The Central Board of Trustees had suspended investment in the housing finance company following disclosure of the bribe-for-loans scam in November 2010 in which top officials of the LIC Housing Finance were allegedly involved
New Delhi: The trustees of the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) today approved a proposal to resume investment in the scam-hit LIC Housing Finance, a subsidiary of the country's largest insurance company Life Insurance Corporation, reports PTI.
The decision to resume investment in the LIC Housing Finance was taken at the meeting of the Central Board of Trustees (CBT), the apex decision-making body of the EPFO.
The CBT had suspended investment in the housing finance company following disclosure of the bribe-for-loans scam in November 2010 in which top officials of the LIC Housing Finance were allegedly involved.
"Amount invested in LIC Housing Finance is not much...approved investment is only about Rs800 crore," CBT member and secretary All India Trade Union Congress DL Sachdev told reporters after the CBT meeting.
The EPFO had invested Rs454 crore in the bonds of LIC Housing Finance. The fund manager's prevailing investment norms allow for investment of up to Rs846 crore in the company.
The EPFO's advisory body, the Finance and Investment Committee (FIC), took up the issue in its meeting on 28th January and recommended resumption of investment in LIC Housing Finance.
LIC Housing Finance went through a bad phase after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in November arrested its CEO Ramachandran Nair and seven other senior bankers for allegedly colluding with real estate firms to sanction large-scale corporate loans, overriding the mandatory due diligence involved in such approvals, besides other irregularities.
In the Union Budget for FY12, there are likely to be cuts in excise duty exemptions and more services may be made liable to be taxed. The government may also reduce the tax burden on the middle class, at least to a small extent
There is an agreement that while announcing this year's Budget, the three biggest challenges that the government faces are-the large deficit, high crude prices, and high inflation.
Most market watchers believe that to get government finances in order (the government is facing a fiscal deficit of 5% in FY12) the government will have to widen and deepen the tax net. There are likely to be cuts in excise duty exemptions and more services will be made liable to be taxed.
However, in a smart move, the government may reduce the tax burden on the middle class-at least to a small extent. Diesel price decontrol is unlikely in the Budget session.
The government is very aware of the perception that reforms have slowed. However, it may not do too much about this since state elections are round the corner in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and West Bengal.
On the positive side in FY11, revenues are expected to be higher due to higher tax collections. However, expenses are expected to shoot up due to higher subsidies too-food, fertiliser, and oil. The total subsidy bill could touch about Rs2 trillion in FY11.
Certain fiscal expansions in recent years are irreversible and can only keep going higher-the main being the Pay Commission revisions and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (scheme), which is now linked to inflation.
It is unlikely that any government which is in power will find it prudent to disband the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA scheme and it is here to stay. It is India's answer to the unemployment dole or social security in Western countries. The NREGA allocation is expected to increase.
The government's borrowing in FY12 is likely to be Rs3.75 trillion-Rs4.0 trillion. This year, divestment is not likely to cushion the impact of a burgeoning expenditure account due to higher subsidies.
The government may have to go through a massive cost-cutting exercise. In any case, with the spate of scams and scandals erupting over the last 12 months, it is perceived that it will do the image of the government a lot of good if it at least announces cost-saving measures by the ministers and the bureaucracy.
An extension of the sunset clause on tax exemptions for Software Technology Parks may not happen. Excise duties on cigarettes may be hiked further, even after they have been hiked in the last two years. A few months ago it looked liked another hike was unlikely. However, such complacency is no longer there-a 7%-10% hike looks likely (it was hiked 15%-17% in the last Budget).
Excise duty may be hiked for cars. On the other hand, excise duty may be cut on food products.
In the last Budget, the government increased excise duty by 2% for passenger vehicles, two-wheelers and commercial vehicles and increased the weighted deduction for research & development from 150% to 200%. It had also reduced income tax rates, which helped drive auto sales indirectly.
Since a lot of hue and cry has been made about inflation being supply-side and mainly due to shortage (of vegetables, pulses & grains), agriculture is likely to be in sharp focus in this Budget. There has been talk that India needs a "second Green Revolution" and it is likely that the government will make allocations in that direction.
Economists have also pointed out that most of the government expenditure in the last 4-5 years has been consumption driven-subsidies, welfare schemes-but has not gone into capacity creation, which has only increased supply-side pressures, another driven of inflation.
It is likely that in this Budget, the government will finally take this criticism seriously and go big in the direction of capacity creation. In this direction, it is possible that project awarding (especially roads) will gather pace.
