Saturday, May 14, 2022

Consumer Grievance Redress in Indian Financial Markets

by Vimal Balasubramaniam, Renuka Sane and Srishti Sharma.

Consumer financial protection, the world over, has become a core function for regulators in financial markets. One aspect of consumer protection regulation is handling customer complaints. Analysing consumer complaints is important to not only evaluate the functioning of the consumer complaints mechanism, but also because it provides useful feedback for policy. All financial regulators in India mention consumer protection in their regulations, and have some mechanisms for consumer grievance redress and enforcement. However, systematic evidence on the grievances consumers face, and how the complaints mechanism responds to the complaints is missing. There is no work thus far that also maps actual incidence of grievances to those observed by the regulatory system --an important metric for policy and institutional design for grievance redress.

In a new working paper, Consumer Grievance Redress in Indian Financial Markets, we offer the first systematic evidence through a representative survey in the National Capital Region (NCR) region in India, on the extent of grievances in retail financial markets and how much the formal complaint mechanism actually misses. We also offer evidence on the type of grievances, and the reasons people don't complain. Our results suggest the following:

1. Official estimates of complaints under-report total grievances by 60-80 times. That is for every complaint on banking and payments that makes it to the regulatory system, there are 60 grievances that do not get reported. For every official complaint on insurance there are 88 complaints that do not get recorded.

2. Grievances in banking and payment mostly pertain to "transaction issues" such as delays in payments, and technology malfunction. Grievances in insurance, however, often pertain to "non transaction issues" such as mis-selling and fraud.

3. When presented with hypothetical scenarios most respondents say they would lodge a complaint. However, in reality, very few of them do. This suggests that there are a number of frictions in the process - ranging from limited information about the process, to limited faith that a resolution is even possible.

4. Those in vulnerable groups (with low education and low assets) are less likely to voice their complaints, and more likely to not have enough information about the redress procedure.

We hope these results provide inputs to the design of grievance redress mechanisms in financial markets in India. In order to sustain participation in, and enable the efficient use of financial markets by households, a two-fold approach is required. First, there is a need for generating meaningful data on consumer experiences with financial products, and grievance redress frameworks while they interact with retail financial products and sales practices. This will enable an understanding of how the current system works, and whether it can be scaled from a banked population of 300 million it currently serves to over a billion Indians it will be expected to serve. Second, there is a need for a contextualised learning of what the principles and design of a grievance redress system that needs to cater to more than a billion Indians ought to look like. Our research is a step in this direction.

Renuka Sane and Srishti Sharma are researchers at NIPFP. Vimal Balasubramaniam is a researcher at Queen Mary University, London.

Call for Papers: Field Workshop on Household Finance

25th June, 2022

XKDR FORUM and DVARA RESEARCH FOUNDATION invite submissions for a one day workshop which is being planned for June 25, 2022. The workshop will feature three research papers and one panel discussion. The workshop aims to cover presentations and discussions across the following set of research topics:

• Household portfolio choice
• Personal insolvency
• Financial inclusion
• Impact of payments and fintech
• Consumer protection in retail finance
• Regulation of retail financial markets

Preliminary versions of the paper may be considered provided that the research question is clearly outlined along with preliminary results.

Please send in your submissions before May 25, 2022. Selection decisions will be announced by June 6th, 2022. For further queries and submissions, write to outreach@xkdr.org

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Implications of free transmission of renewable energy

by Akshay Jaitly and Ajay Shah.

Inter-state electricity transmission

Transporting electricity across long distances requires investments in the transmission system where high voltages are used to minimise losses. An emphasis on renewable electricity generation requires significant new transmission capacity to transport electricity from the natural locations for generation (e.g. Himalayan hydel, or SPV in Rajasthan) to the centres of consumption in the peninsula. In an announcement in December 2021, 23 inter-state transmission system (ISTS) projects have been initiated by the government, at a cost of Rs.159 billion.

As with other elements of the electricity system, investments in transmission would ideally be done through the price system, where the price for transmission is discovered on a market. Once the price system is in motion, present or anticipated high prices would create incentives for investment in transmission. The structure of the Indian electricity market does not permit this: as this announcement of 23 projects shows, we effectively have a centrally planned system where officials control the resource allocation, and only bring in private firms as vendors playing a defined role in a centrally planned system. Transmission investments and prices are largely government controlled, and not discovered through the price system, which always involves misallocation of resources.

