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Monday, July 15, 2019

How land laws create dead capital: A case study of Maharashtra

by Diya Uday.

Land is an important form of capital. In India, for most households, it is the dominant element of the household portfolio. About eighty per cent of all household assets in India, are in the form of real estate (land, buildings and other constructions owned by households, for residential, commercial or vacation purposes) (Ramadorai Committee Report, 2017, pg. 12). In the CMIE 'Consumer Pyramids' household surveys, almost all households own some land or real estate.

As with other factors of production, an efficient economy requires full utilisation of the resources in the country, efficient mechanisms for discovering its price, and frictionless transactions. This is not taking place well in India. For example, unsecured debt still accounts for two-thirds of the total liabilities for the very poor and one-third of the rich in India (Ramadorai Committee Report, 2017, pg. 6). Similarly, despite landlessness in rural areas, only fourteen per cent of all households reported leasing-in land (NSSO Report, 2013, pg. 30). In many states such as Maharashtra, the proportion of households leasing-out land is well below ten per cent (NSSO Report, 2013, pg. 30).

In the study of land economics in India, a key question that has to be pursued is: Why, despite the seizable presence of land as an asset in household balance sheets, is there poor capitalisation of land in India? What obstructs harnessing the full productive capacity of land in India?

The idea of land as dead capital was made prominent by Hernando de Soto, who used the term to refer to something that could not be easily bought, sold or used for an investment. He showed that the poor possess far more capital than is evident, but institutional failures hinder utilisation of the land as wealth. For example, he found that in Egypt a person who wants to acquire and legally register a lot on either state-owned desert land or former agricultural land has to navigate a plethora of bureaucratic procedures, estimated to take anywhere between five to fourteen years. As a consequence, a large number of people chose to build dwellings illegally (de Soto 2000, pg. 20). This means that these properties cannot be used to access formal credit or be legally sold or rented.

There is a need for a comparable literature on India. How does the land market work? What are the impediments to translating land into value added? How can wealth in the form of land impact upon the life of the owner to a greater extent than is presently the case?

In this article, three questions are studied, treating Maharashtra as the environment under examination:

  1. Do regulations on land hinder the effective utilisation of land as an asset in India?
  2. What are the restrictions imposed?
  3. What are the less visible effects of these restrictions?

Three pathways to harnessing land wealth

The value of land is unlocked in three ways:

  1. A mortgage, whereby land is used as a security to access credit.
  2. A sale, where the owner of the land transfers it to a buyer.
  3. A license or lease on the land in exchange for regular payments.

There has been a considerable focus on mortgage transfers as a means of capitalising the value of land. Land titles and access to credit are now intricately connected in policy discourse on financial inclusion and access to finance. For example, the RBI has recognised the role of land titles in access to credit and consequently to financial inclusion (Mohanty Committee Report, 2015, pg. 26). Some court interventions too, have given creditor rights precedence over transfer restrictions on land.

The other two methods -- sale and lease -- have received less attention, but are no less important. The owner of an asset must be given the freedom to choose the method by which the asset is to be capitalised. Directing policy attention only towards land as a means of accessing credit, and ignoring reforms in sale and rental markets, reduces the choices available for a land owner.

A case study of land laws in Maharashtra

We now turn to identifying provisions of law that affect the transferability of land in Maharashtra.

Methodology. A list of laws was obtained from the website of the Bombay High Court. This list was examined to identify the laws that potentially affect transfers of both agricultural and non-agricultural land and real estate, by reading the names of the laws. The long titles of these short-listed laws were examined to assess the applicability of the law for this case study. This yielded the following list of laws that impact upon land transfers:

  1. Maharashtra Land Revenue Code, 1966
  2. Maharashtra Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act, 1948
  3. Maharashtra (Prevention of Fragmentation and Consolidation of Holdings) Act, 1947
  4. Maharashtra Stamp Act, 1958
  5. Registration Act, 1908
  6. Maharashtra Rent Control Act, 1999

The analysis of these laws yields the following results:

  • Restrictions on the transfer of agricultural land: There are two kinds of restrictions on the transfer of agricultural land. The first kind of restriction is that under the Maharashtra Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act, 1948, agricultural land can only be transferred to a resident agriculturist. An agriculturist is defined as a person who cultivates land personally. A non-agriculturist can only buy agricultural land after obtaining the permission of the Collector, unless the property is specifically allocated to residential, commercial or industrial uses or is to be used for a bona fide industrial purpose. In all other cases, the restrictions on transfers continue to exist. These restrictions apply to subsequent transfers as well. Similarly, mortgages to lenders other than co-operative societies, also require permission of the Collector. In each case, the Collector may grant permission subject to conditions.

