Indian insurance sector has played a vital role in promoting its economy. Economies of scale has to be enhanced to promote the role of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in insurance sector. The tight norms of government and the need to relax the FDI in the insurance sector has been a constant topic of debate, as it pertains to the interest of many stakeholders and participants of the industry. These stakeholders and participants encourage increase in FDI limit in Insurance sector.
Due to Covid-19, health insurance companies are facing various challenges and are foreseeing a global impact. While the demand for health insurance is expected to increase considerably, underwriting thresholds may also go up and thus the negative movement may not be offset. It may be noted that traditionally, insurance penetration in India has been very low, with private health insurance schemes covering only 18% of the population in urban areas and a little over 14% in rural areas as per report by PwC India. Although “Ayushman Bharat” has tried to cover the gap by insuring the poor and vulnerable, most of India continues to be underinsured when it comes to health. The need for relaxation in FDI by increasing its limit in insurance sector could open the routes for global insurance companies, who were getting strained without having control on their Indian investment, will now bring in more capital, new technologies, new products and ensure better market penetration. This will also ensure that long-term funds stay invested in India. Change in FDI limit for insurance will make Indian policies more innovative and progressive, which is the need of the hour post Covid-19.
Previously there have been a hike in FDI limit in insurance sector in March 31, 2016 when the government of India had increased the FDI limits in the insurance sector up to 49% from 26% based on certain terms and conditions issued through notification dated February 30, 2016. The main condition under this notification was that under no circumstances, ‘any foreign investor shall hold more than 49% of the shareholding in any form’. This means that the insurance company shall be solely in control of an Indian citizen or Indian resident or Indian corporate, as the case may be. In the Union Budget for fiscal year 2020, the finance minister had indicated that the government would examine suggestions for opening up FDI in the insurance sector in consultation with all stakeholders. Subsequently, the FDI limit in insurance intermediaries was increased from 49% to 100%. It was under deliberation that the government could raise overseas investment limit in Indian insurance companies to 74% under the approval route from the existing 49%. Internally the approval for the same is still pending. The increase in FDI limit insurance could pave the way for foreign players, who were getting jittery without having the control in their Indian investment, to now bring in more capital, new technologies, and new products and ensure better market penetration. This will also ensure that long-term funds stay invested in India. In spite of this increase, the foreign investors shall not find it completely satisfying in terms with the process bearings in running the business. The role of foreign investors in key managerial aspect was limited as Indian residents were still the majority stakeholders of the organisation. This resulted in decline in flow of funds by foreign partners. Hon’ble Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her budget speech on July 5, 2019 had announced that the FDI limit for the insurance intermediaries would be increased from 49% to 100%. In pursuance of this, on September 2, 2019 under the Indian Insurance Companies (Foreign Investment) Amendment Rules, 2019 (Rules), the Central Government issued a notification to hike the FDI limit for insurance intermediaries to 100%. Recently, the Department of Promotion of Industry and International Trade (“DPIIT”) on February 21, 2020 increased the FDI in insurance intermediaries to 100%. As per the current position, the FDI in insurance companies shall remain at 49% but only in cases of insurance intermediaries which includes insurance brokers, re-insurance brokers, insurance consultants, corporate agents, third party administrator surveyors and such other entities as may be notified by Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (“IRDAI”). Although they have liberalised the FDI limit but the government have not been very dynamic in the insurance sector. Though they allow foreign investment but does not allow control to go with the foreign investor, similarly, they have allowed 100% FDI in insurance intermediaries, but there are stringent restrictions on payments and dividends repatriation abroad. India has received nearly INR 30,000 crore worth of FDI in the private sector insurance firms since 2015, when the government increased FDI limit from 26 per cent to 49 per cent. However, the coverage penetration within the US is only around 3 % of our gross domestic product (GDP) with recognize to over-all rates underwritten annually, this is at long way less in comparison to Japan which has an insurance penetration of extra than 10%. Hike in FDI limit will not only bring new players in the insurance industry it will also increase country’s insurance cover.
The U.S. is India’s largest export destination, accounting for $52.42 billion in 2018-19, while imports from the country were worth $35.5 billion, making it the second largest source of imports after China. Taking into account the importance of investment the U.S.-India Strategic Policy Forum and the U.S.-India Business Council have prioritized the removal of investment limits as a chief policy issue.