In the remainder of this article, we discuss the outlook on ISTS and its implications for renewable energy. To summarise ISTS, it is an electricity grid that runs across the entire country. It connects to end-points who are either generators or users. There is a process, and there are rules and capacity constraints, which determine whether a given person gets on to ISTS. Once a person is physically on ISTS, they are directly buying and selling from others on ISTS; these transactions are immune to the policies of the local discom. There is one constraint: the buyer and seller on ISTS cannot be within the same state.

Special prices for transmission of renewables

The CERC (Sharing of Inter-State Transmission Charges and Losses) Regulations, 2010 had some remarkable clauses: 7(u) and 7(v) established that for a period of three years, solar generation would be charged zero rates for transmission charges or losses. This suggested a world where a solar generator could sell to any buyer in India with no friction from transportation. These zero charges have been expanded and carried forward to cover all renewable energy commissioned till 30 June 2025. For renewable energy projects commissioned prior to 30 June 2025, for a period of 25 years, there will be no charge for transmission. For projects commissioned from 30 June 2025 onwards, the charges come back in gradually, to a level of 100% of the normal charge for projects commissioned after 1 July 2028. This creates a special deal for any renewables project that gets to the finish date by 30 June 2025.

Open access through discoms: In the present legal system, discoms are supposed to give out ‘open access’, where a buyer and seller of electricity are able to privately negotiate transactions, and have guaranteed access to the transportation services of the discom for the transport or electricity within or outside the state. In practice, this de jure situation does not map out into the de facto: many discoms refuse to provide or otherwise impede these services, as they would like to continue overcharging their best customers.

Open access through ISTS: Transmission across the state border through the ISTS seems to offer an increasingly viable way out of this barrier. It appears that when a renewables generator connected to the ISTS network sells to a third party outside the state who is also connected to the ISTS network through a PPA, neither of the two discoms can impede the transaction. This has been possible for a while, but the expansion of ISTS mentioned above will make such transactions more accessible to a wider range of sellers and buyers.

We could thus have generator $A$ in Dahanu (at the north end of Maharashtra) who is unable to sell to a buyer $B$ in Palghar (40 kilometres away), but she would be able to sell to a buyer $C$ who is across the state border in Vapi (at the south end of Gujarat, 70 kilometres away), assuming that connectivity to ISTS exists.

Implications

There are two kinds of ‘free’ in the title of this article. One refers to transportation of electricity without paying for it. Another refers to economic freedom: rational transactions under open access which are impeded and disincentivised within and across states (between a renewables generator and a buyer) and those using ISTS that are seemingly encouraged across the state border. What are the implications of these two kinds of free coming together?

There is no free lunch. When transportation is subsidised for renewables, someone has to pay for this. This can either be an explicit on-budget subsidy, or it can be a within-sector subsidy. In the Indian case, when government-owned transmission utilities undercharge transmission for renewables, this comes with higher prices for fossil fuel generators. Such tax-and-subsidy policies normally require sophisticated public finance analysis, which is not visible, thereby elevating the risk of unanticipated effects.

The ability of renewables generators to frictionlessly transport electricity across state borders is likely to significantly impact upon the distorted pricing being run by discoms. The paying customers (C&I) in any state have a strong incentive to cut the discom out of the transaction and directly buy from any generator. In addition, some C&I customers have ESG equity investors, and need to demonstrate they are using renewable energy. Both imperatives create incentives for C&I customers in each state to find a renewables generator somewhere in India (but not in their own state, where ISTS transactions are absent), and buy directly, thus avoiding the exaggerated prices charged by the discom and freeing themselves from their often unreliable service.

We will have situations where a Gujarat renewables generator will sell to a Maharashtra C&I customer, while at the same time a Maharashtra renewables generator will sell to a Gujarat C&I customer. At an engineering level, transmission between two states would only take place in one direction, and the two streams would get netted out. This would yield the efficient outcome where in each state, buyers and sellers achieve higher economic freedom, and are less controlled by the discom.

Zero or low pricing for transmission of renewables has been around for a while, but earlier there were capacity constraints in inter-state transmission which was holding back this process. The substantial expansion of the ISTS described above would help translate the threat of exit by an increasing number of C&I users into a reality. The rise of ESG investment is also relatively recent. We would hence hazard a guess that these transactions will become more important by 2023 and 2024.

In a recent paper, we argued that the Indian electricity sector in 2021 or 2022 is different from what was seen in the preceding 30 years. While electricity went along a muddled path of non-reform for decades, while private participation only came into the edges of a fundamentally centrally planned system, the stress on the incumbent system is mounting. We are coming to the point where the good old ways are untenable. Inexpensive ISTS, which enables C&I customers to buy cheap renewables from across the state border, adds to this scenario. Other recent developments are also pushing discom finances over the edge [example].

