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RBI board buys time as worries on autonomy linger

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Mumbai:The Reserve Bank of India’s board bought more time to review the government’s demand for a greater say in the central bank’s functioning, one of the issues that had fostered hostilities between the two sides.

“The board deliberated on the governance framework of the Reserve Bank and it was decided that the matter required further examination,” the central bank said in a statement after the meeting in Mumbai.

The status quo will for now reassure investors about the central bank’s autonomy, as the new Governor Shaktikanta Das was seen as someone more amenable to the government’s requests. Prime Minister Narendra Modi named Das to the post a day after Urjit Patel abruptly resigned as governor after clashing with the government over its demands to ease lending curbs on state-run banks and hand over more of the RBI’s capital to the state.

 

Yielding to the government’s demands may raise questions on the central bank’s autonomy and have a bearing on the credit rating of one of the world’s fastest-growing major economies.

The “meeting failed to shed any new light on Governor Das’s stance on banking regulation and other issues,” said Priyanka Kishore, head of India and South East Asia Economics at Oxford Economics, Singapore. “RBI is clearly trying to let matters cool before making any further decisions on these fronts.”

The 18-member board, which includes monetary policy makers, finance ministry representatives and industrialists, also reviewed matters relating to liquidity and credit delivery to the economy, besides discussing the current economic situation, global and domestic challenges, according to the statement.

Ahead of the meeting, Piyush Goyal, a top minister in Modi’s government, took to Twitter to accuse the central bank of wielding power without accountability and acting unilaterally in dealing with banks burdened by bad loans.

That prompted some to see this as a “frightening” peek into what’s in store for Das as he settles into the new role.

“It’s frightening because it’s very important to show respect for the process,” said Abhijit Banerjee, a professor of economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Das is going to worry he got chosen because he’s not the best person for the job but because he is someone who the government favored.”

“He will feel he doesn’t have independent authority,” Banerjee said.

Still, some see Das’s appointment as an end to hostilities that came to mark the relations between the RBI and the government in the Patel-era.

Swaminathan Gurumurthy, a Hindu nationalist and journalist appointed by the Modi government as an independent board member in August, backed the new governor’s conciliatory approach to the government. He was referring to Das’s first media briefing on Wednesday when the governor said the government deserves to be consulted.

“I don’t know if the relationship is good or not, but we have to have stakeholders consultation,” said Das, who was Modi’s key lieutenant when he unveiled his controversial plan to invalidate 86 percent of the currency notes in late 2016.. “The government is not just a stakeholder but also runs the country, economy and manages major policy decisions.”

The central bank has so far kept a tight leash on liquidity, restricted some weak banks from lending and refused to bailout the shadow banking sector. The latter had been at the forefront of new lending in the past three years, which in turn fueled domestic consumption and economic growth.

Modi is keen to keep growth going ahead of a national election early next year and as recent data showed the economy’s expansion may be under threat. Gross domestic product growth in the three months to September slowed to 7.1 percent from the 8.2 percent pace seen in the previous quarter.

The new governor has said supporting growth is very much part of the RBI’s mandate, a sharp contrast from his predecessor who stuck to the central bank’s inflation-targeting mandate. Das’s comments had stoked a rally in sovereign bonds, which extended gains for a third day Thursday on speculation the RBI will shift to a neutral policy stance from the current hawkish bias. They dropped Friday after crude prices regained some ground.

“With Das at the helm, we now think the RBI will call a halt to the tightening cycle,” Shilan Shah and Mark Williams, economists at Capital Economics, wrote in a note. “We no longer expect a rate increase at the next meeting in February.”


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RBI’s vision document on payment systems to spur digital economy: Fintech firms

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New Delhi: The RBI’s ‘Payment Systems Vision 2021’ document would act as a catalyst for promoting digital economy and instill confidence among the general public, fintech companies say.

Aiming at a ‘cash-lite’ society, the Reserve Bank of India last week released the vision document for ensuring a safe, secure, convenient, quick and affordable e-payment system as it expects the number of digital transactions to increase more than four times to 8,707 crore in December 2021.

The RBI has said it will implement the approach outlined in the document during the period 2019 – 2021.

 

COO of Payworld Praveen Dhabhai said the vision document has a focus on empowering payment system providers and at the same time providing ease to consumers.

“We are confident with our vision as a payment system provider aligned with the regulators, we will be able to contribute in increasing the digital transactions penetrations especially in the assisted segment in smaller cities and rural Indian,” he said.

Navin Surya, Chairman Emeritus, Payments Council of India said: “Clarity in defining outcomes in terms of scale of digital and overall payments vis a vis GDP is a very good measurement to look forward to and also assess the impact of work done by all stakeholders.”

However, KYC simplicity, digital KYC and KYC bureau, as well as simplification of existing policies to enable NBFCs to issue credit cards is missing from the document, said Surya, who is also the chairman of Fintech Convergence Council.

Mandar Agashe, founder and vice chairman, Sarvatra Technologies, was of the opinion that the 24X7 helpline that the RBI plans to set will help in instilling confidence in customers regarding the digital payments system.

Other than this, geo-tagging of payment system touchpoints will help companies understand where and what type of transactions are taking place, which will also lead to curtailing frauds, he added.

The document said payment systems like UPI/IMPS are likely to register average annualised growth of over 100 per cent and NEFT at 40 per cent over the vision period (up to December 2021).

The ‘Payment and Settlement Systems in India: Vision 2019 – 2021’, with its core theme of ‘Empowering Exceptional (E)payment Experience’, envisages to achieve “a highly digital and cash-lite society” through the goal posts of competition, cost effectiveness, convenience and confidence (4Cs).

