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Sucheta Dalal on the Growing Crisis in the Indian Banking Sector

Financial analyst and journalist Sucheta Dalal said that the Indian banking system is at the verge of crisis, reeling under the mounting bad loans, caused by unfettered corporate loans. Referring to government’s announcement in the Parliament that Rs. 2.4 lakh crore bad loans are written off, she said that “ if farm loan waiver was proposed the world would have gone on a spin, while the loans of big corporations are written off and there isn’t a whimper.”

इंफ़्रास्ट्रक्चर निवेश: विकास या विनाश

एशियन इंफ़्रास्ट्रक्चर इन्वेस्टमेंट बैंक और भारत का नेशनल इन्वेस्टमेंट एंड इंफ़्रास्ट्रक्चर फ़ंड के निवेश संकट की और एक इशारा

Big Push for the Development of Hydropower in India

It is noteworthy that currently, coal-based power projects are under threat due to lack of coal linkages and power purchase agreements, thus stalling many existing power projects and discouraging many companies from expanding to new coal power projects. This would give a boost to hydropower projects in many regions, especially in the Himalayan regions.

Afzar Jaffri on The Water sector and International Financial Institutions

At the Kharghar meeting on IFIs in India, Civil Society researchers discussed Understanding IFIS – Investments, intelligence and trends in critical sectors.

Smart Cities and International Financial Institutions

Overlap of Issues on Key Sectors in relations with International Financial Institutions. Smart Cities project will make pockets of the cities exclusive zones high-cost zones, which will again result in the marginalised being excluded into dense low-grade services area.

Press Release:People’s Movements Determined to challenge the unbridled expansion of infrastructure financing by international financial institutions

Chennai: June 4, 2018

• Peoples Movements & CSOs to organise Peoples’ Convention on infrastructure financing coinciding the 3rd Annual Governors Meeting of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in Mumbai
• Determined to challenge the unbridled expansion of infrastructure financing by international financial institutions

Posing a challenge to the rapid expansion plans of international financial institutions like AIIB, people’s movements, civil society organisations and their allies are holding a Peoples’ Convention in Mumbai just days before the 3rd Annual Meeting of AIIB. This was announced by the Working Group on International Finance Institutions (WGonIFIs) in a press conference in Chennai today. WGonIFIs is a platform of a large number of people’s movements and CSOs fighting against negative impacts of large infrastructure projects, financed by international capital, like bullet trains, energy projects, large commercial ports and transport projects.

“Looking at the history of IFI investments in India, like that of the World Bank, where a large number of people has been severely impacted due to rapid expansion of mega infrastructure projects, we are concerned that a new infrastructure investment bank like AIIB without even the basic social environmental safeguards will take away people’s rights over natural resources, deprive them of their livelihood and impact the climate, causing irreversible damages”, energy and climate change expect Soumya Dutta said.

In the Chinese led bank AIIB, India holds the second largest shares, next to China and is a favourable destination of their investments securing 25% of the already approved lending. Within a short span of 3 years, India received loans worth $1.2 bn, out of a total $4.4 bn. The approved projects for India include transmission lines in Tamilnadu, rural roads in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, 24 X7 electricity for Andhra Pradesh, financial intermediary India Infrastructure Fund. The highly controversial Amravati capital city project is under the consideration of AIIB Board. Another $3 bn worth projects are in the pipeline for India.

Senior activist Jesuratnam from the Coastal Action Network, Tamilnadu said that “Infrastructure banks like AIIB is likely to investment in projects like Sagarmala which has three coastal economic zones in Tamilnadu comprising of ports, roads and associated infrastructure which will disrupt fishing operations and livelihood of fisherpeople. Large-scale infrastructure will not only displace and destruct the livelihoods but lead to disruption of coastal ecology and public indebtness”.

People’s organisations, CSOs and concerned citizens, under the aegis of WGonIFIs will be holding a Peoples’ Convention in Mumbai from June 21-23, just days before the official annual meeting which will be held in the same city from June 25-26. The Convention will bring together people fighting against large infrastructure projects, and people negatively impacted by the international financial institutions financed ‘development projects’ in the country.

Some of them include, National Alliance of People’s Movements, Bhumi Adhikaar Andolan, National Fishworkers’ Forum, Natioanl Hawkers Federation, Narmada Bachao Andolan, North East Peoples’ Alliance, Guajrat Khedut Samaj and All India Union of Forest Working People.

“The program will bring voices from across the country who are affected by large infrastructure projects and will devise strategies to make financiers accountable to the people’, co-ordinator of the People’s Convention Maju Varghese said.