U.S is considered as a most successful insurance sector due to its relaxed FDI policies. U.S. insurance industry net premiums written totalled $1.22 trillion in 2018, with premiums recorded by property/casualty (P/C) insurers accounting for 51 %, and premiums by life/annuity insurers accounting for 49 %, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, insurance carriers and related activities contributed nearly $630 billion, or 2.9 %, to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019. China is expected to contribute almost half of the increase in global life premiums over the next two years, with a rebound to 11 % growth after a sharp 5.4 % contraction in 2018 due to tightening of regulations. These clearly shows how a small change in rule can benefit our economy as a whole. The 2019 Global Health Security Index measures countries’ pandemic preparedness on a score of 1-100 based on their ability to prevent, detect, mitigate and cure diseases. The index ranks India at 57 out of 195 countries, indicating that we may be more vulnerable than China (at 51) and Italy (at 31), which have seen the highest number of Covid-19 related deaths till now. The penetration of health insurance in the country in the pre-Covid era was very low, less than 2 per cent for individual private health insurance. Most of the people are covered by corporates or government takes care of the people, who fall below the poverty line. However, due to the outbreak of Covid-19, the relevance of health insurance has become a lot more evident to all of us.
Indian insurance market has full potential to be at par with US and China. It can be verified from the Mutualidad de la Agrupación de Propietarios de Fincas Rústicas de España (MAPFRE) analysis which ranked the life and non-life sectors in 96 insurance markets and the study revealed that the top five markets with the most insurance potential in the life sector are China, US, India, Indonesia, and Russia. Meanwhile, the top five markets in the nonlife sector are China, India, US, Indonesia, and Japan.
India ranks 10th in terms of life insurance and 15th in non-life insurance in terms of premium. India is at par with few top global countries in terms of both life and nonlife insurance. In the global insurance market, India has a share of 1.92 per cent. In the life insurance segment, the share is slightly higher at 2.61 per cent and the country ranks 10th among 88 global market. Yet, in spite of having so much of potential it lacks being amongst the top three in the worlds in terms of insurance. It is further shocking to see that with approximately138 crore population and despite the presence of 24 life insurance companies and 34 non-life companies, the needle of insurance penetration has hardly moved. In the past 16 years, it has risen by only 1 % point — from 2.7 % in 2001 to 3.7 % in 2017. Small family owned businesses are mostly without any insurance cover, same goes for life and non- life insurance covers in ground level. In the times like Covid-19, where the cost of treatment is so high and taking under consideration the steep uncertainty in the raise of cases the role of insurance becomes more pivotal. In these circumstances, the need of the hour is to support the insurance industry through long-term capital infusion by increasing the FDI limit. FDI works as a fast track method of attracting quick investment in insurance sector, without much change in strategies.
India being one of the most attractive location for foreign companies in terms of investment in insurance sector, lifting of FDI restriction will be globally welcomed. In January 1, 2020 China’s banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) increased the foreign ownership limit in the life insurance industry from 51% to 100%, Indonesia have an FDI limit of 80%. Similarly, countries like Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Taiwan which are amongst the leading countries in terms of insurance sector also allows 100% FDI in insurance.
The market is still monopolised by public sector undertakings like LIC and SBI insurance and therefore there is a need for greater diversity and to privatise the sector the need for increase in FDI limit is required as we already have Indian owned life insurance sector controlling 70% of the total insurance cover in India, which shows that we have reached the limit for Indian insurance sector for now. Increase in FDI limit will bring opportunity for more jobs and thus meeting their objectives of venturing into the insured markets through improved facilities in terms of infrastructure, better operation and greater manpower. With intrusion of new companies and formation of a competitive marketplace, it will lead to improved services and better claim settlement ratio. The final beneficiary of this change will be borne by common man in terms of jobs, risk cover and more options with better incentives. Pension Fund Regulatory Development Bill links the FDI limit in the pension sector to the insurance sector, due to which the foreign direct investment in the pension funds will also be increased.
Increasing FDI level in other sectors like NBFCs have allowed the market to mature better and has created various options for consumers, improved the pricing of the products offered, also allowed specialised insurers to enter the market, and thus create a more competitive market. To tackle Covid-19 kind of pandemic in future it is high time to liberalise FDI in insurance sector, otherwise the capital infusion, which would have paved in India might find its way to other competitive markets. It also allows micro focus for various players like some people may only focus on insurance in agriculture sector, which presently, couldn’t enter India because of the existing restrictions on FDI.