Within taxes, it is very likely that the government will introduce an amnesty scheme for people to come and declare their black money-this will provide an immediate shot in the arm for revenues.
For the banking & financial sector, the government could provide more tax breaks on longer tenure deposits to increase mobilisation. Banks could be allowed to raise money through infrastructure bonds-while this will be good for banks, it will be negative for Infrastructure Finance Companies.
It is possible that import duties on crude could be brought to zero from the current 5%. Capital goods manufacturers are lobbying strongly for import duties on power equipment for mega-projects. However, since this also escalates the costs of projects, it may not be implemented.
In telecom, it is possible that an import duty may be imposed on handsets to encourage local manufacturing. Service providers that provide bundled imported handsets (especially BlackBerry) could be affected. Some amount of liberalisation in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) norms for retail could happen-especially pertaining to cold storage. FDI norms may also be liberalised for radio, direct-to-home, and cable.
In real estate, it is likely that there could be an increase in the income-tax deduction for home loans . It is also likely that interest subvention of 1% on loans of up to Rs1 million on property of Rs2 million will be extended by another year. There is also a slim chance that tax holidays for developing affordable housing (Section 80IB) could be reinstated.
For infra companies, in the last Budget, the government had increased the Minimum Alternate Tax rate from 15% to 18%. It had affected companies putting up projects under special purpose vehicles-this is unlikely to change in this Budget.
Market players do not expect urea to be brought under the Nutrient-Based Subsidy regime in this Budget. Nothing much is expected on the goods & services tax front either. For the Railway Budget, the market does not expect fares to go up, despite the fund crunch.
Pune-based NGO Prayas Energy Group says that civil society groups must get more involved in the process to develop clean energy programmes, to ensure transparency and social benefits
Limited public participation in the regulatory process, a lack of transparency in setting tariffs and near-total neglect in energy efficiency, is creating a feeling that the development of renewable energy is being undertaken from the developers' perspective rather than long-term environment protection, according to Pune-based Prayas (Energy Group).
In a report on the sector published this week, the NGO that is working in the energy space has said that the government has put in place laws, policies and regulatory processes to encourage the involvement of civil society organisations (CSOs) in the development of clean energy, but the response has been low.
The report, which covers five states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu, points to the absence of a participatory approach, which would require state regulatory commissions to conduct public hearings and consider public comments, while issuing tariff orders and fixing Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPO) or Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).
In Andhra Pradesh, the state electricity regulatory commission (SERC) received only nine comments or participation for its first Renewable Power Purchase Obligation (RPPO), whereas Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa and Tamil Nadu received one, nil, one and two comments respectively for their first RPPOs.
The report says civil society organisations play an important role as they can create pressure on regulators to implement clean energy programmes as well as act as watchdogs to ensure transparent and socially beneficial development of clean energy.
Some state-level regulatory commissions are encouraging renewable energy and energy efficiency, but others are still at the infancy stage. The report also describes some instances of opposition to clean energy, due to inappropriate tariff incentives and controversial project development practices.
According to Prayas, uncertainty over the potential of renewable energy generation may lead to misplaced targets. For instance, while the Maharashtra Energy Development Agency (MEDA) has arrived at a total renewable energy potential of 10,030MW, the union government (Ministry of New and Renewable Energy) estimates the same at 7,852MW.
Apart from the Tamil Nadu State Electricity Regulatory Commission, other SERCs have failed to meet their RPO targets. Prayas explained that this was due to legal challenges against the authority of these bodies to levy penalties and ask about the availability of adequate renewable energy generation.
It explained that open access consumers also attempted to avoid renewable energy purchase obligations by challenging the SERCs' jurisdiction to mandate such purchases. Unfortunately, CSOs did not intervene in any of these proceedings before the SERCs or the High Courts to support and adhere to the RPO/ RPS regime.
Lack of transparency in renewable energy tariff is another major concern for the industry. The report said that the Andhra Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission did not undertake any public process before issuing its first and second renewable energy tariff orders in 2000 and 2001.
The Prayas report claims that commissions did not use uniform values of various parameters while arriving at the tariff. It said that most revisions of fuel cost for biomass and bagasse-based co-generation units by the state commissions were also based on unreliable data.
"These concerns about reasonability and justification of the renewable energy tariff premium, weak monitoring mechanisms and the local social and environmental impact of renewable energy projects, make CSOs circumspect about demanding more effective SERC action on clean energy," said Shantanu Dixit, one of the authors of the Prayas report. "These weaknesses in governance have resulted in a growing section of the people talking against renewable energy projects, rather than building a constituency of support."