The People’s Convention will witness coming together of over 250 groups, deliberations in around 20 parallel workshops on the impacts of international lending, cultural expressions of protests and mass action.

For more information on the Peoples Convention visit http://www.wgonifis.net

Contact: Maju Varghese: wgonifis@gmail.com | 8826249887

India’s Investments Abroad: How Accountable Are We!

By Joe Athialy and Monalisa Barman

For Indian corporations, the grass seems to be getting greener the other side. Investments and acquisitions abroad have been the hallmark of Indian corporations the past decade and a half. While acquisitions of Jaguar Cars and Land Rover & Corus in the UK, Kashagan Oilfields in Kazaksthan, Port Terminals in Australia, Algoma Steel in Canada and Marcellus Shale in the US might have made news, increasing investments of Indian corporations are hardly reported. Even less reported is the role of the Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank) and their lendings to these corporations.

With 215 lines of credit in place covering over 63 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, which are worth over USD 15.87 billion Indian Exim Bank is a key player in promoting Indian business abroad. Africa seems to have its heart with 34 out of 63 countries for its investments in recent years.

Established in 1982, the growth of Exim Bank has been a phenomenon. From a lending portfolio of Rs. 64,353 crores in 2012-13 it has nearly doubled at Rs. 1,02,641 crores in 2016-17. Major Indian corporations – both public and private – benefited handsomely from Exim bank’s support. They include RITES Ltd, Goa Shipyard Limited, Cosmos International Ltd, Tata Power, Shapoorji and Pallonji Co. Ltd, Ashok Leyland Ltd., Tata Motors Ltd., Suzlon Group, Godrej Group, Bharti Enterprises, Kirloskar Group, Mahindra & Mahindra, Escorts, Apollo, Essar and Jindal.

Impacts of Indian investments abroad, particularly in African countries is well captured in the report India’s Role in the New Global Farmland Grab. Among the many African countries, Ethiopia has been a favourite destination for Indian corporations, particularly the agro-business. According to Oakland Institute, “Indian firms have acquired over 600,000 ha of land. Most investors plan to grow edible oils and crops while a few have plans to grow cotton.” Many of them are financed by Indian Exim bank.

ethiopia_india_faq_chart

Source: Oakland Institute

According to an RIS Discussion Paper, “Indian companies have offered investment of over USD 4 billion to Ethiopia. Of this, an estimated USD 2 billion is already on the ground or in the pipeline. There are 608 Indian projects approved by the Ethiopian Investment Commission in Ethiopia. About 48 per cent of the Indian companies are in manufacturing and 21 per cent in agriculture.” Amongst these, Indian Exim bank alone has invested USD 98 million, through 65 companies.

There have been local protests against these land grabs. “Many (in Ethiopia) are describing India as a “neo-coloniser”. The phenomenon has in fact received wide local coverage, with damning headlines like ‘Indian agribusiness devastates W. Ethiopia’” a report in Outlook says. It further mentions, “…a million hectares are being handed over to Indian firms at bargain prices, suppressing local dissent and causing displacement of people.”

The Tendaho Sugar project in Ethiopia is one of the significant investments of India in Ethiopia. Situated in the Afar State in north-eastern Ethiopia,  Exim bank invests through the Indian firm Overseas Infrastructure Alliance (OIA). In operation, it will crush more than 619,000 tonnes annually and is expected to cover 50,000 hectares of sugarcane cultivation, according to the RIS Discussion Paper.

Some of the impacts of the project on the local community are documented. There has been a major impact on the pastoral indigenous people of Afar community residing near the Tendaho sugar project. As most of their grazing land is taken for the project there has been a rapid increase of child labour in the locale. Since sugarcane plantation is water intensive cropping, it consumes a lot of water which has created scarcity for the domestic consumption, including for household and livestock. The community says that they were not consulted before taking their lands in the name of development. The Afar community also states that after the Tendaho Project prostitution and thievery has increased which was unknown few years ago in the area. (Socioeconomic Effect of Tendaho Sugar Plantation on the Pastoral Livelihood of the National Regional State, Nov 2016).

In regions where people are critically dependent on natural resources with low and uncertain incomes, customary tenure rules had been the main ways of providing security of land tenure and food security. Both State control of land tenure and private investment, however, have tended to be detrimental to the interests of local people living in marginal lands. (Getachew, 2001)

India cannot shrug off the responsibility just because these violations are happening elsewhere, As noted aptly by Anuradha Mittal of Oakland Institute, “The Indian government and corporations cannot hide behind the Ethiopian government, which is clearly in violation of human rights laws”.