We expect that increased ISTS access will increase economic freedom, and help private investors think more in terms of market opportunities rather than regulatory constraints. But this present moment of the policy configuration will also not be seen as stable, for a 25-year horizon, by private investors. What the state giveth, it can equally take away. All in all, we expect that discom finances will weaken, the ROE in renewables will go up, but the impact upon investment will be somewhat muted owing to fears about the next string of policy actions.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Energy transition investment in India and in the world

by Akshay Jaitly and Ajay Shah.

At a time when the 20th century has returned, in terms of geopolitical conflicts, we should not take our eyes off the climate change problem. CO2 is a global pollutant, and it will be harder than ever to get the world economy to safety, so we will need to make more of an effort.

Measuring energy transition investment in 2021

BloombergNEF builds an important annual statistical picture in the Energy Transition Investment Trends' report. The 2022 report measures global investments into the carbon transition. They break this down into two groups: the direct energy transition investments, and the investments in R&D for improved technology.

The headline numbers for 2021 are that there was \$755 billion of energy transition investment and \$165 billion in technology development, adding up to \$920 billion. Under energy transition investment', the sub-components that are tracked by BloombergNEF are (a) Renewable energy; (b) Energy storage; (c) Electrified transport; (d) Electrified heat; (e) Nuclear; (f) Hydrogen; (g) CCS and (h) Sustainable materials. For the Indian economy, it is largely a story of learning, purchasing and implementing the technology developed elsewhere in the world. As an example, many people all over the world invested in, and took the steps on the journey to, cheap solar photovoltaics. We in India are the beneficiaries by being able to buy solar panels or the machines that make solar panels, without needing to invest risk capital in developing the technology. We also can do M&A, like Reliance Industries’ buyout of solar cell and panel manufacturer REC Solar Holdings for \$771 million in late 2021. Hence, for the remainder of this article we focus on the \$755 billion of energy transition investments (worldwide) in 2021. The big facts Of the \$755 billion, there are two large components -- \$366 billion into renewable energy and \$273 billion into electrified transport. But there are also many other things going on (energy storage, electrified heat, nuclear, hydrogen, CCS, sustainable materials), adding up to the remaining \$116 billion. Investment into the energy transition has grown well. A decade ago, this was at \$264 billion, thus giving an average compound growth of 11% per year in USD.

The report estimates that to get to net zero, these numbers need to triple to 2025 and then double to 2030. Overall, a six-fold rise is required from 2021 to 2030.

Energy transition investment in 2021 in China was at \$266 billion (out of the total of \$755 billion), and in India it was \$14 billion. The Chinese GDP is about five times larger than India, but their investment in the energy transition last year was 19 times larger than India's. If we apply the Indian share in world GDP of 3%, the value of Indian energy transition investments should be at \$23 billion. If we relate this to the Indian share in world CO2 emissions of 7%, this should be at \$53 billion. By these two normative yardsticks, then, energy transition investment in India needs to be 1.6 or 3.8 times bigger than it is. What impedes the energy transition in India? If we multiply the present value of \$14 billion a year by 6 x 1.6 or 6 x 3.8, we get to the estimated required investment in India for 2030 of \$134 billion or \$319 billion. Such values cannot be obtained from the fiscally stressed Indian exchequer. They can only be obtained from the private sector. But the private sector is still skeptical about energy investment in India (as is evidenced by the relatively low value of \$14 billion in 2021). The present policy frameworks for the sectors that receive energy transition investments have been in place for decades. Intensification of these frameworks, or better implementation of the present policy paradigm, is unlikely to shift the needle sufficiently. For instance, persisting along this path will mean that electricity in India will continue to be unreliable, expensive and carbon-intensive. When we look at the landscape of \$755 billion of investment in 2021, it is not, China apart, taking place in a world of central planning; it is in a world in which the government sets up the foundations through which the price system operates, and then the precise decisions about technology and business model are made locally by private persons. This is the key transformation that is required in India. The decision to put up a solar plant or build an electrolyser should be made by an individual looking at the prospective profit, not a government official who puts out a tender. The decision to put up a storage facility should be made by a private person who sees opportunities in a large gap between the highest price of the day and the lowest price of the day.