    These restrictions induce three problems. First, they increase the cost of transacting on such land. Second, the law does not prescribe a time limit for granting such approvals. Neither are these permissions covered under the Maharashtra Right to Public Services Act, 2015. Without statutory timelines, the procedure for transfer could be time-consuming and tedious. Discretion in delay creates the possibility of corruption. Third, since these restrictions continue to apply even after the land the purchased, they also handicap future purchasers.

    A second class of restrictions kicks in after the sale is completed. Where the law has done away with the requirement for permission, the land must be put to the intended and permitted use within five years from the date of transfer. Failure to do so incurs a penalty of two per cent of the market value and even forfeiture. Further, when a purchaser of this land wants to sell it without utilising the land for a non-agricultural purpose, she can do so only with the permission of the Collector and after payment of a transfer fee of twenty five per cent of the market value of the property. If sold within ten years, these restrictions continue to apply to the transferee as well. There are further restrictions placed on certain classes of agricultural land, such as the payment of fifty per cent of the purchase price to the Collector. In case of a delay in the payment of price, this amount increases to seventy five per cent of the purchase price.

  • Restrictions on the transfer of tribal land: The Maharashtra Land Revenue Code, 1966, places three types of restrictions on the transfer of tribal land. First, for sale of tribal land to a non-tribal, the permission of the Collector with the previous approval of the State Government has to be obtained. Before the grant of this approval, the Collector has to first offer the land to tribal persons residing in the village of the transferor or within five kilometres of the land. In scheduled areas, the additional sanction of the Gram Sabha has to be taken, unless it is for a 'vital government project' such as for highways, canals, etc. In all cases, the Collector is permitted to grant approval for transfer, with conditions. These restrictions would apply upon a lender, who might repossess land, also.

    The second type of restriction relates to the mortgage of such land. In case the mortgage is below five years, the permission of the Collector has to be taken for transfer. In the event that the mortgage is above five years, the permission of the Collector with the previous approval of the State Government has to be obtained. In case of a mortgage to a non-tribal, the same procedure of offering it first to a tribal person within the village or within a five kilometre distance from the land is undertaken. Further, the law permits the Collector to restore possession of the land to the tribal person at the end of the mortgage period, regardless of any court order or law. This means that if a tribal person defaults on a loan where land is taken as collateral, at the end of the term of loan, regardless of a court order to the contrary, the land can be restored to the mortgagee at the discretion of the Collector. These restrictions hamper lending against such land. In a field study conducted across twenty villages in Maharashtra, respondents were unanimous in stating that if they defaulted on a loan for which land was collateral, nothing would happen and that when land is used as collateral it was rarely enforceable if there was a default (Narayanan et. al, 2019). Court rulings on this subject have been conflicting, sending mixed signals to lenders (Zaveri, 2017). Poor transferability also hampers the establishment of a credit history and thus access to credit.

    The third type of restriction relates to lease of such land. The provisions requiring permission of the Collector and State Government and the requirement of offering the land to a tribal person within the village or within a five kilometre distance from the land, also apply to lease transactions. These provisions make leasing of such land to anyone but tribals, a lengthy and expensive procedure. Where there are no takers from among the tribal community, the owner of such land is effectively left with one less tool for capitalising the value of her asset.

  • Restrictions on the transfer of notified fragments: A fragment of land is defined as a plot of land which measures less than the notified standard area. The Maharashtra (Prevention of Fragmentation and Consolidation of Holdings) Act, 1947 imposes two types of prohibitions and restrictions on such land. First, any land which is notified as a fragment, can only be sold to the owner of a contiguous parcel of land. In addition to limiting the owner's access to the land market, as in the case of tribal land, these sale restrictions also inhibit recoveries of lenders.

    Any land which is notified as a fragment can only be leased to the cultivator of a contiguous parcel of land. This provision is problematic in that it operates within an already restrictive lease market, where incentives to lease are few. Further in the event that the cultivator of a contagious parcel is not interested in leasing-in the land, the owner is either forced to cultivate the land herself or to let it lie fallow, effectively making it a dead asset.