This brings us to the fundamental point of accountability and ethics of Indian Exim bank and Indian corporations while rolling out investments off shore. Most of the corporations investing elsewhere have a bad track-record at home when it comes to upholding human rights and protecting the environment. To assume that they will do those elsewhere is a far distant dream.

Indian Exim bank, which is owned by the government and uses public money, has a lot to answer.

BRICS 2017 Offers Nothing New

By Tani Alex

For those closely looking at the trajectories of IFIs, especially the current trends of the New Development Bank (NDB) or the BRICS Bank, well, it’s all pancakes and fritters with news of NDB and BRICS Xiamen Summit all around.

The Bank, with 11 projects of over $1.5 billion already in their sack within a span of two years of their establishment, is targeting to lend $2.5-3 billion this year for ‘sustainable infrastructure’ ventures. In the last few weeks, BRICS witnessed saw a host of activities: NDB’s first regional centre opened in Johannesburg, South Africa; the interim sense of political ease happened between India and China on the Dokhlam issue just a few days before the Summit; the bloc again reinforced south-south cooperation by declaring to focus on the projects in Africa and Latin-America; their first project-financed firm commenced operations at Shanghai Lingang Distributed Solar Power Project (100 MW).

Now that the BRICS teammates have officially drawn the curtains at the finale this week at Xiamen, in their perpetual quest to overturn the western economic order, what were their projected takeaways placed side by side with their subtle agendas?

For our ease, let’s start with the first letter in the acronym coined by Jim O’ Neill of Goldman Sachs. Brazil, slouched under the pressure of staggering recovery from recession and joblessness, urged for economic cooperation in global markets.

Russia wanted to sign an intergovernmental agreement for international information security and did not hesitate to mention its initiative to establish an energy research platform for joint energy investment. They were also candidly advocating against global trade protectionism and for an open multilateral trade system.

Back here, India insisted on a medley of items—stronger cooperation in the financial sector and investment in private entrepreneurship to cater to the financial needs of ‘sovereign and corporate’ entities. Tenacious partnership with International Solar Alliance, birthed by both India and France, was also emphasised upon for ‘mutual gains’ through a comprehensive solar energy utilisation (read further exploitation of land resources for solar parks). Further India displayed vanity in having discovered digital economy as the tool for spurring economic growth and to attack corruption through demonetisation. While the World Bank and International Monetary Fund lauded this move, the citizens, independent experts, and local and international media criticised the reckless experiment thrust down to the country. In fact, RBI’s Financial Year report also indicated towards the monumental failure of the senseless decision. Media reports clamour on the resolution of the member nations to together fight corruption with a dedicated Anti-Corruption Working Group. Well, wait, did we hear anti-corruption? Does this also apply to the leaders of these nations as well, or to the higher management of their extolled NDB? We are reminded of Oscar Wilde, who said that the only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.

With the newly-begun construction of NDB headquarters in Shanghai last week and the sprouting AIIB with 80 members in its kitty, China, which who chaired this year’s Summit, did not miss time in laying bare its agenda – promoting its star project Belt Road Initiative (BRI), which linked its vital China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as well. During the Summit, China did not address its differences with India, which boycotted the BRI meeting earlier in May.

Further, China reiterated the idea of ‘BRICS Plus’ to invite more emerging developing economies to expand BRICS. Towards this end, China also invited leaders of Egypt, Guinea, Mexico, Tajikistan, and Thailand for dialogues on south-south cooperation and global development. It looks like China is on a high to alter the prevailing financial order and form a new open economic order, while critics point towards China’s discriminatory policies and trade barriers to favour local economy.

South Africa, the chair for next year’s Summit, elated by the opening of NDB’s regional centre, shared a concerted approach against global terrorism, while also listing out its goal of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063 Africa Union. Interestingly NDB’s only project in South Africa, a $180 million renewable energy project with Eskom, was rejected by the Government. When asked about the rejection, NDB’s Vice-President Leslie Maardop explained that the economic slowdown in the country melted the demand for electricity bringing it to a dip and that South Africa did not need new power supplies.

Let’s also quickly glance at other developments of this week, encapsulated here. The idea of BRICS credit ranking agency, which was pushed by India in Goa last year, was discussed again. Further, resilience and the ability of central banks of member nations to foster cooperation between Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) and IMF was stressed by India. It is interesting to note here that earlier we were made to believe that CRA is an arrangement competitive to IMF and that it did not require dollar denominated IMF backing?