As we argue in a recent paper, the problems of the Indian climate transition are now beyond the calibrated control of officials. The government controlled system is experiencing substantial stress, owing to the contradictions inherent in it. A centrally planned system is ill equipped to think about technical and business model problems in each square kilometre of India. Government control will tend to push simplistic solutions that will drive up the cost imposed upon society for the energy transition.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

How competitive is bidding in infrastructure public procurement? A study of road and water projects in five Indian states

by Charmi Mehta and Diya Uday.

Introduction

Competition is central to the functioning of a market economy. Market power is a market failure, and governments around the world work hard to fight anti-competitive behaviour and market capture by firms. When competitive pressure is lacking, firms fail to achieve efficiency in production.

An efficient system for government procurement is one where the government obtains purchases for the lowest possible price. In the international literature, studies have shown the linkage between higher competition and lower procurement prices (Estache et al. 2008; Hanak and Muvchova 2015), greater efficiency (Adam et al. 2021) and a lower rate of corruption and kickbacks (Knack et al. 2017).

It is difficult to make normative claims about what is the adequate level of competition. Economists have emphasised contestability of a market as the underlying source of efficiency; simple proxies like concentration ratios do not correctly evoke the level of competition. Researchers in the field of competition levels in government contracting have used the number of bids received for a tender as an empirical measure.

There is some international evidence from developing countries about the desirable numbers of bidders in infrastructure public procurement. There are thumb rules, such as desiring eight-or-more bidders for a roads contract (Gupta 2002, Estache et al. 2008) or seven-or-more for water projects (Estache et al. 2008). These normative numerical values would of course, not readily carry forward across locales, but we use them cautiously in the present work.

In the field of government contracting in India, there is anecdotal evidence of anti-competitive behaviour in the market with reports of bid-rigging and collusion. In this article, we aim to step up from this to some statistical evidence. We ask: How much competition do we see in Indian infrastructure procurement? How does this vary across states and sub-sectors?

Methodology

We hand-construct a novel data-set with a sample of tenders from five states: Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. This choice of states was shaped by the levels of spending on infrastructure, geographical heterogeneity, and data availability. We extracted data from 1000 randomly sampled, awarded e-tenders published by state governments on the Central Public Procurement Portal (CPPP) in the water and roads sector for 2018 and 2019.

CPPP is a centralised repository of tender data at the union and state level. Procuring entities across union and state tiers are obliged to publish their tenders on the portal. We use data solely from this portal to ensure consistency in variables and recording. The data-set includes:

1. States in the sample: Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh
3. Years covered: 2018, 2019
4. Total sample size for each sector: 500 tenders
5. Key words used while searching through the CPPP to select tenders: "road", "water".

We extract the number of bids received for each tender in order to examine the level of competition.

In the research literature, it is argued that three factors shape competition in public procurement:

The value of the contract
Larger contract sizes require greater capital and expertise, which act as an entry barrier for small/mid-size players in the market (Estache et al. 2009; McEvoy 2020).
Structure of the tender
Bundled tenders, where multiple works of different types are bundled into a single tender document, restrict competition to only those firms that can undertake the varied components of bundled tender (Estache et al. 2009). Dividing contracts into smaller lots bolsters MSME participation and thus competition (Hoekman et al. 2022).
Time taken to award contracts
Lengthy award schedules require participating firms to lock-in capital and resources for the bid amidst the uncertainty of winning the bid; this adversely impacts private sector enthusiasm towards bidding (World Bank 2020).

We will examine the extent to which the number of bids per tender correlates with these features.

Results

Table 1 summarises the statistics on the number of bids received across the five sample states for the years 2018 and 2019.

Table 1: Number of bids received in the infrastructure sector

2018 2019

Min Max Median Average Min Max Median Average
Maharashtra 1 4 3 3.26 1 11 3 3.94
Uttar Pradesh 1 11 3 4 2 9 3 3
Tamil Nadu 1 3 2 2 1 3 2 2.08
Kerala 1 8 2 2.08 1 7 2 1.80
Odisha 1 27 5 7 1 55 6 9.96

In the Water sector

2018 2019

Min Max Median Average Min Max Median Average
Maharashtra 1 34 3 5.56 1 17 3 4.17
Uttar Pradesh 1 8 3 3.04 1 16 3 4.05
Tamil Nadu 1 4 2 1 1 12 3 2
Kerala 1 5 2 2.08 1 5 3 2.28
Odisha 1 52 2 2.45 1 27 3 4
Source: Authors' compilation and calculation from CPPP data

Q.1. How competitive is infrastructure procurement?

