […]Read More »

Will Federalism at Work Let Populism Thrive ?

The just released recommendations of the Fourteenth Finance Commission’s will have far- reaching consequences for the states of the Indian Union, with 42 percent of the central divisible pool of resources now going to them, as compared to the existing 32 percent provided by the Thirteenth Finance Commission. In terms of resources now available to […]Read More »

Bihar: Facts and Fiction


 

With campaigning for the assembly elections in Bihar gathering pace and heat, demands for its special category status is again in focus. In this context, various articles have appeared in the media quoting statistics from varied sources to make or unmake a point, often in isolation. Prime Minister has recently announced a mega package for the state which mostly appears to be a repackaging of several existing ongoing schemes. There are also differing interpretations of the implications of Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC) recommendations on the state’s finances, depending on which side of the political spectrum one is in. In this confusion, real governance issues are often getting obfuscated.

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Some have asserted that the 14th Finance Commission has abolished the special category classification altogether. In reality, Finance Commissions do not deal with special category status which used to be awarded on the recommendation of Planning Commission based on a set of criteria arbitrarily devised by it; Bihar in any case does not fulfil these criteria. Further, special category states are special only in respect of the special pattern of plan assistance they receive from the Centre, which were allocated by the Planning Commission; Finance Commissions only recommend non-plan grants under article 275. FFC transfers were of course based on a set of uniform criteria that did not distinguish between special and general category states, but neither did 13th Finance Commission’s for that matter, except for a few specific grants like disaster relief. Finance Commissions recommend formula-based devolution which apply to all states uniformly – there being no distinction for special category states.

One issue being debated is whether the FFC recommendations have indeed placed higher resources at the disposal of the state. Total devolution of central resources to a state comes through its share of divisible pool of taxes and duties and central grants – both for plan and non-plan purposes. Total devolution to Bihar during 2010-15 was Rs 228,072 crore; Rs 172,944 crore by 13th Finance Commission recommendations and the rest being plan grants. In contrast, FFC recommended total devolution of Rs 382,529 crore for Bihar during its award period 2015-20, excluding grants for local bodies amounting to Rs 21,057 crore. Even after factoring inflation, this apparently represents a hefty increase in devolution of central resources to Bihar, but the increase in total devolution is a myth. While the states’ shares of divisible pool have indeed gone up, their shares of grants, plan plus non-plan, have come down drastically, reflecting hardly any increase in the total resources transferred.

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We cannot compare the figures for the entire FFC award period as we do not know as yet the plan grants that will be transferred to Bihar in the coming years, assuming there will be a continuation of the planning machinery beyond the 12th Plan. We can only compare the two years for which figures are available. In the revised estimates of 2014-15, total devolution to Bihar was Rs 66,985 crore (share of taxes of Rs 38,082 crore and grants of Rs 28,903 crore), while for the budget estimates of 2015-16, which is the first year of FFC award, the total devolution is Rs 68,919 crore (taxes of Rs 50,748 crore and grants of Rs 18,171 crore). Thus the effect of FFC recommendation was only an increase of 2.9%. However, there is one important difference, states will now have better control over these funds than before as most of the funds are now untied to the unproductive centrally sponsored plan schemes.

In fact, the higher tax devolution recommended by FFC has been offset by merciless slashing of plan grants to the states in the Union budget for 2015-16. The block grants given under Normal Central Assistance has been reduced to nil from Rs 26,814 crore allotted in the revised estimates of 2014-15; same has been the fate Special Plan Assistance, Backward Regions Grant Fund and many other plan schemes under which Bihar used to receive substantial funds.

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In an Economic & Political Weekly article published earlier, I had argued that Bihar’s problem does not arise from lack of resources, but from the lack of institutional capacity. In fact, lack of resources is not so much a problem for Bihar as it is made out to be; the state is not even able to spend what it has. As the Appropriation Accounts prepared the Comptroller & Auditor General of India shows, during 2013-14, it could not spend Rs 31,480 crore, or nearly 28 percent of the total budgetary allocations. Special category status, even if awarded, will only get a tiny fraction of this amount to Bihar. Bihar’s problem is not scarcity of resources, but the lack of capacity, undeveloped infrastructure, difficulties in market access, lack of entrepreneurial skills and bad law and order situation – all of which the lawless administration of Nitish Kumar’s alliance partner miserably failed to address. These impediments are certainly not addressable in the short term either.

