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Don’t privatise Air India, give it five years to revive: Parliamentary panel

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New Delhi :This is not an appropriate time to divest government stake in Air India, which should be given at least five years to revive and its debt written off, a parliamentary panel is likely to tell the government.

The panel is also understood to have concluded that the equity infusion in the national carrier, as part of the turnaround plan (TAP), was made on a “piece meal basis”, adversely affecting its financial and operational performance and “forcing” the airline to take loans “at a higher interest rate to meet the shortfall”.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture concluded that the government should review its decision to privatise or disinvest Air India and explore the possibility of “an alternative to disinvestment of our national carrier which is our national pride”.

 

Observing that Air India has always “risen to the occasion” at times of need like calamities, social or political unrest in India or abroad, the Committee said “it would be lopsided to assess and evaluate the functioning of Air India solely from business point of view, as has been done by the NITI Aayog.”

In its revised draft report on the airline’s proposed disinvestment, the panel noted that the TAP and financial restructuring plan (FRP) was for a period of 10 years from 2012 to 2022 and Air India has shown “an overall improvement in various parameters and every indication is that it is coming out of the red”.

“At the end of TAP period, government may evaluate the financial and performance status of Air India and take a decision accordingly,” the panel said.

The parliamentary committee, after hearing the views of all stakeholders, “strongly feels that it will not be appropriate at this stage to disinvest when Air India has started earning profit from its operations.”

It also said as some of its subsidiaries Air India Air Transport Services Limited (AIATSL), Air India SATS Airport Services Private Limited (AISATS), Alliance Air and Air India Express were making profits, these units should “not be disinvested.”

Strongly recommending that the airline’s debt “should be written off by the government”, the revised draft report said, “Air India should be given a chance for at least five years to revive themselves”. The tenure of five years indicates the end of the TAP and FRP period in 2022.

It said the airline’s debt was “due to policy directions of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Air India may be permitted to function as a government PSU with less government control.”

The Committee also expressed apprehension that Air India’s strategic disinvestment “would result in job loss of many people” and asked the government to “make an assessment” of the job loss before deciding on stake sale.

“If the disinvestment of Air India and its subsidiaries is inevitable, the Committee emphatically recommends that the interests of employees should be protected,” the revised draft report said.

It asked the Ministries of Finance and Civil Aviation to “develop a strategic package to protect the rights and interests of officers and staff of Air India and its subsidiaries in respect of their pension, gratuity and VRS and also the wages of contractual workers engaged by government from time to time in case the disinvestment of Air India is inevitable.”

The panel found merit in the views of some of its members that if Air India is withdrawn from the aviation scene, “private airlines would indulge in gouging and that (will not be) in the interest of the consumers.”

Air India has a total debt of about Rs 48,877 crore at the end of March 2017, of which about Rs 17,360 crore were aircraft loans and Rs 31,517 crore were working capital loans.

The airline is expected to report a net loss of Rs 3,579 crore for 2017-18, as per budget estimates projected for 2017 -18 from a provisional net loss of Rs 3,643 crore for 2016-17.

The airline is projected to increase its operating profit to Rs 531 crore (BE projected) for 2017-18 from a provisional operating profit of Rs 215 crore for 2016-17, as per latest figures tabled in Parliament.


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RBI-industry meet: India Inc pitches for rate cut to prop up growth

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New Delhi: Ahead of the monetary policy review, India Inc urged the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to cut interest rate and reserve ratio to prop up growth.

In a meeting with RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das in Mumbai, industry chambers suggested various measures to ease tight liquidity situation and reduce high cost of credit in the light of consistently falling inflation.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) suggested the policy measures required to ease the tight liquidity situation by effecting a cut in cash reserve ratio (CRR) by at least 50 basis points (bps), measures to facilitate flow of credit to industry, especially to MSMEs and the infrastructure sector, and steps to address the high cost of credit by considering a reduction of 50 bps in repo rate given that inflation has been consistently low, the chamber said in a statement.

 

Suggestions come ahead of the sixth bi-monthly monetary policy statement for 2018-19 scheduled to be announced on February 7.

CRR, currently at 4 percent, is the percentage of deposits kept as reserves with the RBI. Repo rate, currently at 6.5 percent, is the rate at which the central bank gives loans to the banks.

CII lauded the RBI for steps taken to ease financing challenges faced by the real sector, especially micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), through various measures such as reducing Turn Around Time (TAT) and measures to boost liquidity in the economy.

On measures to address the financial challenges faced by the MSMEs, CII suggested that the RBI consider limiting the collaterals sought by banks to 133 percent of the exposure and eliminate the need for personal guarantees where sufficient collateral exists.

The chamber delegation, led by its president designate Uday Kotak, also suggested that letters of undertaking (LoUs) for buyers’ credit for the cases where MSMEs investing to expand capacity may be permitted and the RBI might consider allowing banks to sanction buyers’ credit facility to MSMEs, wherever import of raw materials is being done under letter of credit.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) also made a pitch for a cut in repo rate and CRR to enable lowering of lending rates by banks.

A reduction in repo rate and CRR would help in reviving the investment cycle in the country and will also boost consumption and support growth, FICCI President Sandip Somany said.

It will also help in reviving the investment cycle in the country and will also boost consumption and support growth.

“The need of the hour is to have an accommodative monetary policy, focusing on growth. The objectives of the Monetary Policy Committee should not be restricted to only price stability but also to consider growth and exchange rate stability,” he said.

On the RBI’s February 12 circular, CII highlighted that while it was aimed at improving the credit discipline and early identification of probable defaults, but it has, however, put pressure on already distressed sectors impacted due to business performance reasons and, hence, should be given sufficient time to resolve the defaults.

