While acknowledging the fact that perform or perish is the message from the Indian electorates to the recently held Parliamentary elections, the new BJP-led NDA government at the Centre in its Budget proposals for the current fiscal, has attempted to roll out an ambitious infrastructure blueprint targeted to pull the economy out of its current recessionary slumber. While doing so, it not just practiced extreme fiscal prudence in fixing finances to build world class infrastructure, boosting manufacturing, pushing the pace of real estate and construction sectors but also extended tax and excise concessions to manufacturers, entrepreneurs, small and medium enterprises and working class, besides promising to build roofs on the heads of those belonging to the lowest strata of society. That apart, the increased pace of tax incentives for REITs and Infrastructure Investment Trusts will help attract long-term finance from foreign and domestic sources for real estate and big infrastructure projects. The support for the national highway program, tax incentives on home loans and development of smart cities, setting up 16 new port projects and simplification of investments, clarity on retrospective taxation and implementation of the Goods and Services Tax and Direct Taxes Code. All these initiatives are expected to have a multiplier impact on the pace of inclusive growth resulting in placing the country's economy back on the higher growth trajectory.
Stats and FacetsIn its Budget the government has earmarked a plan expenditure worth Rs.5,75,000 crore for the fiscal by effecting a hike of 20.9% for the current fiscal as compared to the actual estimate of the preceding financial year and 3.5 per cent more than in the interim Budget. The Budget numbers show the growth in capital Plan expenditure had been somewhat better than that for revenue expenditure. The Plan expenditure on capital account is estimated at Rs.11,497 crore, around 7.5 per cent more than the interim and revenue account has been pegged at Rs.4,53,503 crore, only 2.6 per cent more than the interim Budget. This is also tactical shift from the previous NDA government when capital Plan expenditure was largely used to create durable assets like roads and highways. Out of the total planned expenditure, the Gross Budgetary Support (GBS) has been pegged at Rs.2,36,592 crore - much lower than the total central assistance to state and Union Territory Plans, at Rs.3,38,408 crore. While the central assistance to state Plans was estimated at Rs.3,38,562 in the interim Budget, it has been scaled down to Rs.3,38,408 crore. The 12th Five-Year Plan had fixed a target of Rs.35,68,626 crore of Plan expenditure of which Rs.13,64,157 crore has been allocated in the first three years. This means the NDA government will have to allocate more than Rs.11,00,000 crore in the next two financial years to meet the target. The Gross Budgetary Support for the 12th Five-Year Plan was targeted at Rs.27,10,840 crore of which only Rs.8,97,824 crore has been allocated in the first three years of the Plan period. It has earmarked a sum of Rs.7,060 crore for developing 100 smart cities and set up a Rs.500-crore price stabilization fund to curb fluctuation in commodity prices and control food inflation besides setting aside Rs.5,000 crore to boost warehousing and improve the shelf-life of farm produce. To boost investment in these cities, the government has liberalized FDI and PPP norms. In its entirety, the PPP model will be put to use to upgrade infrastructure in about 500 urban areas across the country.
Roads & HighwaysIn view of the multiple pitfalls of the public-private partnership (PPP) model, the government in its budgetary proposals has allocated Rs.37,880 crore for road and highway sector to build 8,000 km of roads in the current fiscal during which most of the road projects will be awarded on the EPC model. In an attempt to place the PPP model back on the track, it has also announced a new entity, 3P India—with a corpus of Rs.500 crore to help resolve issues de-railing PPP projects, besides empowered banking sector to raise funds for investment in the core sector projects on better banking terms. Alongside it also allowed banks to issue long- term bonds without subjecting them to cash reserve and statutory liquidity ratios for financing infrastructure projects. “As a matter of fact, allowing infrastructure loans to be sanctioned on easier terms for longer periods exactly matching the life of the asset is a big positive as it will prevent undue stress on repayment of infrastructure loans and will also reduce user charges", Chairman, State Bank of India, Arundhati Bhattacharya, said, adding that while growth in loans to core sector would help bring down the ratio of bad loans, banks have been provided support to recover from their existing stock of bad loans with the creation of six new debt recovery tribunals. In totality, the Finance Minister has delivered a well-defined and prudent Budget with specific focus on infrastructure, manufacturing and rural schemes.
Real EstateThe new government at the Centre in its maiden budget has given special focus to the real estate and construction sector and has sanctioned a staggering sum worth Rs.12,000 crore to support low cost, rural and affordable housing for poor and also extended additional tax incentives on home loans. In totality, the real estate sector appears to be the key beneficiary of the budget as the government has initiated many key proposals boosting the prospects of property builders. The incentives included easier access to funds, which is the key bottleneck as developers have been burdened with huge debt and high interest rates at times when sales have slowed down. Firstly, introducing Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) should help attract new funding. Tax structure was a major hurdle in REIT structures and the proposal to allow pass-through status is positive. REITs will increase liquidity as developers and private equity funds can exit their commercial investments. The Finance Minister has attempted to channel funds into the infrastructure and realty sectors by easing the tax treatment of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and Infrastructure Investment Trusts (Invits).