Anuroop Omkar, Partner AK & Partners, Alumni Gujarat National Law University
Ashish Lakhtakia, Chief Legal, Compliance Officer and Company Secretary, Future Generali India Insurance Company Limited. Ankana Mukherjee, Associate, AK & Partners, Alumni, RMLNLU
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Where did the farm laws go wrong?
The three new agriculture laws implemented by India in September 2020 with little public or legislative debate have piqued the world’s curiosity. The initiatives were portrayed as a gift to farmers by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, but farmers in various Indian states, headed by smallholders in Punjab and Haryana, have refused to accept them.The three laws are:
• The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act,
• The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act and
• The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act.
The court stated that dozens of rounds of negotiation between the Centre and farmers had yielded no breakthroughs, despite the fact that senior individuals, women, and children among the protestors were exposed to major health risks caused by the cold and COVID-19. It was stated that deaths had already happened, not as a result of violence, but as a result of illness or suicide. The court praised the protesters’ nonviolent character and indicated that it did not intend to stop them.Essentially, in the midst of a pandemic, with a critical vaccination drive underway, the government appears to be employing a two-pronged strategy to break the impasse: reaching out to farmers to bridge the trust deficit in farm laws, and combating disruptive forces that are attempting to take advantage of the situation.
Farmers are concerned that agriculture sector changes would result in the abolition of the minimum support price (MSP) system and the abolition of APMC markets. The government buys farm commodities at a fixed price under the MSP framework. The MSP guarantees that farmers are guaranteed a set price, regardless of supply and demand limits. Farmers have been calling for legislation to ensure that agricultural food is purchased at the MSP. They also urge the government to repeal the Electricity Act modifications.Farmers are concerned that it would lead to the corporatization of agriculture, which will eventually force them out of the industry. They contend that the sale of agricultural produce would be governed by contracts, rendering the MSP regime ineffectual. The law permitted farmers to engage into a direct arrangement with the buyer before to the sowing season and sell their goods at the agreed-upon price at the time of contract signing.
What were the main issues in THE FARMER’S PRODUCE TRADE AND COMMERCE (PROMOTION AND FACILITATION) ACT, 2020 OR THE FPTC ACT as regarded by the farmers?
Though farmers objected to all three agricultural laws, the main issue was this Act, commonly known as the ‘APMC Bypass Bill.’ Cultivators were concerned that its provisions would undermine the APMC mandis.
Sections 3 and 4 of the Act permitted farmers to sell their goods in regions beyond the APMC mandis to purchasers from inside or outside the state. Section 6 barred the collection of any market charge or cess under any state APMC Act or other state law in connection with trading outside the APMC market. Section 14 overruled the contradictory sections of the state APMC laws, while Section 17 enabled the Centre to make regulations for enforcing the law’s provisions.
Farmers were concerned that the new laws would result in insufficient demand for their goods in local marketplaces. They said that moving the produce outside of mandis would be impossible due to a lack of resources. This is why they sell their goods at prices lower than MSP in local marketplaces.
Farmers were also upset with the provisions in Section 8 of the law that stated that a farmer or merchant might approach the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) to reach an agreement through conciliation procedures. While farmers claim they lack the right to enter SDM offices for conflict resolution, others say this amounts to seizure of judicial authorities.
POSSIBLE ISSUES WITH FARMERS (EMPOWERMENT AND PROTECTION) AGREEMENT OF PRICE ASSURANCE AND FARM SERVICES ACT, 2020
Sections 3-12 of the statute attempted to provide a legal framework for contract farming. Before the planting season, farmers might get into a direct arrangement with a buyer to sell their products at predetermined pricing. It enabled farmers and sponsors to enter into agricultural partnerships. The law, however, made no mention of the MSP that purchasers must provide to farmers.
Though the Centre claimed that the law was intended to liberate farmers by allowing them to sell anywhere, farmers were concerned that it would lead to the corporatisation of agriculture. They were also concerned that the MSP will be eliminated. Critics also claimed that the contract system would expose small and marginal farmers to exploitation by large corporations unless selling prices were continued to be regulated as they were before to the new law’s implementation.
HOW DID THE FARMERS REACT TO THE FARM BILL?
