On 12th April, LIC issued circular to all its offices stating that the advance payment of premiums facility is withdrawn. While IRDA may have good intentions for it, there will be many customers who will get adversely impacted. Did IRDA consider genuine difficulties that will arise?
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) has banned life insurance companies from accepting premium under linked as well as non-linked products for more than 30 days in advance to prevent money laundering. Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), in a circular dated 12 April 2013, states that the premium due may be accepted 30 days before the due date of payment of premium. In case you have opted for monthly premium payment mode, you will now be allowed to pay only three months’ premium in advance on the date of commencement of the policy.
According to Mr. Prashant Tripathy, chief financial officer, Max Life Insurance, “At Max Life Insurance we have some specific steps in place to ensure that we do not hold on to customer money, paid in advance. As per our current process, we refund advance premium if it is paid three months in advance (for all modes). We are conceptually aligned to the recommendation of not accepting advance premium. The time-frame of one month for yearly premium modes and three premiums in advance for policies with monthly mode premium payment options is also apt.” But, it means not all companies have implemented the 30-day rule yet, even if they agree to it. If the 30 day rule was really good then all insurance companies would have jumped for it.
Until now, a policyholder could make a lump-sum payment of premium before the due date and even get a nominal discount on it. IRDA may have reasons like preventing mis-selling to come up with this rule as agents may be enticing policyholders to avail the premium discount by paying premiums in advance. In fact, LIC, for its traditional policies, allows premium payments five years in advance. IRDA may want to promote a regular savings habit.
While IRDA’s intentions may be genuine, the move will adversely impact several groups of policyholders. It is unclear if IRDA has given a thought to the problems that can arise. The change may even be termed as anti-consumer by many policyholders and agents based on the grievances that can arise. IRDA should have allowed three to six months of advance premium payment without any discount. Here’s why.
Some of the issues that will soon come up:
Mr Tripathy, says, “This we understand is a concern but customers while filing I-T returns can ask for a refund for any excess tax paid.” Asking for refund for any excess tax paid is tedious process that will arise if companies stick to 31st January deadline for 80C proof and the employee cannot give it as renewal is due in March.
In order to facilitate availability of tax rebate at source, it has been decided to allow acceptance of premium up to six months in advance and the premium receipt is issued across the counter. However, no discount would be allowed on such advance premium payment and the advance payment option shall be allowed only within the same financial year.”
It is clear that the defence personnel will face issues now that premiums will be accepted only 30 days in advance of the due date. Allowing premium payment up to six months in advance with no discount was put by LIC for a specific purpose.
• Many policies have small amount of annual premium (less than Rs1,000). It is just easy to make future premium payments and forget about it rather than to remember such small commitments. Can IRDA help these customers?
With recent declines in oil prices, subsidy concerns have eased for FY14. Bharat Petroleum thinks that the government will keep allowing the monthly diesel price hike, and did not seem much concerned about no diesel price hike this month, said Nomura in its note on the company
In order to maintain and support agriculture, it is imperative that gas is made available to this industry, thus reducing its subsidy for urea. However, such a move will correspondingly affect other consumers such as power generators, which will have a rippling effect on industry and trade. So, the question is how, when, why and who will finally decide the price structure for the gas?
Only a couple of weeks ago, Reliance Industries (RIL) announced the discovery of gas in a new find in an area identified as MJ1 in the D-6 block, where exploratory activities started some eight weeks ago, after a 15-month lull.
Further tests are underway but it is generally believed, on the initial assessment, that MJ1 may hold significant amount of gas. It has been further reported, as mentioned in these very columns of Moneylife that should all the four satellite fields discovered in D-6 area go on stream, Reliance can produce an estimated 30 million metric standard cubic metres per day (mmscmd) additionally. () No doubt, this increased production will bring a great relief to the power-starved country.
Naturally, these procedures will take a few months to achieve a production commencement status, after commercial viability tests are proved to be positive.
However, new contracts for gas supplies to commence from 1 April 2014 are to be finalized in terms of price, quantity and delivery. The domestic gas is currently priced at $4.2 per million metric British thermal unit (mmBtu).
The Rangarajan Committee had called for freeing of gas pricing which would have pegged it between $8 and $8.50 per mmBtu. To start with, this is double of what is being charged today.
Unfortunately, however, for RIL, the finance ministry does not see eye to eye with the Rangarajan Committee’s recommendations. It has, in fact, rejected the pricing formula proposed by the Committee and has instead suggested an alternative formula based on wellhead prices, charged by suppliers from Oman, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Malaysia for long-term contracts. Wellhead prices do not take into account the transportation costs, which are substantial.
Currently, the international price for gas is $12.5 per mmBtu as against what Reliance charges at $4.2 per mmBtu.
It may be recalled, recently, apparently after the gas discovery in D-6 and to ensure that a ‘fair’ price is fixed for the new contracts from April 2014, both Mukesh Ambani and Bob Dudley of BP, had called on the prime minister, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and the petroleum secretary to impress upon them the urgent need to fix realistic prices.
The fertilizer industry is also up in arms, demanding its right to have full access to gas produced in the country. In fact, India has not made any new investment in this sector for establishing new units or for expanding the existing ones because of non-availability of guaranteed supplies of the feeder stock.
India's requirement of urea is around 30 million tonnes, out of which, 8 million tonnes are imported every year, with the last year's import cost @ Rs24,564 per tonne. Based on the mix of both imported and domestic gas, the cost of production of urea is Rs11,000 per tonne with the government subsidizing supplies to farmers by Rs5,640 per tonne. Why can’t the government review the issue of fertilizer subsidy and let the market conditions dictate the price level? Farmers do not pay taxes and profits are made by the intermediaries on which there is very little control?
Based on the present production capacity, our urea industry requires 7 mmscmd of gas. The fertilizer industry has demanded that indigenous gas be supplied rather than being forced to depend upon the use of more expensive method of LNG imports.
The government has a difficult choice to make. In order to maintain and support agriculture, it is imperative that gas is made available to this industry, thus reducing its subsidy for urea. Such a move will correspondingly affect other consumers, such as power generators, which will have a rippling effect on industry and trade.
So, the question is how, when, why and who will finally decide the price structure for the gas that may be available for supplies from April 2014 onwards? If it is purely based on domestic supplies only, and not taking into account any international gas price formula, it will establish a precedent on self-pricing policy based on local conditions. Also, it is incorrect to price it on well-head because, transportation costs are unavoidable.
Since gas will be supplied mostly through pipelines, a cost effective method has to be devised. Why not ask the fertilizer industry to join and form a consortium of sorts with the producer, pipe producer, layer (contractor) to an agreed hub point that may be nominated by Reliance (or another gas explorer like ONGC/Cairn) and amortise the expense involved?
National progress is more important than the individual corporate body making substantial profits? The final price should be in line with the replacement cost of the gas, which includes transportation and landing expenses that the importer would incur, if indigenous gas was not available?
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)