The following laws do not place direct restrictions on sale, lease or mortgage transfers, but have provisions that affect these transactions (Category 2 provisions):

  • Rental market restrictions: There are two main laws that govern rental markets in Maharashtra, one for agricultural land and one for constructed property. While these laws, unlike those in some other states, do not prohibit leasing of land, they do impose other restrictions. First, the Maharashtra Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act, 1948, which applies to agricultural land, prescribes rent ceilings. The prescribed formula for determining the maximum amount of rent payable is that the rent must not exceed five times the assessment or twenty rupees per acre, whichever is lower. Similarly, the Maharashtra Rent Control Act, 1999 controls rents in specified properties by imposing a statutory maximum rent which is below the equilibrium rent (determined on the basis of the market value of the property). The law also limits the percentage of yearly escalation in rent chargeable to tenants.

    Rent ceilings reduce the rental revenues of owners. In addition to prescribing the value of the agreements, these laws also prescribe other terms such as the grounds of termination exhaustively. This means that the parties have little or no freedom to contract grounds of termination beyond those prescribed in the law. Further, the recovery of possession of the premises is a difficult process which will most likely require administrative or court intervention, which means additional costs to the owner. These features coupled with rent ceilings, leave no incentive to owners who wish to capitalise their asset by means of a lease. In fact, anecdotal data from land-owner farmers in Palghar and Mulshi Districts in Maharashtra suggests that the fear of non-recovery of leased out land is a key reason for not leasing out of land.

  • Registration of transfers and stamp duties: The Registration Act, 1908 requires certain deeds used to effect transactions in immovable property, to be registered with the office of the registrar or sub-registrar. A document has to be registered by payment of a registration fee. In Mumbai, this amount is thirty thousand rupees. The biggest problem with this system is that while registering this deed, the registrar is not under any obligation to confirm the veracity of the contents of the deed or the marketability of title. The registration of fraudulent documents of transfer thus is possible. For example, in a recent episode, an examination of property documents revealed forged signatures and non-existent parties to the transaction. This system therefore adds to the cost of the transaction, without any real benefit to the parties. A purchaser, borrower or lessee is incurring the cost of registration without actually having the assurance of marketability of the land or identity of the parties.

    Stamp duty is incurred before the registration. Like other taxes upon transactions, stamp duty is a `bad tax' in public finance parlance. The Maharashtra Stamp Act, 1958 imposes a stamp duty of five per cent on the market value of the property in a sale transaction. Recently, a surcharge was introduced which has further increased the applicable stamp duty.

  • Presumptive titles: The Maharashtra Land Revenue Code, 1966 requires the updation of land records each time a transfer takes place. For this, the transferee has to make an application for updation of the record. The concerned officer will invite objections. If there are no objections, the record is updated. If there are objections, the dispute will be adjudicated before updating the record. Despite this lengthy procedure, land records do not have any value in terms of proof of title. The Supreme Court recently reiterated that entries of transactions in revenue records, do not create title to land.

    Purchasers demand the issue of a certificate of marketability of title from the seller. This involves a process of legal due diligence or examination of title by legal experts. In most cases, the purchaser also conducts their own diligence in addition to demanding this certificate, adding further costs to the transaction.

  • Form of land records: There are two types of textual records in the state of Maharashtra: the 7/12 extract for agricultural/rural land, and the Property Rights Card in urban areas. A study on urban records in Mumbai reveals that the fields of information required to be recorded under the rules of Maharashtra Land Revenue Code, 1966, only serve the purpose of collection of revenue (Sheikh et. al., 2018). These records are therefore fiscal cadastres and information contained in these records is limited. Vital information such as easementary rights, restrictive covenants on the land, litigation and encumbrances are not recorded.

    Insufficient information in land records increases the cost to and risk borne by the buyer. In case of a mortgage, the cost of lending is also likely to increase as it will take into account these risks, making borrowing more expensive for land owners.

Thus, we have a depiction of how the landscape of laws in Maharashtra interferes with the translation of land into value added. There are three limitations of this work. First, the list of laws is not exhaustive. There are other laws, regulations, government orders, which affect the transferability of the property, which do not find mention in this case study. For example, there are a number of transfer restrictions in urban areas, such as restrictions on change of land use and development under the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act, 1966, the Development Control Regulations, the imposition of transfer fees payable by apartment owners to co-operative societies and transfer fees paid on Collector's land. Second, at present, there is no empirical evidence, that links these provisions to the impact on land economics. Third, this study is theoretical and does not analyse how these provisions will play out on-ground. Depending on the administrative processes, these provisions may have either a large or small impact in obstructing transactions.