We find that, with the exception of the road sector in Odisha, the level of competition in terms of the average number of firms bidding for the projects is lower than the normative thumb-rules from the literature. This holds across all states, sectors and years. Further, two features about the lack of competition in this data-set merits discussion:

1. Tenders where bids satisfy the thumb-rules of the literature

We examine the fraction of tenders in our sample that satisfy these thumb rules, and count the tenders that got more than seven bids in the water sector and eight bids in the roads sector. Table 2 summarises these results. Here, we see that the roads sector fares worse than the water sector.

Table 2: Fraction of tenders that receive bids meeting normative thumb rules (share in per cent of tenders)

Roads 5 5 0 34 1
Water 14 7 1 8 0

2. Tenders that received only one bid and were awarded

We find several awarded tenders that attracted only single bids. This is true even in states with relatively higher levels of competition such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha. But there are more tenders with single bid awards in the states with the lowest levels of competition, namely, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. We find that single bid awards are more prevalent in the water sector.

Table 3: Fraction of awarded tenders that received only one bid (% of tenders in the sample)

Roads 6 2 4 6 40
Water 8 6 52 8 21

Q.2. How do the findings vary across states and sectors?

The results are fairly consistent results across sectors and years. For instance, three states -- Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Odisha -- have higher levels of competition across both sectors when compared to the other observed states. Kerala and Tamil Nadu have lower levels of competition across both years for both sectors.

Q.3. What features of tenders correlate with a low number of bids?

In the literature, there has been interest in three features that may shape the level of competition: the value of the contract, the structure of the tender and the time taken to award contracts. In our data-set, however, these three factors do not correlate with the number of bidders.

Discussion

This evidence suggests there is a low level of competition in public procurement, in two sectors and five states. There are some systematic patterns, where some states and sectors fare worse in getting competitive bidding than others.

Competitive conditions seem to be the feature of a given state. This suggests that there are some features in states like Kerala or Tamil Nadu, which are inhibiting competition, and can be addressed in a way that would impact on government purchases across sectors.

A large number of tenders with a single bid that get awarded are a curious phenomenon and merit further research. These tenders are awarded under the previous Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) guidelines, which require that state Public Works Departments (PWD) cancel tenders that receive single bids at the first instance. Single bids could be accepted only if the procuring entity received only one bid, even after re-tendering. However, the recent General Instructions on Procurement and Project Management, allows the acceptance of single bids under certain conditions. These include: (i) the procurement was satisfactorily advertised and sufficient time was given for bid submission; (ii) the qualification criteria was not unduly restrictive; and (iii) the price in the bid is reasonable in comparison to market values.

Further research is required in extending this kind of work to other sectors and locales, to assess the extent to which the lack of competition is a more general phenomenon in public procurement in India. The source of this lack of competition also merit exploration.

There are limitations in how state organisations do procurement (Mehta and Thomas 2021), including potential gaps in the capacity of implementing rules (Roy and Uday 2020), inefficiencies of processes and timelines (Roy and Sharma 2020), and delayed payment of invoices (Mannivanan and Zaveri 2021). Such problems could create an inhospitable environment for bidding firms, and deter many good firms from taking interest in state purchases. Well incentivised state actors should solve these problems. This raises questions about the feedback loops that impinge upon state actors.

References

Antonio Estache and Atsushi Iimi, (Un)bundling Infrastructure Procurement: Evidence from Water Supply and Sewage Projects, Policy Research Working Paper No. 4854, World Bank, March 2009.

Antonio Estache and Atsushi Iimi, Procurement Efficiency for Infrastructure Development and Financial Needs Reassessed, Policy Research Working Paper No. 4662, World Bank, March 2008.

Bernard Hoekman and Bedri Taş, Policy and SME participation in public procurement, Vox EU - CEPR, 23 March 2022.

Charmi Mehta and Susan Thomas, Lessons from the COVID-19 vaccine procurement of 2021, The LEAP Blog, 15 November 2021.

Emma McEvoy, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) Participation in Public Procurement, Maynooth University, 2020.

Isabelle Adam , Alfredo Hernandez Sanchez and Mihály Fazekas, Global Public Procurement Open Competition Index, Government Transparency Institute, Working Paper Series: GTI-WP/2021:02, April 2021.

Pavithra Mannivanan and Bhargavi Zaveri, How large is the payment delays problem in Indian public procurement?, The LEAP Blog, 22 March 2021.