Another curious development during this Summit was the discussion to develop BRICS’ crypto currency, in line with its earlier agreement on lending in local currencies and settlement mechanisms. One wonders, why did the countries, especially China and India, ignore the foresightedness of their central banks, which recently cautioned against virtual currencies?

In retrospect, every year there are tall claims and forged partnerships under the façade of bilateral and multilateral talks among the BRICS members. However, it seems that no member country has given any deliberate and honest assurances pertaining to the human development—not in the parameters of amassing wealth, expanding economic markets or filling the ‘gap’ in infrastructure development alone, but that kind of an integrated growth which carefully avoids human exploitation, political manipulation, natural and human resource extraction, and devastation of natural environments.

Appointment of a new Indian ED at the World Bank raises a few questions

~ Joe Athialy

With Subhash Chandra Garg assuming charge as secretary of the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) in the Finance Ministry, the position of the Indian Executive Director (ED) at the World Bank has fallen vacant. The 1983-batch IAS officer of Rajasthan cadre, Garg was the ED at the World Bank from Nov 2014 until June 2017.

Appointments Committee of Cabinet decides appointment of important posts under the Government of India, including ED at the World Bank. While in the past the Appointments Committee had the Prime Minister as its Chair and the Ministers for Home and in-charge of the concerned ministry, with a notification in mid-2016, the Appointments Committee is reduced to only the Prime Minister and Home Minister.

There are currently 25 EDs on the board, one each for the seven largest shareholders at the Bank – US, Japan, Germany, France, UK, China and Saudi Arabia. Other countries are grouped into constituencies, each represented by an executive director. Indian ED is in charge of Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, apart from India.

The EDs are based at the World Bank Group’s headquarters in Washington DC. It is responsible for policy decisions affecting the World Bank Group’s operation, and approval of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) loan and guarantee proposals and International Development Association (IDA) credit, grant and guarantee proposals.

There are a few pertinent questions surrounding the appointment and functioning of positions like that of World Bank ED:

Shouldn’t the elected representatives of people have a say in the appointment of an ED at any of the multilateral institutions, who represents the interests and positions of the country?

Shouldn’t s/he be guided by the wise counsel of the Parliament, for the positions s/he takes at the Board, given that the positions could have far reaching impact for the country for a long time to come? (In US, Congress provide “legislated instructions” to the ED representing the US at the Bank).

Shouldn’t s/he be transparent and accountable to the Parliament for the positions s/he takes at the Board?

It is the time that we start asking some hard questions.

Budget Session of Parliament: An Overview

By Maju Varghese

The Constitution of India has accorded the Parliament the supremacy among the three organs of the Union government viz legislature, executive, and judiciary. Parliament not only makes the laws but also enables the citizens to participate in controlling the government. The Parliament applies various oversight mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability in the system. The two mechanisms available in our country are questions and debates on the floor of the house and various committees which scrutinise the public finances and policies.

The budget session of the Parliament was held between January 31 and April 12, 2017. The session had a recess between Feb 10 and March 8, 2017, during which the standing committees examined the demand for grants from various ministries. The session was convened in the context of upcoming assembly elections and also of post demonetisation distress.

This session was important for many reasons. The budget was introduced on February 1 instead of the last working day of February as per the tradition.  The government claims that advancing the presentation will result in necessary legislative approval for annual spending plans and tax proposals could be completed before the beginning of the new financial year.  According to eminent economist Arun Kumar, early presentation of Budget will help the entire exercise to get over by 31 March, and expenditure, as well as tax proposals, can come into effect right from the beginning of new fiscal, thereby ensuring better implementation.

Besides advancing the date, the government decided from this year to merge Union Budget and Railway Budget.  Earlier, Railway budget was presented first followed by the general union budget.  Another interesting development this year is doing away with the distinction of the plan and non-planned expenditure in the budget-making monitoring difficult on capital infusion in developmental planning.

The budget session held 29 sittings for 178 hours in total in which 24 bills were introduced, and 23 bills were passed.  Members raise 560 starred questions and 6440 un-starred questions during this session.

Some Major debates in the Parliament

The budget session saw the introduction of some major bills and discussions around those.  These are: The Finance Bill, 2017; The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Bill, 2017; Bills related to Goods and Service Tax; The Payment of Wages (Amendment) Bill, 2017; the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2017; the Mental Health Care Bill, 2017; and the Employee’s Compensation (Amendment) Bill, 2017.