Despite the potential benefits, both parties were unable to reach an agreement on the farm laws, which resulted in their repeal. Farmers who have been protesting at Delhi’s borders and in their states since last year have rejected the Central government’s offers to alter the contentious new agriculture rules. They said that the plan was insufficient and accused the administration of being “insincere,” while also warning the Parliament to step up their protests. Parliament approved these Acts during the monsoon session in 2020. Farmers have long feared that the Centre’s farm reforms will pave the way for the demise of the MSP system, leaving them at the whim of large corporations. However, no resolution was reached, and no date for the next round of discussions was set for the first time. Following the failure of these discussions, the Supreme Court suspended the execution of these farm legislation. Farmers were overjoyed when these rules were removed on November 19, 2021.
Declaring vaccination mandatory in India: A last resort towards battling Covid-19
With the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) across the globe, there is hardly any country which has been able to protect its citizens from it. During this unprecedented situation which has persisted more than a year, this pandemic has claimed as many as 3.18 lakh lives in India itself, making the situation abysmal and chaotic in the country. But a silver lining arose on January 03rd, 2021, when the Government of India approved emergency authorization for Covishield and Covaxin for effectively tackling the pandemic situation.
Till date, around 160 crore people have been vaccinated out of which around 4.24 crore have been fully vaccinated. As can be evidently seen, India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive is alarmingly behind schedule, especially when India is facing an unforeseen situation and it is the need of the hour to rustle up the vaccination drive. Indubitably, the government has miserably failed in procuring vaccines leading to an inordinate delay in inoculating people. One of the reasons behind such a delay is an acute shortage of supply of vaccines from the manufacturers. But there is another hidden but known facet which has conspicuously reduced the percentage of vaccinated population despite vaccines being available at local vaccination centers. Suspicions and myths pertaining to vaccines in general are creating mistrust among people, especially for those residing in rural or marginalized areas, who are very skeptical about getting inoculated. Due to such fear and apprehension, people are not registering for vaccination and even after scheduling an appointment, they are not turning up for vaccination at the centers leading to wastage of thousands of doses raising a cause for concern in the entire country.
First and foremost step to be taken by the government is to initiate an awareness drive throughout the country by educating the people residing especially in rural and marginalized areas about the various personal and community health benefits of getting vaccinated. However, in case there is timely and unhindered supply of vaccines and yet people refuse to take it then the government must promulgate laws making vaccination compulsory in the nation. Although, it is not always necessary to go through the trouble of making vaccination compulsory but it should only be kept as a last resort to tackle the problem. It is well within the legislative powers of the State Legislature to enact such a law related to public health and sanitation. (vide Entry 6 List-II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution on India). Here, a focus needs to be drawn to a similar step taken by the British Government to make smallpox vaccination compulsory by way of the Vaccination Act of 1892. Another example was laid down by the US Supreme Court which upheld the law made by the State for compulsory vaccination stating that is well with its police power for the protection of public health.
LAWS EMPOWERING THE GOVERNMENT TO MAKE VACCINATION MANDATORY
The Epidemic Disease Act of 1897 contains provisions empowering the government to take whatever measures it deems necessary to prevent the outbreak or spread of an epidemic disease, provided the existing laws are not sufficient to deal with the situation. Moreover, a collective reading of numerous provisions of the National Disaster Management Act of 2005 shows that the Central Government is empowered to constitute a National Disaster Management Authority which can lay down the policies, plans and guidelines for disaster management for ensuring timely and effective response to a disaster. The Central Government has invoked its power under Section 6 (2)(i) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 directing the State Governments to restrict the movement of people and various other activities in the beginning of the pandemic and those can be applied for the process of vaccination too. Under such laws, the government can formulate policies for compulsory vaccination during the current unprecedented situation in India.