Conclusion

The aim of this study was to examine the regulatory restrictions imposed on land transfers and their potential role in creating dead capital. This study documents two classes of restrictions: Category 1 provisions, which directly restrict transfers in the land market and Category 2 provisions, which affect the ease of doing transactions. Both these categories of provisions create a complex web of conditions for transfer, which may contribute to create dead capital in land markets, with varying effects. For example, a land owner may not be able to capitalise land by transfers on account of Category 1 provisions for two reasons. First she may be outright prohibited from undertaking a transaction, or second, the provision generates an unseen restriction of some kind, which operates to effectively disallow her from capitalising her asset. Category 2 provisions, again may affect the effective capitalisation of land by transfers in two ways. First, by creating disincentives to capitalisation in some manner; rent ceilings are a classic example of this. Second, these restrictions impose costs which reduce the benefits from capitalisation.

Furthermore, this study highlights the unseen consequences of economic policies and the regulations made to implement them. There is a need for policy makers to think about the secondary consequences of any regulation. Each instance listed above is a case of the proverbial coin with two sides, one of which has been overlooked. In the area of land markets in particular, it appears that policies have been unidirectional; predominantly discounting the impact of these policies on capitalisation of land. Recent amendments to the law too reflect this fallacy. For example, the 2016 amendment to the Maharashtra Land Revenue, 1966, introduced the requirement of additional permission Gram Sabha for transfers in scheduled areas. While the argument for this was that it would would lend more accountability to the transfer process, one must also recognise that this increases the complexity and cost of the transfer process which might reduce demand for such land, leading to a situation where even a willing owner, is left with no market for capitalisations.

The effects of these restrictions will be greater in states which have more restrictive regimes. In solving these problems, therefore, the first step is a comprehensive study, at the level of each state, which documents these restrictions. As an example, for Maharashtra, this would be a more complete version of this article. The impeding provisions must be categorised in the manner described by this case study. The reason for this is that different categories of restrictions will require different action points. The second step is to determine empirically if each category of these restrictions affect the capitalisation of land as an asset. Field studies are required which determine the on-ground effects of these provisions on aspects such as (i) the costs of lending, (ii) the cost to the owners of the land and (iii) the transaction frequency.

References

Narayanan et. al., 2019, Land as collateral in India, Sudha Narayanan and Judhajit Chakraborty, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, February 2019.

Sheikh et. al., 2018, Rethinking urban land records: A case study of Mumbai, Gausia Sheikh and Diya Uday, The Leap Blog, November 1, 2018.

Zaveri, 2017, Distortions in the Indian land collateral market, Bhargavi Zaveri, The Leap Blog, February 1, 2017.

Ramadorai Committee Report, 2017, Report of the Household Finance Committee, Reserve Bank of India, July 2017.

Mohanty Committee Report, 2015, Report of the Committee on Medium-term Path on Financial Inclusion, Reserve Bank of India, December 2015.

NSSO Report, 2013, Household Ownership and Operational Holdings in India, National Sample Survey Office, December-January 2013.

de Soto, 2000, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, Hernando de Soto, Basic Books, 2000.

 

Diya Uday is a researcher at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai and visiting faculty at the Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai. The author would like to thank the three anonymous referees for their comments and suggestions.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Announcements

R conference as part of IISA conference at IIT Bombay, 26 December 2019


We are pleased to announce the first ever R conference under the auspices of the main conference of the International Indian Statistical Association, to held on December 26, 2019 at IIT Mumbai.

Registration is now open and the registration fee is intentionally minimal for students and academics from India. We welcome submission of abstracts on R related topics. We plan to award 40 to 50 scholarships to deserving students and academics around India who are interested in R. While submission of an abstract is not a requirement for a scholarship award, it will, of course, improve the chances of being selected. The scholarship awards may cover the cost of lodging, board and travel.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Household debt over time

by Subhamoy Chakraborty and Renuka Sane.

In a previous article, Estimates of household debt in India, we presented some basic facts about household borrowings in the months of May - August 2018. We found that 46% of households in India had debt outstanding. There was a significant reliance on informal sources for the purpose of borrowing. Consumption expenditure was the most important purpose for which households borrowed followed by housing and business.

In this article, we use the same dataset, the Consumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS) to understand household borrowing across time. We present metrics on household indebtedness across 3 waves (January-April 2016, January-April 2017, January-April 2018). We have chosen the first wave of each year so that comparisons are made at the same point of time each year. We use household weights for each wave provided by CPHS to get population estimates for share of households having debt and the distribution of debt across different sources and purposes. CPHS does not provide information on the value of debt outstanding. Our analysis, therefore, is restricted to understanding the proportion of households borrowing from various sources for different purposes.