P. Manoj, Govt lifts the ‘fear’ on accepting single bids during public procurement tenders, The Hindu, 2 November 2021.

Srabana Gupta, Competition and collusion in a government procurement auction market, Atlantic Economic Journal 30, 13–25, 2002.

Shubho Roy and Anjali Sharma, What ails public procurement: an analysis of tender modifications in the pre-award process, The LEAP Blog, 26 November 2020.

Shubho Roy and Diya Uday, Does India need a public procurement law?, The LEAP Blog, 19 August 2020.

Stephen Knack, Nataliya Biletska and Kanishka Kacker, Deterring Kickbacks and Encouraging Entry in Public Procurement Markets : Evidence from Firm Surveys in 88 Developing Countries, World Bank Working Paper, May 2017.

Tomáš Hanák and Petra Muchová, Impact of Competition on Prices in Public Sector Procurement, Procedia Computer Science, Volume 64, Pages 729-735, 2009.

World Bank, Contracting with the government, World Bank Doing Business, 2020

Charmi Mehta and Diya Uday are CMI-XKDR Forum researchers. The authors thank Shailesh Phatak, Susan Thomas and Ajay Shah for their valuable inputs on this work; and Abhinav M from the Indian Institute of Human Settlements for his valuable research support.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

How did courts respond to the pandemic lockdowns: evidence from the NCLT

by Pavithra Manivannan, Susan Thomas and Bhargavi Zaveri-Shah

Introduction

An important problem of the Indian state is the working of the judiciary, which is hampered by procedural frictions and delays. Several research papers measure the output of the judiciary in terms of number of cases disposed and the elapsed time from start to finish (DAKSH (2016), NALSAR (2016), Regy and Roy (2016), Datta et. al (2017), Tata Trust (2019), Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (2021)). While recognising that the end objective of a sound judiciary is to decide cases correctly, these practical measures of the output of the judiciary are interesting in capturing what the judicial performance is at any point in time, as well as how it changes from one point to the next.

An example of such an episode is the COVID-19 pandemic. This event disrupted all economic and social processes in India, including the working of courts. Service organisations all over the world responded by building an all-digital workflow. With digital adaptations, many service organisations have matched upon pre-pandemic levels of output and productivity. We analyse the quarterly results of listed non-finance services firms for 2019, 2020 and 2021, for the April-May-June quarter. The total net sales of the firms was Rs.2.87 trillion, Rs.2.2 trillion and Rs.3 trillion. These firms had output in 2021 that was similar to that seen in 2019.

In case of the judiciary, the response included selecting urgent matters for hearing, as well as adopting e-filing and virtual hearings as the norm. How did the judiciary in India fare during the lockdowns that were put in place during the peak of the pandemic, once in 2020 and another in 2021?

Sharma and Zaveri (2020) examined the response of the Indian judiciary during the pandemic. They introduced an important innovation in the literature on court performance, by constructing a data-set of outputs based on cause-lists of the NCLT. They used this data-set to examine the relative output of the NCLT during the first pandemic lockdown (25 March 2020 to 30 June 2020) to the output in the pre-lockdown period in 2020 (1 February 2020 to 24 March 2020).

In this study, we carry this research agenda forward. We argue that a useful quantitative measure of output is the number of cases scheduled per day and cases disposed per day. We use this to examine the extent to which the output of the NCLT changed during their repeated exposure to pandemic triggered lockdown conditions. We examine these for three comparable periods in 2019, 2020 and 2021. In this, we recognise that the NCLT added courtrooms during the pandemic period of 2020, which can influence the NCLT output. We also recognise that the NCLT scheduled hearings only for urgent matters, and that the complexity of the matters scheduled can impact the number of disposals. We introduce a classification scheme of complexity of cases, and examine the extent to which the number of cases disposed responds to metrics of case complexity.

Methodology

As with Sharma and Zaveri (2020), our data-set is constructed from the cause-lists of the NCLT. In this article, we measure the months of March, April and May for 2019, 2020 and 2021. We focus on the same three months in each year for two reasons: One, it controls for any variation that may arise due to seasonal factors, such as court vacations and festivals. Second, India saw the peak of the pandemic in these three months in both 2020 and 2021.

The daily cause-lists for each of these periods are available for 11 out of 15 benches of the NCLT. Our analysis is focused on those benches which consistently published cause-lists during each of these three periods. These were the benches of Cuttack, Jaipur, Kolkota, Mumbai and New Delhi (including the Principal bench). This data-set makes it possible to observe the number of cases scheduled on each day and the number of cases disposed. If the NCLT is viewed as a black box, its performance can be measured by the number of cases disposed. (As stated before, there is a quality dimension, which is not addressed in this quantitative research).