ENFORCING MANDATORY VACCINATION
It is certainly not advisable to impose penal action like imprisonment against an individual who refuses to get inoculated. There are several ways through which the government can enforce mandatory vaccination on such individuals. For instance, it can impose fine on people who refuse vaccination. Another way can be by imposing a reasonable restriction on the movement of an individual within any part of this country since the freedom to move freely within the territory in India is subject to reasonable restrictions as laid down under Article 19(5) of the Constitution of India. Moreover, for the people who are visiting India, vaccination must be compulsory upon failure of which can lead to restricting the use of their passport by the Government by exercising its powers under the Passport Act, 1967. Alternatively, if a person still refuses to get vaccinated upon his arrival in India, he shall be mandatorily kept under 7 days institutional quarantine as per the guidelines for international arrival issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW). Moreover, for foreigners who are not vaccinated, the government can pass an order under Section 3 (2) (e) of the Foreigners Act, 1946. For example, people applying for immigration to the United States need to show their vaccination certificates. Otherwise the applicant must be given those vaccines at the time of medical exam.
Making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for people can have some serious legal concerns. A person can claim that the legislation making vaccination compulsory is violative of the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The term privacy has been interpreted in its widest sense so as to restrict the government from infringing it by way of an unfair, unjust and unreasonable laws and regulations. But it is pivotal to argue that the right to privacy is embraced under the right to life and personal liberty which may be restricted according to the procedure established by law. Therefore, the right to privacy can very well be curtailed by the government by way of enacting just, fair and reasonable law which is in interest of public at large (vide K.S Puttaswamy v Union of India). Further in the case of Evara Foundation vs Union of India in the affidavit it was stated that “It is humbly submitted that the direction and guidelines released by Government of India and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, do not envisage any forcible vaccination without obtaining consent of the concerned individual”.
At this juncture, it is also pertinent to give reference to Hohfeld’s theory of jural relations. As Hohfeld says, if a person has a right, then that right is accompanied by a duty to protect the rights of others. In other words, the people are guaranteed the right to privacy which can be restricted by making the vaccination compulsory for the people refusing to take the vaccination for collective public interest, since COVID-19 will continue to spread if people do not get vaccinated. For instance, if majority of the population in the Country is vaccinated then it will obviously break the chain of the spread of the virus and the positivity rate will come down.
Moreover, there are many developed countries across the world like U.K., Australia, France, Italy, who have made the vaccination mandatory for their citizens despite the fact it is not the last resort but it was the only way to break vicious cycle of waves of the virus. In addition, India is a developing country where the health care system is ineffective to cater the vast number of populations. So, India should also follow the footsteps of the developed countries in order to save the lives of its citizens.
In order to achieve herd immunity by vaccinating a large number of people either by way of voluntary vaccination or forced vaccination, equitable distribution of vaccines is a pre-requisite, failure of which can render the former otiose. There is an obligation on part of the government to ensure that there are no obstacles or impediments in providing vaccines all across the nation without any discrimination.
PIYUSH GOYAL CALLS UPON STARTUPS TO LEVERAGE ‘DEEP TECH’
Goyal says start ups to build solutions for local & global markets: AI, IoT, Big Data, etc.
The Minister of Commerce and Industry, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Piyush Goyal today called upon the Indian industry to aim for raising 75 unicorns in the 75 weeks to the 75th anniversary of Independence next year.
“We have added 43 unicorns added in 45 weeks, since the start of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ on 12th March, 2021. Let us aim for atleast 75 unicorns in this 75 week period to 75thAnniversary of Independence,” he said, while releasing the NASSCOM Tech Start-up Report 2022.
Goyal said Startup India started a revolution six years ago and today ‘Startup’ has become a common household term. Indian Startups are fast becoming the champions of India Inc’s growth story, he added.
“India has now become the hallmark of a trailblazer & is leaving its mark on global startup landscape. Investments received by Indian startups overshadowed pre-pandemic highs. 2021 will be remembered as the year Indian start-ups delivered on their promise, – fearlessly chasing opportunities across verticals – Edtech, HealthTech & AgriTech amongst others,” he said.
Goyal lauded the ITES (Information Technology Enabled Services) industry including the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector for the record Services exports during the last year. “Services Export for Apr-Dec 2021 reached more than $178 bn despite the Covid19 pandemic when the Travel, Hospitality & Tourism sectors were significantly down,” he said.
• “Let us aim for at least 75 unicorns in the 75 weeks to the 75th Anniversary of Independence”: Piyush Goyal
• Goyal lauds the ITES industry including the BPO sector for the record Services exports during the last year despite the pandemic
• Piyush Goyal says the PM’s interaction with Startups a week ago has supercharged our innovators
• The next “UPI moment” will be the ONDC (Open Network for Digital Commerce) – Goyal
• New India is today being led by new troika of Innovation, Technology & Entrepreneurship (ITE), ‘India at 100’ will be renowned as a Startup nation: Goyal
Subhas Chandra Bose statue to be installed in India Gate, announced PM Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Friday that a grand statue of iconic freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose will be installed at India Gate. This announcement came ahead of the 125th anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his statue will be installed at India Gate to honor his contribution to the independence movement.