Overall level of Borrowing

Table 1 presents percentage of households having debt outstanding in Wave 1 in each of the three years. This has increased dramatically over the last three years. In January - April 2016, only 12% of the population had debt outstanding. This increased to 39% by January - April 2018. There has been an increase in household indebtedness in urban regions - by 2018, 40% of urban households had debt outstanding relative to 37% of rural households.

Table 1: Borrowing Share in Population
WAVE NATIONAL RURAL URBAN
Jan16 - Apr16 33 million
(11.6%)
21.0 million
(11.1%)
11.4 million
(12.6%)
Jan17 - Apr17 67 million
(23%)
45.3 million
(23.1%)
20.8 million
(22.4%)
Jan18 - Apr18 114 million
(38.8%)
79.8 million
(40.0%)
34.3 million
(36.5%)

Share of sources in the population

Figure 1 presents the percentage of households in the population who have borrowed from the different sources. This throws up several interesting facts. First, the share of households who have debt outstanding from a bank has been steadily rising, consistent with rise in personal loans from banking data. The same is true for debt from relatives and friends. Second, there has been a reversal of borrowing from money-lenders. In 2016, less than 3% of households claimed to have debt outstanding from money lenders. In 2017, this rose to a little over 7.5%, and since then has fallen to 4.5% in 2018. Third, there has been a dramatic increase in borrowing from shops. In 2016, less than 1% of households had debt outstanding from shops. In 2018, this number was about 11%.

Figure 1:Share of borrowing in the population

Figure 2 presents the percentage of households who have borrowed from shops in each income decile. Borrowing from shops increased remarkably in 2018 across all income deciles. The increase was highest for the lowest income decile from 2% in 2017 to 15.5% in 2018. The corresponding increase in highest income decile was from 3% to 7.5%.

Figure 2:Borrowing from Shops across Income

Reasons for borrowing

Figure 3 presents the percentage of households who have borrowed for various purposes. Consumption expenditure remains the single largest reason behind household borrowing. Although in 2016 borrowing for consumption and housing were at the same level, housing grew slowly compared to consumption. Borrowings for business and repaying outstanding debt saw a sudden jump in overall share in 2018.

Figure 3:Reasons for borrowing in the population

Figure 4 presents the the percentage of household who have borrowed for consumption across income deciles. In 2016 the share of borrowing for consumption was almost equal across income deciles, around 2-3 %. However, by 2018, there was a huge difference between the deciles. The share of borrowing in the lowest income decile increased from 2% in 2016 to 21% in 2018. The corresponding rise in the highest income decile was from 2.5% to 10%. In 2018 21% of households in the lowest decile had borrowed for consumption expenditure as compared to 10% in the highest income decile.

Figure 4:Borrowing for Consumption across Income

Conclusion

In this article we have presented some facts about the change in household borrowings in India between 2016 and 2018. These are:

  • The percentage of households who have debt outstanding has increased from 12% of the population in 2016 to 39% of the population in 2018. The increase has been slightly higher in urban India relative to rural India.
  • There has been an increase in borrowing from banks, relative and friends, and shops. In fact, shops have seen the largest increase as the source of borrowing.
  • The incidence of borrowing from shops has been higher for the lower income deciles.
  • The biggest jump in the reasons for borrowing has been on consumption expenditure.
  • Borrowing for consumption expenditure increased more for lower income deciles.

 

The authors are researchers with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.

Developing Public Policy Leaders for a better tomorrow

India has completed its phases of elections, with results on the horizon; policy discourses have been in focus during the entire election campaigning. In fact, if one looks at the incumbent Government's records, a number of policy frameworks have emerged: National Policy on Biofuels 2018, National Health Policy 2017, National Energy Policy 2017, National Steel Policy 2017, National Civil Aviation Policy 2016, National Offshore Wind Policy 2015, National Policy of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship 2015, National Agroforestry Policy 2014 are just some of the examples at the national level. States have their own policies, since many of the key areas are State subjects under the Constitution. As the Government moves from being a service provider to a service facilitator, one sees the importance of policies and regulatory bodies on the rise.

Further to the above, the Government has begun exhibiting interest in hiring people from outside the bureaucratic ranks, in many of their policy and development work, as consultants. NITI Aayog, the in-house government think tank, which replaced the Planning Commission, is staffed by young graduates, from top universities in the world, as policy consultants. The Prime Minister Fellowship Scheme is an initiative to attract young people in policymaking. A range of Government departments and ministries are housed by professionals, from various disciplines, engaged in research and advisory services. In fact, as a marked departure from tradition, the Indian government recently recruited 9 individuals working in the private sector at a joint secretary level (senior bureaucrats) as lateral hires.