Among many key recommendations, CII recommended that the RBI may revisit the lending restrictions on the weak banks under prompt corrective action and consider allowing them to lend to the National Housing Bank which, in turn, can be used to finance housing projects through housing finance companies (HFCs).

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) suggested that the economy needs credit loosening so that liquidity can sustain the growth.

The fundraising capability of NBFCs/HFCs has reduced significantly, warranting support from the government. They need to be provided the alternate options for raising funds. This is imperative not just for the health of NBFCs/HFCs but for sustaining the GDP growth rate as well,” Assocham said.

Sectors such as textile, handicraft and leather goods need to be given interest subvention to boost their export capabilities, it said, adding that the rate of interest subvention should be increased from 3 percent to 5 percent to take into account the combined effect of the commercial interest rate and the prevailing inflation.

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Telecom sector may stabilise soon post-consolidation: Trai

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New Delhi: Trai chairman RS Sharma expressed hope that the telecom sector is set to achieve stability soon post consolidation and the country needs heavy investment in fibre if it is to succeed in 5G technology and services roll out.

“My sense is that the sector is going to acquire stability and looking at the examples around the world scene 3+1 (3 private players and a PSU) is a good number and I don’t see it going down from that,” Sharma said here.

The Indian telecom operators are now reduced to three -Airtel, Vodafone-Idea and Jio and BSNL-MTNL following a bloody battle on tariffs that has seen shut down of operations of many fringe telcos and merger of two big telcos to take on Reliance Jio which unleashed a free and cheap service era that catapulted India to be data consuming nation ahead of US and China combined. But in the process, the incumbent telcos have bled on revenues and profitability and have found it diffcult to even service spectrum loans.

 

While the talk of India not missing the 5G bus is loud on private telcos and the government, the Trai chairman had a word of caution — India can be a frontrunner in deployment of 5G but a lot will hinge on bolstering investments in fibre infrastructure, which is currently inadequate and trailing countries like China.

“In 5G space, we can leapfrog inadequacies which we have in physical world, all of which can be overcome with use of information and communication technologies…There is a serious concern that while people are talking of 5G as a slogan but it won’t happen unless we put a lot of investment in fibre. Without fibre, 5G will not happen. 5G is going to have important use-cases in India because it will be a platform over which all the applications will be run. But it will not happen if there is no fibre”, Sharma said. He was speaking at the India Digital Summit organised by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). At the same time, he said the investment need not just come from the TSPs (telecom service providers) it should also come from eco system companies as well.

“It is not just telecom companies that will need to invest. There are several avenues to generate investment and we are already seeing it happen now.” For instance, telecom service providers are already sharing tower. Infrastructure sharing could be one of the keys for the 5G network,” Sharma said. He said the fiberisation of the whole country is a must for the success of 5G.

India has only 22 per cent of mobile towers connected on fibre, while 78 per cent are without fibre, on wireless. China on the other hand, has 80 per cent connectivity through fibre and the rest through wireless. The optical fibre cable laid today till date is equal to optical fibre cable laid in China in one single year,” Sharma said adding fixed infrastructure will be critical for attaining a reliable and sustainable growth. Policies need to focus on promoting investments in infrastructure, he said.

“The National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) contains those set of policies and statements and we need to operationalise those to ensure investment,” Sharma said. The new telecom policy – NDCP – aims to attract USD 100 billion investment and create four million jobs in the sector by 2022. It seeks to provide universal broadband connectivity at 50 Mbps to every citizen by 2022, and also talks of enhancing the contribution of digital communications sector to 8 per cent of India’s GDP, from the about 6 per cent now.

The TRAI chief further said there would be a need to unbundle service and infrastructure layers at some point, and fibre sharing could be one of the options in infrastructure sharing. “We think end-of-end service provisioning will not happen in 5G,” Sharma said. He further said, the connectivity problems in the country need to be solved with urgency, and regulations should not be “constrained” by the fact that only a certain set of service providers should provide a particular service. “No one should have the monopoly of providing services to people of this country, and we should solve this problem by whatever means and instruments we can deploy,” he said.

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GDP growth likely to be tad higher at 7.5 pc in FY20, says Ind-Ra

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New Delhi: The country’s economy is likely to grow a tad higher at 7.5 per cent in 2019-20 on account of steady improvement in major sectors — industry and services, said India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra).

According to the advance estimates of the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the economy may clock a growth rate of 7.2 per cent in the current financial year, up from 6.7 per cent in the previous year.

Ind-Ra, a Fitch Group company, expects gross domestic product (GDP) growth to be a “tad higher” at 7.5 per cent in fiscal 2019-20.

 

After demonetisation and the GST implementation, the agency had expected 2018-19 to be a year of quick recovery and, indeed, the recovery has been sharp with GDP growth coming in at 7.2 per cent, it said.

It further said GDP growth would have been even better but for the global headwinds caused by an abrupt rise in crude oil prices and strengthening of the US dollar, among other factors.

“However, GDP growth in 2019-20 will be more dispersed and evenly balanced across sectors as well as demand-side growth drivers,” Ind-Ra said.

Over the past few years, private final consumption expenditure and government final consumption expenditure have been the primary growth drivers of Indian economic growth.

Ind-Ra said it believes that investments are slowly but steadily gaining traction, with gross fixed capital formation growing 12.2 per cent in the current fiscal and projected to clock 10.3 per cent in the next year.

“This is certainly a comforting development, but the flip side of this development is that it is primarily driven by the government capex (capital expenditure), as incremental private corporate capex has yet to revive” it said.

It further said that due to the slowdown in private corporate and household capex, GDP growth has failed to accelerate and sustain itself close to or in excess of 8 per cent.

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