The Prime Minister further said that Bose’s grand statue will be made of granite and will be a symbol of India’s indebtedness to him. “Till the grand statue of Netaji Bose is completed, a hologram statue of his would be present at the same place. I will unveil the hologram statue on 23rd January, Netaji’s birth anniversary” PM Modi tweeted
“At a time when the entire nation is marking the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, I am glad to share that his grand statue, made of granite, will be installed at India Gate,” PM Modi tweeted on Friday. “This would be a symbol of India’s indebtedness to him.”
The statue will be installed under the grand canopy near which the Amar Jawan Jyothi flickers in remembrance of India’s martyrs. The eternal flame, which has not been extinguished for 50 years, will be put off on Friday, as it will be merged with the flame at the National War Memorial.
The canopy, which was built along with the rest of the grand monument in the 1930s by Sir Edwin Lutyens, once housed a statue of the former king of England George V. The statue was later moved to Coronation Park in Central Delhi in the mid-1960s.
The announcement was hailed by many Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, Union ministers and civil society members.
“Great news for the entire nation as PM @narendramodi Ji has today announced that a grand statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, will be installed at the iconic India Gate, New Delhi. This is a befitting tribute to the legendary Netaji, who gave everything for India’s freedom.” Amit Shah tweeted.
“Netaji is an epitome of India’s true strength & resolve. Congress has left no stone unturned to forget the immortal contributions of India’s brave son. PM @narendramodi’s decision to install Netaji’s statue at India Gate on his 125th Jayanti will inspire our generations to come.” Amit Shah added in his tweet.
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi will unveil a 216-foot statue of Ramanujacharya, a 11th century saint and a social reformer, in Hyderabad on February 5. The statue described as the ‘Statue of Equality is located in a 45-acre complex at Shamshabad on the outskirts of the city.
‘US, India should set bold goals to attain $500bn target’, said Keshap
Having achieved a huge success in their bilateral relations, two of the world’s greatest democracies – India and the United States of America should opt in favour of setting bold goals in order to take their relationship to a new high thereby achieving the ambitious target of $500 billion in bilateral trade echoes retired American Diplomat Atul Keshap, who recently became the new president of the US India Business Council (USIBC).
“I think it’s vitally important that we show that democracies can deliver; that the United States and India can be a driver of global growth and a model for prosperity and development in the 21st century,” Keshap said.
During his illustrious career, the veteran diplomat has served in various capacities with the US State Department. He has been the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives and has also served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.
In 2021, he took over as the Chargé d’affaires of the United States mission to India and has been instrumental in shaping the US-India ties under the Joe Biden administration.
“I feel it’s critically important that we show that open societies powered by a free enterprise can be relevant for their people and can help power the world out of this pandemic. I tend to agree entirely with President Biden and PM Narendra Modi that the US India Partnership is a force for global good and it’s going to have a huge impact on economic growth,” he said.
Keshap feels that USIBC is the podium where he can give his best and help the people from both countries. “We need to move forward on the global trade agenda. We need to ensure the prosperity of the future, especially after this pandemic,” he said.
The 50-year-old diplomat reflected on the vision set by Biden, about potentially having a $500 billion trade in goods and services between the US and India. “That’s a very ambitious number and I believe in it. It is a great idea to try to have ambitious targets, else we are on a standstill” he said.
Having donned the new role recently, Keshap said he wants to help meet that $500 billion bilateral trade goal. “This is where the government and the private sector have to work together hand-in-hand,” he said.
“We have to articulate the benefits and have to convince all our stakeholders that there is value in lowering trade barriers, in creating strong standards and in creating positive ecosystems. There is value in dealing with small technical issues that might be creating a blockage to greater prosperity between our countries,” Keshap said.
Coal crisis: How private sector can power India’s growth
India has been reeling under a coal shortage crisis and the situation got aggravated in October 2021 leading to a lot of concern amongst various stakeholders including government bodies, thermal power plants, industry and investors. The shortages, triggered by global factors, of course with Indian peculiarities, threatened supplies to thermal-based power plants, leading to an alarm.