Interestingly, however, despite the interest and willingness, there stands a lack of quality public policy professionals in the country. This is attributed to a deficiency of good Schools teaching public policy as a discipline. Of those that exist, almost all of them are embedded in a university set-up with regulations that make them less agile in adapting to the rapidly changing world of public policy. More importantly, they offer two-year degree programmes, since India does not recognize a one-year, post-graduate degree.

Signs of change are emerging however; these are being adapted to by educational institutions imparting training in the field of public policy - be it in the duration of the course, the curriculum design, and/or the faculty, which impart the same. Amongst the notable Public Policy Schools is the Indian School of Public Policy, launched in October, 2018 by N. K. Singh, Rajiv Mehrishi, Gurcharan Das and others, and driven by Parth Shah and Luis Miranda of the Centre for Civil Society. The School is an outcome of academics, policymakers and professionals conceptualizing together a world-class policy education institute in India, and offering a one-year postgraduate programme in Policy, Design & Management.

The School’s Academic Advisory Council includes Vijay Kelkar, Shekhar Shah, Jessica Seddon, Arvind Panagariya, Shamika Ravi, Ajay Shah and many others; it enjoys the guidance and support of patrons such as Nandan Nilekani, Vallabh Bhanshali and Jerry Rao. The faculty includes Shubhashis Gangopadhyay, Amitabh Mattoo, Dipankar Gupta, Sanjaya Baru, Pronab Sen, Sudipto Mundle, and other accomplished faculty members.

Industry partners like GMR, PwC, Deloitte, Uber, Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, EY, Manipal Education, APCO Worldwide, and many others (https://www.ispp.org.in/industry-partners/) have already come forward endorsing the programme.

The ISPP commences its first batch in August, 2019.

More details on: www.ispp.org.in

The EVM – VVPAT saga

by Abhay Bhatt and Rajeeva Karandikar.

There has been lot of grumbling in the Indian media about Electronic voting machines (EVM), esspecially over last 3 months, with opposition parties accusing the government of manipulating EVMs. This reached a crescendo recently when all the opposition parties joined hands and filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a directive to the Election Commission to cross verify the vote count reported by the EVM, with that of paper slips produced by the VVPAT (Voter verifiable paper audit trail), in 50% of the booths.

The Election Commission had consulted us about the sampling plan to be put in place to instill confidence about the sanctity of the election process. Here is our take on how to think about these questions.

The background


  1. EVMs were first used in the Paravur Assembly constituency in Ernakulam district in the 1982 Assembly poll in about 50 booths. The CPI candidate, Mr. Pillai, defeated the Congress candidate, Mr. Jose, by a thin margin of 123 votes. Mr. Jose went to the High Court with the contention that the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, did not empower the Election Commission to use EVMs. While the High Court dismissed the petition, subsequently the Supreme Court upheld the contention and ordered a repoll in these 50 booths. Mr. Jose won the election after this repoll.
  2. Subsequently, the Representation of the People Act was amended, and S.61A was inserted, in December 1988, empowering the use of EVMs.
  3. These EVMs were designed by public sector undertakings, BEL (a Defence Ministry PSU) and ECIL (an Atomic Energy Ministry PSU), who also manufacture the same. They are subjected to a thorough testing process.
  4. The design and production are overseen by a technical expert committee consisting of senior professors in electronics and computer science from leading Indian Institutions.
  5. The EVMs do not have any networking hardware. There is no ethernet port, no wifi or bluetooth capability, and thus it is not possible to alter or tamper the memory remotely.
  6. The names of candidates on the EVM appear in an order that is determined by the same convention that had been followed since the sixties for the order on the ballot paper. First, the candidates of the national parties appear, in an alphabetical order of their names, then candidates of state parties (again in an alphabetical order of their names) and lastly the rest, again in an alphabetical order of their names. Thus, the order gets determined only after the last date of withdrawal of nomination.
  7. The EVMs are distributed across the constituencies via randomisation. The EVMs used in India consist of two units: BU, the balloting unit and CU, the control unit. The BUs and CUs are distributed independently and on the day of polling, the two are connected. If one of them has been tampered or replaced, the handshake between the two units will fail and the pair will have to be replaced.
  8. After the voting, the machine is locked by the presiding officer and then the EVM are physically sealed using the same techniques that were used to seal the ballot boxes of old.
  9. In the parliamentary elections in 1999, EVMs were used in some constituencies and from 2004, all the elections to the parliament and to the state legislatures are conducted using the EVMs. It should be noted that in several instances, including in 2 out of three parliamentary elections – 2004, 2009 and 2014, the ruling party has lost the election.
  10. The fact that there was no way to do a recount, even if a court ordered the same, was a reason for the Supreme Court to ask the EC to find a way of generating a paper trail. The Election Commission appointed a committee of experts, who came up with a design of the VVPAT machine and the Supreme Court ordered that the same be introduced as soon as possible for all elections.
  11. The Supreme Court had not ordered the Election Commission to routinely carry out any cross verification of EVM and VVPAT count. The purpose of VVPAT was to have the possibility of a recount if a court so ordered, as a result of an election petition.
  12. Since so many doubts had been raised about EVMs, the Election Commission decided that in every assembly constituency, one booth will be picked at random by a draw of lots and for the chosen booth, the VVPAT slips will be counted and cross checked with the count on the EVM. This done in order to increase public confidence in elections.