Analysis of Questions in Parliament

During the budget session, about 6440 un-starred questions and 560 starred questions were admitted in the parliament.  However, the lack of interest in the functioning of the IFIs was evident as just 7 questions asked on the topic in Lok Sabha out of 5203 questions, and 7 in the Rajya Sabha from the total 5064 questions.  The break-ups of the questions are given below.

IFI Name Lok Sabha Rajya Sabha
World Bank 6 3
ADB 1 2
AIIB 0 2
NDB 0 0

Rising NPA’s and Parliament

The debate on Non-Performing Assets continued to be debated in the parliament with many parliamentarians raising the issue through questions. There were about 18 questions asked in the Rajya Sabha and 21 questions in Lok Sabha. K.V Thomas, then chairman of the standing committee on public accounts, said that the current non-performing assets stood at 6.8 lakh crore or 6.8 trillion of which 70% are those of big corporate houses. There were debates on the bad bank and how the banks could be cleared of the mounting NPAs. Interestingly, the same bankers who were asking the state to take care of their bad debts came against debts being waived off for farmers who are facing an acute crisis due to a variety of reasons leading to suicide deaths.

New trend of undermining  democratic institutions

The Parliament is witnessing a new trend of bypassing Rajya Sabha in important matters including amendment of acts where both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is responsible. The introduction of the Finance Bill[1] first with 10 amendment of acts and later to change 40 different acts including Reserve Bank of India Act as well as the Representation of the People Act was according to opposition first in the history of Parliament itself.  This act has robbed the Parliament its right to refer the bill to a standing committee or to scrutinise it clause by clause as to every amendment and the power of Raja Sabha to discuss, propose and incorporate amendment.

The very fact that the finance bill is a money bill gives the option of not incorporating Rajya Sabha view in the bills. All the five amendments passed in the Rajya Sabha was not incorporated into the finance bill, and it was passed as such.  Centre has got 22 Money bills passed in Lok Sabha ignoring the Rajya Sabha, and this has kept a bad president for the functioning of the democracy as such.

Executive legislation through Ordinance rather than legislation

The ordinance is an independent legislation brought out by the Executive; it is the wisdom and authority being exercised by the Executive. An Ordinance can only be done in extraordinary situations when the houses are not in session or a critical condition.  The Ordinance encroaches the right of the parliament in law making.

The government seems to issues ordinance after ordinance despite the fact that this could be brought before the parliament for legislation in the first instance. According to the PRS Legislative, the government in the last three years has promulgated 27 ordinances, including the ones on land acquisition, demonetisation, payment of wages bill, etc. Many of the ordinances were promulgated multiple times. It is interesting to read the observation of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court observation in Krishna Kumar Vs State of Bihar delivered on January 2, 2017, that promulgation of ordinances is a fraud on the Constitution and a subversion of democratic legislative processes. The latest subversion is the Banking Ordinance, on which the finance minister refused to share details of the ordinance before Presidential assent.

While there were interesting debates in the parliament this session, it seems some of the issues are not being captured in the discussions.  This includes life and livelihood issues of people who are getting displaced/ affected by development projects, investments of bilateral and multilateral agencies including World Bank, Asian Development Bank, IFC and new development banks like New Development Bank, Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, etc.  A point to make in this regard is about New Development Bank, a multilateral Bank initiated by BRICS nations.  There seems to be no real engagement of the Parliament in influencing the nature of the Bank given that Mr K. V. Kamat is the chief of the Bank.  The Bank is in the process of developing its policies with regards to the environmental and social framework, disclosure policy, etc in their lending.

The other major lack of oversight is on negotiations in the trade policy.  India is Negotiating a free trade agreement, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – RCEP [2] in the Asia Pacific region.  According to India FDI Watch, “In the past four years and to this day, no text has been made available to members of the public, parliamentarians, civil society or media,”. The trade negotiations are happening under a veil of secrecy where Parliament and parliamentarians are kept in the dark.

Parliament does not have an institutional space like Standing Committee where trade negotiations, Indian investment abroad and Multilateral and Bilateral investments to India and its effects on Indian policy environment is being discussed.  The failure of the Standing Committee to come out with a report on the demonetisation in this session with full facts and figures were a let down on the process particularly when it was announced that it would come out before the end of the budget session.

[1]          The finance bill is for ordinarily introduced to give effect to financial proposals of the Government of India for the following fiscal year and not to make permanent changes in the existing laws unless they are consequential upon or incidental to the taxation proposals.

[2]          RCEP is a 16-nation trade pact that includes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), along with China, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, a region that accounts for 46 percent of the world’s population and that produced nearly 30 per cent of global GDP in 2016.