The SC has sought replies from the Centre and RIL on a PIL filed by CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta, who has alleged that no due diligence was done by the government while increasing the prices of natural gas
The government’s decision to raise the prices of natural gas came under judicial scrutiny with the Supreme Court on Monday agreeing to examine the matter and issued notices to the Centre and Reliance Industries (RIL).
A Bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam has sought replies from the Centre and RIL on a PIL (public interest litigation) filed by CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta, who has alleged that no due diligence was done by the government while increasing the prices of natural gas.
It said that the issue raised by the senior member of Parliament needs examination and the petition cannot be rejected at the initial stage.
The court directed the parties to file their replies within four weeks and posted the matter for further hearing on 6th September.
The government has decided to increase the prices of natural gas from $4.2 per million British thermal unit (mBtu) to $8.4 mBtu from 1 April 2014.
The new $8.4 mBtu price, which will be reviewed every three months, will uniformly apply to all gas producers, including state-owned firms like Oil India and Oil & Natural Gas Corporation and private companies like RIL.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the MP, submitted that the decision to raise the price needs to be reviewed as the Petroleum Minister has over-ruled the opinion of senior officers of the ministry and his predecessor.
Dasgupta, who was present during the hearing, told reporters after coming out of the courtroom that he had to file the PIL as the Prime Minister failed to take any action on his complaint given to him.
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There are differences between now and 1997-98, but sufficient similarities too for us to draw lessons from the past, about the recent RBI’s policies to strengthen the rupee. RBI's goal could be to reduce volatility, and not set a level for the rupee; it would provide the time needed for the economy to adjust to the weaker rupee, according to Credit Suisse
There is much uncertainty on how long the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)'s recent tightening of liquidity will last, and what the impact is going to be. However, looking at the lessons learned during similar situation in 1997-98, we can say that the liquidity restrictions will last for the next two-three months, says Credit Suisse.
According to Credit Suisse, it may be tempting to extrapolate regulatory steps (taken by the RBI) during the 1997-98 crisis to the current scenario, but this would be unwise. However, it there are indeed certain lessons one can draw safely:
1) If the rupee stabilises for one-two months, the RBI is likely to reverse these moves. When it reversed its moves in March 1998, two months after raising rates, the trade deficit was still rising, and capital flows were still weak and negative. The Resurgent India Bonds were issued only after the Pokhran blasts (nuclear tests).
2) A sustainable move in the currency only happens with changes in trade and current account deficits and inflation. The RBI’s steps can at best help provide the necessary time for the economy to adjust around a new currency level. But the adjustment around that new level must necessarily happen either through an increase in exports or a fall in imports. We believe that in two-three months, the deficits will be sustainably lower than they are now.
3) The broader market is likely to look through some of these changes: as seen in below figure, the Nifty follows its own rhythm, rather independent of the currency.
According to Credit Suisse, there are some striking similarities between the developments of 1997-98 and the current events. During 1997-98, as now, the Indian economy was coming off an investment binge, and after a bout of high inflation, had started to see a reduction in rates. Other emerging markets (EMs), and in particular the South-East Asian markets, after a period of hyper-normal growth, had entered a crisis phase.
This had driven a reversal in flows, especially after the Pokhran nuclear bomb tests, where even External Commercial Borrowings (ECBs) by Indian corporates reversed and then dried up. The more volatile forms of capital flows like short-term debt and portfolio flows had reversed too, as one would expect.
The RBI got into the act after the first round of sharp depreciation, as the rupee fell 9% in November 1997. Its attempts during December 1997 were relatively mild: a 50 basis points (bps) increase in the cash reserve ratio (CRR), attempts to make non-resident Indian (NRI) deposits more attractive for banks, and tweaking fund flows for exporters and importers.
However, after keeping all measures unchanged in December 1997, as the rupee began to fall again, (falling almost 4% in the first 15 days of January), it dramatically raised rates: a 2 percentage point (pp) hike in the bank/repo rate, and a 50 bp increase of CRR.
However, as the US dollar and rupee stabilised at 39-40 levels, within two months, the RBI started to reverse this move and by April 1998, the bank rate was back to 9%. Interestingly, foreign institutional investment (FII) flows, as well as short-term debt, were negative for two quarters after that, likely affected by the sanctions imposed post the Pokhran test in May that year.
By June, however, the global economy and trade and capital flows had started to stabilise, and the trade deficit started to narrow again, as exports picked up from July 1998. Rates continued to fall and even the downward trend in CRR continued, except for a short blip when the Russian crisis started. In August 1998, the Resurgent India Bonds were issued as well, which brought in $5 billion, which was more than the current account deficit (CAD) for FY1999.
…And the differences
There are some meaningful differences between then and now which should drive some caution in applying these lessons from history, according to Credit Suisse.
Difference1: No crisis yet
At present, none of the EMs has a crisis yet, but one cannot rule one out for the next several quarters. Greater capital account convertibility of the rupee has in some ways has given a forewarning, though some would call it less information and more speculation. While we continue to believe that the US dollar and rupee should settle at lower levels, given the record low level of the 36-country REER for the rupee, in case there is a crisis, foreign debt outflows can drive another sharp leg down for the rupee, Credit Suisse said.
Difference2: The external linkages are much larger
The Current Account Deficit both in absolute and real terms is now much larger than it used to be 15-16 years back. In FY98/FY99 the ‘hole’ that needed to be plugged was much smaller than it is now. But that said India's ability to attract and absorb capital flows is also now much larger.
Since 1998, a number of sectors have been opened up for FDI, and FII and ECB limits have been relaxed significantly. Further, the Indian stock market is now about 7.8x as large as it was then, even in the US dollar market capitalization. It is noteworthy that FDI and NRI deposits were remarkably consistent even in the face of a global crisis, and the precipitous fall in the rupee did not affect them.
Both FDI and NRI deposits have over the past few years have been quite high, measuring about $20-$30 billion and we don’t see any reasons for them to slow meaningfully, Credit Suisse said.
Difference3: Liquidity problem is worse, much worse
While we reiterate that we do not see a solvency issue for India, the liquidity problem is much worse than it used to be, finds Credit Suisse. Given the over-reliance on short-term funding, particularly over the past year, debt due in FY14 is close to two-thirds of India's currency reserves. This is what worries the RBI/ government.
Difference #4: No freeze on capital flows (no sanctions!), no dollar bonds (yet)
There hasn't been (at least so far) any freeze in trade-related flows, either due to financial system stresses or due to political reasons like post the nuclear tests in 1998, Credit Suisse points out.