Our analysis of the recent debate


Over the last year, demands started coming up for verification of much larger number of EVMs. Various petitions were filed. The election commission engaged the two of us along with Mr. Onkar Prasad Ghosh to advise on an appropriate sample size, so if that many EVMs are randomly chosen and the machine count is verified with the VVPAT count and if no mismatches are found, then we can be confident that defective EVMs, if any, are in insignificant proportion.

We felt that given that the EVM's are assigned randomly to constituencies and that the order of names on the EVMs is determined at a late stage, only after the last date of withdrawal, it is not possible to manipulate or tamper the EVMs centrally.

Given that there is no networking component in EVM, tampering is possible only by getting physical access. If someone can get physical access to an EVM and tamper with the EVM, then the VVPAT slips can also be tampered and so validating EVM count by VVPAT count does not give any guarantee that EVM has not been tampered with. For this we must rely on the elaborate process that the Election Commission has about sealing the EVM in a bag, closing the same and storing in such a way that tampering can be detected. This was also the case with the paper ballot and ballot box method of earlier years. We are no worse with EVMs as compared with the old ways, in this regard.

Also, if some smart mind does figure out a way of changing the memory of EVMs remotely, he/she will not stop with doing so in one or two booths. Certainly, the effort will be to tamper with a larger number of constituencies so as to make an impact on the national level.

That is the reason that we took our objective to be to conclude with high degree of confidence that defective EVMs, if any, are less than a certain percentage of all EVMs in use nationwide. In our report we had taken this as 2%, but it can be 1% or 0.5%.

It is true that our suggested method does not give a guarantee at constituency level. But in our view, such a guarantee is not needed. Our sampling scheme can guarantee that the national picture has not been distorted by tampering or by a manufacturing defect. To those who have been insisting upon constituency level guarantees, we would ask: Why stop at the constituency? Should not every voter be assured that his or her vote has been counted correctly? The only way to do so without compromising privacy is to use cryptography. This is the subject of present research, with Prof. Bimal Roy, former director of ISI involved with one such initiative along with a team in UK. But when such a solution would become available, it can and will be attacked as opaque!

The Election Commission, in its affidavit to the Supreme Court, stated that in the last 2 years, over 1500 EVM counts have been matched with VVPAT counts and in all cases the matching has been perfect. Statistically, this alone is sufficient to conclude that EVM-VVAPT in use currently along with all the safeguards and practices in place are good.

We believe there is a lot of misinformation in the media. Various cases of EVM malfunction are being reported in the media and social media. These relate to local body elections or even college student union elections etc., which are outside the purview of the Election Commission. Other reports of EVM malfunction on the day of election are mostly about EVMs which fail the test before voting starts and are replaced.

While our recommendation was to draw a random sample from the population of all the EVMs in use, the EC decided to continue with their policy (for operational simplicity) to draw one booth per assembly segment, which translates to verifying 4125 EVMs by cross checking VVPAT counts. Based on the data about the number of booths across 4125 assembly segments, we were able to assert that if no defective is found in these 4125 chosen booths, we can say with 99.99999% confidence confidence that the proportion defective is less than 1%. This bound is true irrespective of the configuration of the defective EVMs. For example, a group of miscreants could have tried to tamper with EVMs selectively across a few constituencies. However, as long as the number of defective EVMs is 1% or more, the sampling procedure will catch this with a high probability.