Recovering from Covid-19-induced reverses, the global economy has rebounded and gathered steam. This was one of the prime reasons why there was an acute shortage of coal and sources of energy, worldwide. Global coal prices have risen by 40 per cent.
Port based Indian power plants normally rely on imports. Given the global conditions, and the sharp rise in coal prices internationally, the power plants are now almost solely dependent on Indian coal. It’s in this context that the coal crisis has been amplified by various stakeholders.
While global factors did contribute, did we fail to take necessary action, over a period of time? To highlight one prominent factor: Why should the Coal India Limited have monopoly over coal mining / supplies? Consider the CIL performance in the last few years: Its output was 606 MT in 2018-2019, 602 MT in 2019-2020, and 596 MT in 2020-2021. Contrast this with various governments’ efforts to ramp up Coal production in the 1992-2010 period.
So, why did Coal India Limited fail to expand capacity? This is one big question that must be debated. It can therefore be argued that CIL’s monopoly on coal extraction and supplies (till very recently) is one of the prime reasons why India’s thermal power plants faced a coal crisis.
India has the world’s fourth-largest coal reserve, with around 300 billion tonnes of coal. But it is also true that it imports approximately 250 million tonnes of coal. This is because we don’t mine enough and use our resources optimally.
CIL supplies 80 per cent of India’s coal needs. The demand for coal in India is nearly a billion tonnes a year, and the supply is below 800 million tonnes.
Unfortunately, based on then CAG Vinod Rai’s miscalculations and the Notional Loss theory, the Supreme Court cancelled 214 coal blocks in September 2014. Private players were not given a patient hearing on the issue. Rather than encouraging them, the private sector got punished unfairly for its efforts to strengthen the economy through coal mining. If 100 out of 214 of those mines were functional and each one was producing, say, 4 mtpa of Coal, India today would be a net exporter, not importer, of Coal.
Rai’s theory and the Supreme Court judgment had devastating consequences. The coal production in the country took a hit. The country’s GDP declined by almost 1 per cent. Millions of jobs were lost. NPAs of banks with exposure to power, steel and mining sector rose exponentially. Such is Rai’s credibility that he recently tendered an apology to a Congress leader, who, Rai claimed in his book, “requested him to remove then PM Manmohan Singh’s name from the coal scam”. Taking a cue, if someone sues Rai for his Coal Scam theory and numbers, would he be able to defend his report in court?
Against the recommendations of CAG of incentivizing good performers who produce coal, the Supreme Court imposed an additional levy of 295 rupees per ton on the coal extracted from operational mines retrospectively from 1993. The private miners were directed to deposit more than Rs. 9000 crore as penalty.
The stagnating CIL coal output should be seen in this background. Being a monopoly, CIL could have been a saviour for the nation. CIL however neither ramped up production nor invested in technology or expansion of new mines.
In 2020, in a bold and much welcome development, the Union Government opened up commercial coal mining, thus ending Coal India’s monopoly. PM Modi said that he wanted India to be a net exporter of coal, as he set ambitious targets.
A lesson from the recent crisis is this – the CIL monopoly, along with the no-entry sign for the private sector, harmed the country.
There are lessons to be drawn from the opening up of the aviation sector for the recent coal crisis episode. With a series of measures, the aviation sector was opened up, with the Air India privatisation being the latest example. The economy, the nation and consumer benefitted. When sectors as diverse as Steel, Infrastructure and Healthcare were unshackled, the end consumer, the economy and the nation benefitted.
Similarly, if the private sector in coal mining would have been encouraged consistently, and ill-advised measures like cancellation of coal blocks not taken, the coal situation would not have come to such a pass. In 2014, the private sector was said to be accounting for 90 million tons of coal – a substantial figure. Instead of getting encouraged, the private sector had to fight protracted court cases and spend its time wastefully.
There’s a consensus that Coal would continue to power economic growth for a country like India for the next two decades. It’s important that this abundantly-available natural resource is used optimally. The Private Sector can play a key role here.
The Government has shown intent and commitment. It’s time for all the stakeholders to ensure that the country faces no shortage of Coal hereafter. It’s time we all learnt our lessons and ensure that Coal and Mining booms and fires India’s growth march.
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