As a matter of fact, real estate developers also stand to benefit as they can sell completed projects to REITs and deploy this money in new projects. Invits gives investors a similar opportunity in infrastructure projects. Industry estimate suggests funds worth Rs.63,000 crore can be raised by real estate companies by selling completed projects to REITs. Irrespective of scores of challenges, REITs and Invits are going to become a part of the investor portfolio and will considerably ease the liquidity constraints of the realty and infrastructure companies. Also, the liberalization of FDI norms in building new cities should bring in more funds. The limit is now extended to projects with a built-up area of 20,000 square meters (from 50,000 square metres) and capital of $5 million (from $10 million) respectively with a three-year post-completion lock-in period. The lower threshold limit, along with more favorable terms for low-cost housing will aid township developments. The main proposal that will boost home buyer enthusiasm is the increase in interest deduction limit on self- occupied homes from Rs.1.5 lakh to Rs.2 lakh.
Power Sector & Green EnergyConsidering that the power sector is the main growth driver of the economy, in the current budget, the government has focused on two key areas of power reforms including the revival of the distribution sector and clean-energy generation - inspired from the Gujarat model. The reforms also include tax breaks and duty benefits for fresh capacity addition. The FM announced the replication of Gujarat's Feeder Segregation Program, which divides rural transmission lines into two parts, through the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojna and allocated Rs.500 crore to the scheme. In addition, he also extended the ten-year tax holiday, under the Income Tax Act, for all power projects to be set up by March 2017. The incentive allows companies to claim deduction up to 100% on profits for 10 years. This means companies will pay only 18.5% minimum alternate tax (MAT) on recorded profits, instead of corporate tax, a 100% deduction would bring the tax to a level lower than MAT in almost all cases.
In regards to green energy generation, the FM sought to give a push to solar power setting aside Rs.500 crore for developing four ultra mega solar power projects in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Ladakh. Work on one such 4,000-megawatt project, near the Sambhar Salt Lake in Rajasthan, is on with an estimated investment of Rs.7,500 crore. In addition, he also allocated Rs.400 crore for installing 100,000 solar-power driven agricultural pumps. Apart from this, the Budget also provides for a green-energy-corridor project this year under which alternative transmission infrastructure for renewable energy will be set up at an estimated cost of Rs.43,000 crore. He also announced incentives to solar power equipment manufacturing with a concessional Basic Customs Duty (BCD) of five per cent and reduced the BCD on steel rings used in wind-energy generators from 10 to five per cent and raised the clean energy cess on coal from Rs.50 to Rs.100 per tonne. The proceeds are to be channelized to the National Clean Energy Fund, used for research. According to ratings agency ICRA, the rise in coal cess and a marginal increase in customs duty on steam coal (from nil to 2.5 per cent) would lead to a rise in the cost of power generation by 2.5 paise a unit, which pressure retail rates.
Metro & Rail SectorIn an attempt to make Railways the main growth engine of the economy, the rail minister has committed to generate funds through FDI and PPP routes for building the requisite infrastructure. The government has sanctioned immediate funding worth Rs.6,500 crore for the Dedicated Freight Corridor and also cleared initial funds worth Rs.100 crore for setting up Diamond Quadrilateral network for bullet trains connecting major metros. In fact, the FDI in the sector, except in rail operations, is also going to be the main focus of the new government. In a paradigm shift, the Railways is keen to push the PPP mode in 2014-15 and has targeted 20 power sector and port connectivity projects covering ports including Jaigarh, Dighi, Rewas, Hazira, Tuna, Dholera, and Astranga at an investment of Rs.4,000 crore. In this connection, it will interact with industry and take further steps to attract investment under PPP through build-operate-transfer and annuity routes; eight-10 capacity-augmentation projects on congested routes will be identified for the purpose. Private investment will also be encouraged to fuel the growth of a network of freight terminals and that the policy for private freight terminals was being restructured further. In order to decongest urban roads, the budget also made provisions for the introduction of new metro rail projects in cities housing a population of over 200 million and funds worth Rs.100cr have been sanctioned for the Lucknow and Ahmedabad metro projects. The new and innovative initiatives to boost metro and rail network across the country will not only address problems of urban transport but also provide large orders to equipment suppliers in the long run. The building of new and smart cities and in case they are able to attract finances, larger volumes of orders could start coming up in the near future.