When the systems of the NCLT are augmented, whether by introducing additional courtrooms or technology and technology led processes, we expect a scaling up of the number of cases disposed per courtroom per day. In addition to the per day averages, we focus on hearings scheduled and disposals per courtroom per day to understand the extent to which this took place.

When the pandemic began and only urgent matters were scheduled, there could be a selection bias on the part of both plaintiffs and judges to emphasise important and urgent cases. This could generate an increase or decrease in the complexity of cases which, in turn, could impact the measured output of the court. In order to explore this problem, we construct a measure of complexity of cases. For this, we categorise each hearing under five heads: Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), Oppression and Mismanagement (O & M) under the Companies Act (CA), Schemes, Strike off Appeals and Miscellaneous. We classify IBC and O & M matters as Complex and all the others as Simple. This allows us to examine the extent to which the observed changes in output have been influenced by a change in complexity.

Results

Table 1: Average daily NCLT output

Period Hearings Disposals
Mar - May 2019 399 65
Mar - May 2020 149 30
Mar - May 2021 255 48

In 2019, NCLT scheduled 399 hearings per day and disposed 65 cases per day. Table 1 shows us that, in 2020, in the aftermath of the first extreme lockdown, the output of NCLT dropped both in terms of scheduled hearings (149) and disposed cases (30). It then partially increased in 2021 (255 hearings per day and 48 disposed cases per day). This demonstrates resilience in the NCLT capacity during the second wave, in 2021.

Some benches of the NCLT had a higher number of courtrooms in 2020 and 2021. For example, the number of courtrooms in New Delhi went from 4 in 2019 to 6 in 2020 and 2021. Similarly, in Mumbai, it increased from 3 in 2019 to 5 in 2020 and 2021. On the other hand, the courtrooms for the Kolkata, Cuttack and Jaipur benches remained constant during all three periods. Some of the increased outcomes in 2021 may be owed to the increased number of courtrooms.

In order to control for this feature, we focus on the average disposals per courtroom per day. Table 2 shows that there was a 66% decline from 2019 to 2020, and then a 50% rise in 2021. The final level – 3 disposals per courtroom per day – was half than seen before the pandemic, but better than during the first wave in 2020. This suggests that the addition of courtrooms alone did not significantly alter the output of the NCLT. Wide-scale adoption of technology such as video-conferencing facilities that enabled the NCLT to operate without exposing the members to the virus is likely to have contributed to these improvements in outcome.

Table 2: NCLT output, measured as the average per courtroom per day

Period Hearings Disposals
Mar - May 2019 36 6
Mar - May 2020 10 2
Mar - May 2021 17 3

NCLT hears matters of varying complexity. Time taken to dispose off a complex matter might be higher due to the procedures, technicalities and stages involved. The increased outcome in 2021 could have been achieved by NCLT by merely altering the scheduling proportion of complex v. simple cases. We examine whether such a selection bias contributed to higher disposals in 2021.

Table 3: The role of case complexity

Period Complex Complex Simple Simple

Hearings Disposal Hearings Disposal
Mar - May 2019 263 35 126 29
Mar - May 2020 102 13 44 16
Mar - May 2021 199 33 50 14

Table 3 shows that the proportion of complex vs. simple cases scheduled for a day, is greater in 2021 than in the pre-pandemic period 2019. In terms of disposal, in 2019, complex and simple cases disposed were of a similar order of magnitude (35 complex cases a day vs. 29 simple cases per day). In 2021, there is evidence of a greater proportion of complex cases being disposed off: 33 complex cases a day vs. 14 simple cases per day. This shift in the case load, in favour of more complex cases, would mean that the increased output of NCLT in 2021 is not out of scheduling larger fraction of simple cases. But this shift would ordinarily go with a reduction in output per courtroom per day, holding productivity constant.

Discussion

The working of the judiciary has deep ramifications on the working of the economy which depends upon timely and just decisions on disputes. While the ultimate objective is that cases should be decided correctly, there is an emerging literature which emphasises quantitative measures of the output of courts. This is an interesting and important line of questioning, even without bringing in the analysis of the quality of court judgements, because it helps to identify and understand the response of the court to disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The evidence here shows that NCLT was disposing 65 cases per day under pre-pandemic conditions. In the worst pandemic conditions in 2020, this output dropped to 30 cases disposed per day. Under similar conditions in 2021, output was higher at 48 cases disposed per day.