Finance

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4 disastrous effects of demonetisation that Modi ignored

In spite of several inefficiencies, fortunately, India never witnessed a bank-run or monetary crisis parallel to the scale in Europe or America. However, the chaos and long queues that engulfed banks across India now perfectly mirror the plight the Greeks faced last year, albeit for different reasons. Demonetisation is a rudimentary monetary instrument of the […]Read More »

Modi's historic move against black money brings chaos now, gains later

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unprecedented move to temporary demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes is expected to bring in a host of positives, it will also set off major administrative and logistical challenges at the outset, not to mention the plight of common people. The government and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will […]Read More »

Diwali or not, India can't boycott Chinese goods

Last fortnight, close on the heels of the rise of firecracker nationalism against Chinese goods on social media, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was busy making adjustments for yuan’s entry into India’s foreign exchange reserves. Not only RBI, most of the global central bankers too had to alter metrics of their forex reserves after yuan’s […]Read More »

Despite $10 billion in tax net, Modi sarkar's amnesty is a colossal failure

Despite the long history of failed tax amnesty schemes, the Narendra Modi government tried its luck with tax pardons, but to no avail. Howsoever pliable the statistics might be, the fact remains that declarations of Rs 65,250 crore under the black money disclosure scheme could attract just a moderate success for the NDA government. However, […]Read More »

Modi must walk the talk on GST

Even if one doesn’t buy everything that Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed in his Parliament speech on Goods and Services Tax (GST), one should acknowledge that this is one of the most crucial structural indirect tax reforms in the last 25 years of liberalisation. This may not effectively clamp down on inspector raj, or turn […]Read More »

GST Bill an example of half-baked and vague reform

Contrary to the euphoria and costlier-cheaper headlines, the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill 2014 doesn’t spell out even the outline of the GST that India is expected to get in the future. The passing of the GST Bill is just the beginning of a tedious political and operational voyage that should ultimately result in the implementation […]Read More »

Raghuram Rajan, darling of Dalal Street, ‘devil’ for Delhi Durbar

  Sometimes words speak louder than actions. If nowhere, then at least in India. RBI chief Raghuram Rajan has fallen victim to his own candid words (read speeches) on issues of political import. However, his legacy doesn’t lie in his articulations as a blunt economist but as a top-class, innovative and professional central banker. And here […]Read More »

5.80 lakh crore in bad loans: Let's pray for India's bleeding banks

The Rs 13 lakh-crore pile of bad loans of India’s public sector banks now amounts to more than the GDP of countries like New Zealand, Kenya, Oman and Uruguay. A new IMF report states Indian banks are in a poor state compared to the notoriously messy banking of China.The financial results of major public sector […]Read More »

Modi government has actually worked hard to deliver on black money

  After facing severe criticism for its lofty electoral promises on bringing black money to India, Modi sarkar appears to have stuck its neck out on dealing with the issue. The Modi-led government, running past the two-year mark in office, has taken some calculated risks to go ahead on curbing black money. To promote transparency, the government […]Read More »

How India's wealthy are milking billions off subsidy

Do you think the politics of subsidy is only confined around lower and middle economic classes? If yes, then you would wonder how subsidies worth rupees one crore go into the pockets of the rich every year, and that too via merely seven products and services. The subsidy bill may notch up if one takes […]Read More »

India’s three-tiered economy needs bottoms-up approach

Has finance minister Arun Jaitley got it right? If one looks at the economy at hand, the answer would possibly be “Yes”. India is now a three-speed economy.  Double-digit growth is confined to a section that comprises sectors such as e-commerce, travel and stock markets and accounts for 30 per cent of the GDP. Another […]Read More »

India’s Trade Gloom

  Not many years have ended with gloomier prospects for Indian trade. The gloom is not just because of the contraction in exports for 12 months in a row. It is also because India’s role and participation in global trade is becoming increasingly insignificant. The insignificance was evident from the approach to the Nairobi Ministerial. […]Read More »

Budget 2016: Modernising rural economy must be Modi's mission

Last fortnight, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned crop insurance in his Maan ki Baat programme, people well aware of the state of agriculture justifiably grew anxious. This was not because government’s efforts do not inspire or encourage, but because in spite of three crop failures, Indian politicians are still handling farming with a mindset […]Read More »

Can India finally see a Modi Budget in 2016?

When existing steel companies are already reeling under distress owing to falling demand, why is the Union government going to establish new steel companies in the public sector? What is the need for forming new banks (monetary banks) to provide loans to small companies when several financial institutions of the government are already doing this? […]Read More »

How many more taxes do we need to pay?

Public memory is usually short but the memory of taxation is even shorter. Benchmark brent crude might have tested an unprecedented low of $37 per barrel, but domestic petrol and diesel prices are still ruling higher thanks to heavy taxes. If only the debate on goods and services tax (GST) revolved around explaining this dichotomy, […]Read More »

Is weak rupee still a national shame for PM?

Whether India draws an economic advantage from the ongoing global turbulence or not, a substantial political advantage can definitely be churned out at the moment. It is time for our leaders to rid themselves of their unfounded misconception on the exchange value of the domestic currency, that is, the rupee. In India, the BJP and […]Read More »

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