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Fitch slashes India growth forecast to 7.2 percent on reduced credit availability

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India

New Delhi | Fitch Ratings Thursday slashed India’s GDP growth forecast to 7.2 percent for current fiscal, from 7.8 percent projected in September, citing higher financing cost and reduced credit availability.

In its Global Economic Outlook released Thursday, Fitch estimated India’s GDP growth to be 7 percent and 7.1 percent in financial years 2019-20 and 2020-21 respectively. Indian economy grew 6.7 percent in 2017-18 fiscal.

The 7.2 percent GDP growth for current fiscal is substantially lower than 7.8 percent and 7.4 percent projections made by Fitch in September and June respectively. It is also lower than RBI’s 7.4 percent growth estimates for this fiscal.

“We have lowered our growth forecasts on weaker-than-expected momentum in the data (GDP), higher financing costs and reduced credit availability. We now see GDP growth at 7.2 percent in the fiscal year ending March 2019 (FY19), followed by 7.0 percent in FY20 and 7.1 percent in FY21,” Fitch said.

In September, the rating agency had forecast 2019-20 and 2020-21 GDP growth at 7.3 percent. Fitch said GDP growth has “softened quite substantially” in July-September quarter of current fiscal growing by 7.1 percent, as against 8.2 percent in April-June.

“Consumption was the weak spot, stepping down from 8.6 percent to 7 percent, though still growing at a healthy rate. Other components of domestic demand fared well, notably investment, which has been steadily strengthening since 2H17. The external sector was again a significant drag on overall GDP amid steadily accelerating imports, Fitch said.

The global rating agency said India’s fiscal policy should continue to support growth in the run-up to elections in early 2019 and forecast Indian rupee to weaken to 75 to a dollar by end of 2019. The rupee is currently hovering around 71 per dollar mark.

“Stepped-up public investment has helped to stem the downward trend in the investment/GDP ratio, boosted by infrastructure spending. There have also been measures to support rural demand,” it added.

It said the banking sector is still struggling with a high proportion of non-performing assets, while non-banking financial institutions (NBFIs) are facing tighter access to liquidity following the default of IL&FS, one of the 30 biggest NBFIs in India.

NFBIs have accounted for a large share of all lending in recent years and have expanded credit rapidly, it said.

“So far, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has dismissed calls by the government to provide emergency liquidity and to ease lending restrictions on the maximum volume of lending that state-run banks can provide to NBFIs,” Fitch added. Fitch said it expects inflation to edge up mildly in the coming months, on normalising food prices and higher import prices stemming from the depreciation of rupee.

“The widening of the current account deficit amidst tighter global financing conditions should put downward pressure on the currency, and we forecast the INR to weaken to 75 against the dollar by end-2019,” it said.

Fitch, however, retained its global GDP forecasts for 2018 and 2019 at 3.3 percent this year and 3.1 percent next year. It also retained China’s growth projections at 6.6 per cent in 2018 and 6.1 percent in 2019.

With regard to crude prices, Fitch expect oil prices to recover somewhat from current levels, with OPEC likely to agree to some production cuts at its early December meeting.

“Our 2018 annual average estimate has been raised slightly to USD 72.5 per barrel to reflect year-to-date out-turns but our 2019 assumption is unchanged at USD 65. In the medium term, we have become a little more confident in the ability of OPEC+ (including Opec and non-Opec oil majors) and to help stabilise prices,” Fitch said.

The 2020 oil price forecast has been revised upwards to USD 62.5 from USD 57.5 projected in September outlook of Fitch. The price of Indian basket of crude oil fell below USD 60 to a barrel by end November, from USD 85 to a barrel in early October.

National

Delhi government unearths Rs 262 crore cyber-tax fraud: Manish Sisodia

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arvind kejriwal

New Delhi | The Delhi government has unearthed a cyber-tax fraud totaling Rs 262 crore committed by over 8,700 traders who were found showing fraudulent tax deposits into 13 banks since 2013, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said Wednesday.

Sisodia, who also holds the finance portfolio, said that the Trade and Taxes Department has registered a complaint with the Delhi Police’s Economic Office Wing (EOW) for registration of FIRs into the matter.

“Delhi govt Tax authorities hv unearthed a big cyber-tax fraud. More than 8000 registered dealers have been found showing fraudulent tax deposits into 13 banks. The matter has been handed over to EOW, Delhi Police. AAP govt believes in zero tolerance to any corrupt practice (sic),” Sisodia tweeted.

Earlier in the day, the deputy chief minister said that during the scrutiny of suspected fraud transactions, it was noticed that such kind of fraud had been continuing since 2013 and it was going on until it was detected by the department.

“The government has detected cyber-tax fraud of Rs 262 crore. As per our initial investigation, around 8,700 traders were involved in the fraud. It is a very serious issue that should be investigated thoroughly by probe agencies,” he said.

Sisodia also said that the traders who were found involved in this fraud had tracked bank IDs and passwords, and also showed that they have deposited tax online, but in reality, they were not depositing tax.

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Supreme Court to hear Indigo Airlines challenging Meghalaya HC order to make Umroi airport operational

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Supreme Court

New Delhi | Indigo airlines on Wednesday moved the Supreme Court challenging the Meghalaya High Court direction to all commercial operators and the Ministry of Civil Aviation to urgently take a decision to start flights from Umroi airport, 30 km from capital Shillong.

The apex court was told that the high court on its own had last week taken up the matter and asked the Director General of Civil Aviation, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation and Airport Authority of India Chairman to hold a meeting within a week on the issue of making the airport operational.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Indigo Airlines, mentioned the petition before a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, which agreed to give it an urgent hearing on Thursday.

The bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, was told that the airport was not ready for landing of big aircraft and does not have fire-fighting facilities. “The operation can’t start,” Rohatgi submitted before the bench.

The high court on December 7 had directed that the exercise for taking decision to make operational the airport has to be completed within seven days and had posted the matter for further hearing on December 14.

Besides Indigo, other operators were also represented by their advocates before the high court. The brief hearing also witnessed lighter moments when the bench told Rohatgi that he will now be identified as as Indigo’s counsel. “You will have tremendous disadvantage,” the CJI said indicating there would be lot of requests to him.

When Rohatgi mentioned the matter, the CJI asked him “Who are you?”  He replied “I am Indigo.”

“We are always going to remember you are Indigo. You may have tremendous disadvantage since you are Indigo,” Justice Gogoi said evoking quick response from Rohtagi that “I will get it fixed if there are difficulties”.

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J&K Bank Under Siege

Ali Azar

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J&K Bank

At a time when the banking sector is heavily in focus for all the wrong reasons and a valiant effort is being made to cleanse it of all its wrong-doing over decades, every move is scrutinized with greater detail in a sector that is in the midst of a massive overhaul. The sector has seen it all – new regulations such as IBC, mergers, bailouts, scandals, scams, swindles; basically the whole lot, or so we thought. The latest to come our way from the stables of the beleaguered industry is a little known but hotly contested takeover by the government of Jammu and Kashmir Bank.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is special in so many ways – from it being granted autonomous status by virtue of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to being famous for its beautiful mountainous landscape and numerous shrines to being the only Indian state to have a Muslim majority, one thing is for certain; Jammu and Kashmir does it differently. Keeping in tune with this theme, the state’s premier institution and its only listed company; Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Bank is indeed an example of this uniqueness. J&K Bank, incorporated in 1938 is the only bank in the country to be majority owned and controlled by the state government instead of the central government. 59.3% of this bank by virtue of its shareholding belongs to the government of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in all public sector banks, it is the central government that holds a majority stake, as banking is a central subject. The Srinagar headquartered bank is classified as an “old private sector bank” even though the government owns a majority stake. The important implications of this structure is that financial control of J&K Bank lies within the authority of the state and the bank does not come under the auspices of the right to information act (RTI Act) and central vigilance commission (CVC), an apex body created to address governmental corruption.

On the fateful day of 22nd November 2018 the State Administrative Council (SAC) under the chairmanship of Governor Satya Pal Malik approved an eyebrow-raising decision when it announced that J&K Bank Ltd. would be made into a public sector undertaking thereby becoming accountable to the state legislature and being brought under the purview of RTI Act and CVC. The announcement drew a tremendous amount of flak and kicked up a political storm with all major political parties from the valley including former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), National Conference (NC) and Peoples Conference (PC) voicing their discontentment. Further, The Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA), a collection of trade unions in the valley has threatened a statewide agitation if the decision was not rolled back.

But what is the big deal in converting an organisation whose majority is already held by the government into a public sector unit and make them more accountable and transparent? If one ponders into the realm of the unsaid the answers are not very difficult to stumble upon. For a bank whose network comprises 924 computerised branches spread over 24 states across the country and controls over 60% loans and deposits in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the bank is a treasure trove for any political party that is given the keys to its financial machinery. Extending questionable loans and advances is well within the realm of any political party. The bank is also not a stranger to accusations of lack of transparency in its operations with the latest being a controversy triggered by an appointment of 582 candidates believed to be politically motivated. In the light of these facts and to ensure that the bank is being managed under the supervision of the centre, just as all other PSUs are, it can perhaps be concluded that Governor Satya Pal Malik’s intention to bring the bank within the centre’s control is bona fide. But in the corridors of Indian politics things are seldom what they are projected to be.

The circumstances under which this decision was made is also a matter of contention. After BJP broke its alliance with PDP in Kashmir and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti resigned, President Ram Nath Kovind imposed Governor’s rule in the state on June 20th 2018 for the eighth time in its history. Kashmir being Kashmir, the element of uniqueness is not far behind. In normal cases, in a situation where the state government collapses for lack of majority, President’s rule is imposed. In Kashmir, an additional layer is provided by virtue of its separate constitution. Therefore, Governor’s rule is imposed for a period of 6 months and only after this period of 6 months; the state is placed under President’s rule. It is within this 6 month window when the Governor, who is a BJP leader and is not answerable to the joint forces of the PDP and BJP, attempted to take control of the crown jewel of the state, J&K Bank. It is feared that once the bank becomes a PSU, there are concerns that it will be open to interference by centre on issues of recruitment, lending and loan settlement. Besides, the track records of PSU banks in the country is not desirable, with most of them being mismanaged and loss-making and are placed under various lending restrictions (PCA framework etc). Further, some were even of the opinion that the governor was beyond his authority in making such a decision, as usually, no major operational decision is taken under governor’s rule and the governor, in this case, was thought to be acting like the Chief Minister.

After prolonged protests from various quarters of the state including political parties, unions, separatist leaders, trade and industry bodies and employees, Governor Satya Pal Malik decided against this takeover and announced that “no changes are being made here or announced” and this decision would be kept on the back burner for now, to the relief of many concerned parties. Although for now this controversial decision was reversed, facts surrounding the incident still beget the question, what was the intention of this move and who would be the ultimate benefactor?

After prolonged protests from various quarters of the state including political parties, unions, separatist leaders, trade and industry bodies and employees, Governor Satya Pal Malik decided against this takeover and announced that “no changes are being made here or announced” and this decision would be kept on the back burner for now, to the relief of many concerned parties. Although for now this controversial decision was reversed, facts surrounding the incident still beget the question, what was the intention of this move and who would be the ultimate benefactor?

 

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