The Supreme Court has ordered or suggested that instead of 1 per segment, 5 EVMs per assembly segment be drawn and VVPAT count and EVM count be cross verified. Based on our calculations, we conclude that if there are no defectives found in the 20625 randomly chosen booths (5 per assembly segment), then with 99.99999% confidence, the proportion of defectives, if any, are less than 0.25%, irrespective of the configuration of the defectives.


The authors are Professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi and Director, Chennai Mathematical Institute, respectively.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Coincidences in investment newsletters, fund managers and bellwether constituences

by Ajay Shah.

Burton Malkiel's design of a newsletter scam


In his famous book, Burton Malkiel offers the following idea.

  1. Start 16 newsletters. In 8 of them, scream for a year that Nifty will go up, and in 8 of them, do the opposite.
  2. At the end of year 1, you have 8 successful newsletters. Close down the losers. Now repeat this, with 4 forecasting up and 4 forecasting down.
  3. At the end of year 2, you have 4 successful newsletters, shut down the others.
  4. At the end of year 3, you have 2 successful newsletters.
  5. At the end of year 4, you are solid gold: you are holding one newsletter which correctly timed the market for 4 years in a row. Now make a lot of money selling subscriptions to this newsletter.

While this is a neat design of a scam, the world is actually, inadvertently, running something like this. A large number of newsletters are born every year. Some of them are lucky, they forecast the market correctly, and they stay alive. The losers tend to shut down.

At every point in time, you see a pool of successful newsletters. This need not imply that they have forecasting capabilities. It could just be survivorship bias at work.

Fund management


This same idea would work in fund management. You could start 16 funds, and at the end of 4 years, you would be holding 1 fund with a remarkable track record. This is possible even if you have no ability to forecast asset prices at all.

Once again, the world is actually running such a system. A large number of money managers spring up all the time. When the bets don't work out, the organisation collapses. The survivors stay in the game.

The world is initiating much more than 16 funds. Thousands of fund managers take a stab at the trade. It is not surprising that at any point in time, we see five or ten of them with five or ten years of a successful track record. While some ability may exist in the world, there is certainly a simple process of survivorship bias going on, which generates a few fund managers with a good track record.

Bellwether constituencies


Suppose you have 500 constituencies, and suppose all election outcomes are roughly 50/50. That is, there are exactly two parties and they each win about half the seats. Suppose that in truth, the outcome of each constituency is completely random and it is just like tossing a coin.

At the end of one election, you have 250 constituencies where the winner of the overall election won.

At the end of two elections, you will have 125 constituencies which were with the winner for two elections in a row.

At the end of three elections, there will be 62. At the end of four elections there will be 31.

This tells us that if we see about 30 constituencies in India, where the winner in each of these constituencies was the ruling coalition that came out of the Lok Sabha elections for 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2014, this might just be simple randomness at work. There may be nothing special about these `bellwether constituencies'.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Announcements

Job Opening:

Manager, Centre for Development Economics, Delhi

Centre for Development Economics (CDE) is a research adjunct of the Delhi School of Economics (Department of Economics). It was established in 1992 with a grant from the Ministry of Finance, Government of India. CDE is a small non-profit organisation that supports research activities of the Department of Economics. This includes, inter alia, organising international and national seminars, workshops and lectures, managing research projects, hosting academic visitors, providing IT services to faculty and students and any other research support department faculty may require. The management of CDE is through a Council comprising faculty members.

As the administrative head the Manager has a leadership role and is responsible for managing all of the above activities. Inter alia, s/he (i) communicates with national and international funding agencies, (ii) handles logistics of prestigious international and national conferences and workshops, (iii) coordinates with CDE auditors to ensure accounts are maintained properly and with faculty members in maintaining project records. In these functions s/he is assisted by office staff that report to her/him and is guided and mentored by faculty.

Minimum Educational Qualifications:

Bachelor’s degree in any subject. Other things equal a higher degree would be an advantage.

Work experience:

At least 2-3 years in a similar role.

Other requirements:

  • Proven track record of strong written and oral communication skills including the ability to independently draft letters, memos and emails.
  • Demonstrable fluency in written and spoken English is essential.
  • High level of competence with commonly used software such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
  • Ability to manage research projects.
  • Ability to manage a team of 6-7 staff.

The ideal candidate will be a dynamic self-starting person with a willingness to learn. This position offers high visibility and scope for professional growth. An earlier occupant of this position has gone on to become Registrar at a top university.

Remuneration will be based on qualifications and experience. It includes medical insurance and leave benefits.

Please apply with a CV and names of three references to jobs@econdse.org

The position is available immediately.

Applications will be accepted till it is filled.

Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted and invited for a face to face interaction.