Did additional courtrooms that were added in 2020 help explain this rise? When output is measured per courtroom per day, there was a decline in 2020 to 2 cases per courtroom per day from a disposal of 6 cases per courtroom per day in 2019. The output went up to 3 cases disposed per courtroom per day in 2021. This is an improvement in the NCLT output, even if it is still at a level which is half of that seen under pre-pandemic conditions, and resulting productivity gain.

Was the output higher because the case mix emphasised more simple cases? This was not the case. On the contrary, there was a shift in favour of more complex cases. In our evidence, complex cases went up from 55% of disposals in 2019 to 70% in 2021. As these cases would be expected to require more time, this constitutes a partial explanation for the reduced output per courtroom seen in 2021 when compared with 2019.

A third factor is the technology and the digital processes adopted and refined by the NCLT after the strict lockdown imposed in 2020 was lifted. The evidence in our study shows that these new processes yielded the NCLT gains in 2021 when compared with 2020.

The Indian law fraternity is debating whether it would be beneficial to revert to physical functioning of courts as opposed to going further into the video environment (Press Trust of India, 2021). In our data, we see that, NCLT productivity was at 3 disposals per courtroom per day in pandemic environment of 2021, as compared with 6 disposals per courtroom per day in the pre-pandemic environment of 2019. These facts can help shape judgement about future possibilities.

References

Pratik Datta, Surya Prakash B. S. and Renuka Sane, Understanding judicial delay at the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal in India, NIPFP Working Paper No. 208, October 2017

NALSAR University of Law, A study of court management techniques for improving the efficiency of subordinate courts, Technical report 2016.

Prasanth V. Regy and Shubho Roy, Understanding judicial delays in debt tribunals, NIPFP Working Paper No. 195, April 2017.

Tata Trust 2019, India Justice Report: Ranking states on police, judiciary, prison and legal aid, Technical report 2019.

Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, The Delhi High Court Roster review: A step towards judicial performance evaluation, Technical report 2021.

Anjali Sharma and Bhargavi Zaveri (2020), Measuring court output in the pandemic: evidence from India’s largest commercial tribunal The LEAP blog, 11 September 2020.

Press Trust of India (2021), Continuance of courts virtually will be a problem’: SC on resuming physical hearing, Business Standard, 8 November 2021 at

Acknowledgements

Pavithra Manivannan is a Research Associate and Susan Thomas is a Senior Research Fellow, both at XKDR Forum in Mumbai. Bhargavi Zaveri-Shah is a doctoral candidate at the National University of Singapore. We thank Pramod Rao, M. S. Sahoo, Ajay Shah, Anjali Sharma and Diya Uday for comments and suggestions.

Monday, March 21, 2022

History of disinvestment in India

by Sudipto Banerjee, Renuka Sane, Srishti Sharma and Karthik Suresh.

Disinvestment of public sector enterprises has been an important part of Indian economic policy since the 1990s. Research in this field has been constrained by a lack of foundations of facts. There is limited information on policy positions, policy actions, as well controversies around policy actions. For example, Baijal (2008) provides a history of early disinvestment decisions in India; Banerjee Sane and Sharma (2020) provide information on the more recent methods adopted for disinvestment; Banerjee, Moharir and Sane (2020) document disinvestments undertaken to meet the minimum public shareholding rule in India.

In a new working paper, History of disinvestment in India: 1991-2020, we contribute to the literature by documenting the history of disinvestment of Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs) in India between March 1991 to December 2020. The paper is a collection of facts on:

1. The policy position of governments across the years
2. The policy processes adopted by governments on selection of enterprises for disinvestment
3. The difficulties encountered in various transactions on (i) methods of valuation, (ii) legal disputes challenging the transactions, (iii) adverse audit remarks of the CAG, and (iv) labour unrest.
4. Targets for disinvestment and amounts raised
5. The different methods of disinvestment, especially those used in recent years such as compulsory buybacks, Offer for sale through the stock exchange (OFS-SE), CPSE to CPSE sales, Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), and public offers.

We found it difficult to achieve this level of clarity on the facts, and hope that this helps many others approach the field with better foundations on facts.

References

Baijal, P. (2008), Disinvestment In India: I Lose and You Gain, Pearson; 1st edition.

Banerjee S., Moharir, S., and Sane R. (2020), The problem of minimum public shareholding in public sector enterprises , The Leap Blog, 18 November 2020.

Banerjee S., Sane R. and Sharma, S. (2020), The five paths of disinvestment in India , The Leap Blog, 7 July 2020.