Gaurav Chopra, founder and CEO, IndiaLends, said, “With growing competition, industry players will be able to offer services at an optimal cost to their customers. RBI aims to bring innovation in technology and processes that will eventually save time of end consumers.”

CEO and co-founder of NiYO, Vinay Bagri said some of the measures proposed by RBI, such as self-regulatory organisation, strengthening offline payments and feature phone-based payment services, will go a long way in democratising the payments ecosystem.

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PE inflow in Indian retail real estate doubles to $1.2 bn in 2017, 2018: Anarock

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New Delhi: Indian retail real estate sector attracted private equity investment worth USD 1.2 billion during 2017-18 calendar years, double from the previous two years, according to property consultant Anarock.

The consultant attributed the sharp rise in private equity (PE) inflow to further liberalisation in FDI policies such as 51 percent FDI in multi-brand retail and 100 percent FDI in single-brand retail under the automatic route.

From an investment of USD 600 million during 2015-2016 calendar years, private equity inflows in retail real estate jumped to over USD 1.2 billion between 2017 and 2018.

 

Of total USD 1.84 billion inflow in the last 4 years (2015-2018), tier II and tier III cities attracted nearly 48 percent funds (USD 880 million) against USD 960 million in tier 1 cities.

Top favoured tier II and tier III cities included Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneshwar, Chandigarh, Indore and Mohali.

US-based funds like Blackstone and Goldman Sachs have invested more than USD 1 billion between 2015-2018, while UAE, Singapore, Canada and Netherlands based funds were also active.

Shobhit Agarwal, MD & CEO – Anarock Capital says, “our report highlights the fact that unlike the commercial office sector, retail is to some extent geography-agnostic because its success depends on the spending power of its target audience.?

“As a result, shopping malls in tier II and tier III cities have performed as well as, if not better than, their tier 1 counterparts. This also led to increase in rentals and profitability and caused PE investors to start considering investment options outside their accustomed tier I geographies,? he added.

Anuj Kejriwal, MD & CEO – Anarock Retail said, “the opportunity that the Indian retail sector holds in store for PE investors is more than evident – as are the geographies they must focus on for optimum returns.?

Anarock data reveals that around 39 million sq ft of organised retail space is expected to enter the market between 2019-2022. Of this supply, around 71 percent is expected to come up in tier I cities, and the remaining 29 percent in tier II and tier III cities, Kejriwal added.

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Cash, goods worth Rs 3,400 crore seized during Lok Sabha elections 2019:EC

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New Delhi: After the completion of the seventh and final phase of polling , the Election Commission said cash, drugs, liquor and precious metals worth Rs 3,449.12 crore were seized by enforcement agencies since the Lok Sabha polls were announced on March 10.

This is thrice of what agencies seized during the 2014 Lok Sabha poll process. In 2014, law enforcement agencies made seizures worth Rs 1,206 crore, the EC’s director general (election expenditure) Dilip Sharma said.

Law enforcement agencies between March 10 and May 19 seized Rs 839.03 crore in cash, liquor worth Rs 294.41 crore, drugs worth Rs 1,270.37 crore, precious metals, including gold, worth Rs 986.76 crore and “freebies”, including sarees, wrist watches, aimed at inducing voters worth Rs 58.56 crore were seized.

 

EC officials said they directed social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, to remove several that were found to violate the EC’s code.They said social media platforms removed 909 posts. Facebook removed 650 posts, Twitter took down 220 posts, ShareChat removed 31, YouTube five and WhatsApp three.

Of the 650 posts taken down by Facebook, 482 were political messages posted during the “silence period”. The “silence period” starts 48 hours before the hour set for conclusion of polling in a particular phase. The seventh phase of polling came to a close at 6 pm on Sunday, so the “silence period” had begun at 6 pm on Friday for this phase.

As many as 73 social media posts were political advertisements in the “silence period”, two were in violation of the Model Code of Conduct, 43 were related to voter “misinformation”, 28 were dubbed as those crossing the limits of decency, 11 were related to exit polls and 11 were hate speeches, Ojha said.

There were also 647 confirmed cases of paid news, of which the maximum of 342 were reported in the first phase itself, he added. During the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, 1,297 confirmed cases of paid news were reported, Ojha said.

The EC on Sunday continued to receive criticism from the Opposition while Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked it for granting him permission for his visit to Uttarakhand’s Kedarnath temple.

Modi visited Kedarnath on Saturday, spent the night in a cave and left for Badrinath on Sunday morning. “I did not ask for anything. I don’t believe in asking because God only wants us to give… all I want is ‘Baba’ Kedarnath bestows his blessings not just upon India but entire mankind,” he said at Kedarnath.

The PM thanked the EC for allowing him to undertake the visit, saying he got two days of “rest” there. The EC had given its nod to Modi’s visit while “reminding” the Prime Minister’s Office that the model code of conduct is still in force.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi said the Election Commission’s “capitulation” before the PM was obvious. “From electoral bonds and EVMs (electronic voting machines) to manipulating the election schedule, NaMo TV, ‘Modi’s Army’ & now the drama in Kedarnath; the Election Commission’s capitulation before Mr Modi & his gang is obvious to all Indians,” Gandhi tweeted. “The EC used to be feared and respected. Not anymore,” he said.

“Polling is over. Now, we can say that the ‘pilgrimage’ of the PM in the last two days is an unacceptable use of religion and religious symbols to influence the voting,” Congress leader P Chidambaram said.

Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu wrote to the EC stating that “continuous” telecast of the PM’s “private activities” at Badrinath and Kedarnath shrines were in violation of the poll code and should be stopped.

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