Special Economic ZonesIn the budgetary proposals in regards to the Special Economic Zones (SEZ), the government has taken multiple initiatives to revive the interest of investors boosting the prospects of business in these tax-free enclaves. In the case of FTP proposals, which includes incentives and trade facilitating measures to boost exports, the commerce ministry had asked the finance ministry to do away with the Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) of 18.5% and Dividend Distribution Tax (DDT) of 15% imposed on SEZs as the Act also promises these units a five-year tax holiday on profits, while developers are promised a tax holiday for 10 consecutive years. In addition, the Commerce Ministry is also exploring if SEZ units can be given benefits under the Focus Product and Focus Market schemes available to units in rest of the country for exporting identified products and selling in specific markets. The FM has promised that effective steps would be initiated to make all the SEZ units operative by building better infrastructure. In this connection, the commerce ministry officials will hold talks with their counterparts in the finance ministry very shortly as investments into the zones have dried up since the taxes were introduced three years ago.
Port, Shipping & WaterwaysApart from sanctioning as many as 16 new port projects to be completed this year to improve port connectivity, in the current budget the government has also sanctioned funds worth Rs.11,635 crore for the development of Outer Harbour Project in Tuticorin for phase-I and this is in fact a welcome step since it can be an alternative to the Chennai port, which is currently saturated. In addition, the government has also announced several steps to promote coastal and inland water transport sector, which has the potential to emerge as one of the cheapest and most environment-friendly modes of transport. Development of inland waterways can improve vastly the capacity for the transportation of goods and so a project on the river Ganga called 'Jal Marg Vikas, National Waterways-I will be developed between Allahabad and Haldia to cover a distance of 1,620 km enabling commercial navigation of at least 1,500 tons vessels. Transportation via inland waterways, which is a cheaper mode of transportation, can in fact bring down cost of logistics to a great extent. To provide relief to the recession-hit shipping firms, the government exempted short-term shipping contracts (less than 30 days) from the purview of Service Tax and cut the tax incidence to coastal shipping. Customs duty on ships imported for breaking was lowered to 2.5 per cent from 5 per cent. If Indian lines are allowed to operate foreign flag vessels, their earnings will come directly to India as the vessels will be a part of Indian tonnage (though not eligible for coastal cargo) thereby helping domestic ship owners to raise funds on the offshore shores at comparatively lower rates.
Industrial CorridorsIn the budget proposals, the stress on the Visakhapatnam-Chennai industrial corridor project, which has the potential to fetch over Rs.1,00,000 crore investment has generated interest among investors and raised the hopes of the public in view of the fact that given the tax incentives more and more investment will flow into the remaining parts of Andhra Pradesh. The FM's specific commitment to the project has triggered hopes as this corridor, running through the seven coastal districts of AP — Visakhapatnam, East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Prakasam and Nellore — and culminating in Chennai, is expected to be of immense benefit to the State. Similarly, other industrial corridor — Chennai-Bangalore — will also cover Nellore and two Rayalaseema districts but its impact will be limited as Krishnapatnam in Nellore district will be developed as an industrial smart city as part of the Chennai-Bangalore corridor. That apart, several industrial clusters are likely to come up in those seven coastal districts of AP as part of the project. The Finance Minister specifically mentioned the development of Kakinada port and a hardware cluster in the region based on the port.
Cold Chain and Warehousing
In its unfailing quest to set up cold chain, create new warehousing facilities and increase the storing capacities of existing ones, the government has allocated a staggering sum worth Rs.5,000 crore and the move will inject a significant booster to the construction and infrastructure sector. As a matter of fact, creating warehousing capacities and concomitant supply chain infrastructure can be an effective weapon to combat food inflation. For, government estimates indicate that about Rs.50,000 crore is lost annually due to post-harvest losses due to inadequate storage and transportation facilities. Apart from this, good quality warehouses can improve the quality of agri products, besides check hoarding, both of which could be used to tame inflationary pressures.
According to experts in the field, the allocation together with the steps to allow Nabard to finance warehousing projects directly from last year itself instead of playing the role of a re-financer to banks, could spur fresh private investments in the sector.
ConclusionTargeting Plan expenditure on infrastructure development, particularly rural roads, national highways, infrastructure and railway network, is expected to revive the investment cycle at a faster pace. However, availability of long-term funds to the private sector still remained a major challenge. The initiatives like encouraging banks to extend long-term loans to infra projects with flexible structuring to absorb potential adverse contingencies and authorizing banks to generate long-term funds for infra lending with minimum regulatory preemption such as CRR, SLR and priority sector lending (PSL) will facilitate availability of long-term funds for infrastructure projects. Alongside, instruments such as Infrastructure Investment Trusts (INVITS) along with existing Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) will attract long-term finance from foreign and domestic sources including NRIs into the sector. But the valuation of real estate or infrastructure projects could prove a challenge, despite the regulator proposing value monitors to provide periodic reports. The risk will be even bigger in the case of investments in partially completed infrastructure projects that are vulnerable to regulatory risk and the government must address this concern on priority. Similarly, though supply of adequate coal to power plants has been assured but there is still a huge shortage of domestic coal for both steel and power sectors and the increase in Customs duty for coking coal from nil to 2.5% and for steam and bituminous coal from 2% to 2.5% requires to be reconsidered. Likewise, in view of the fact that the entire networks of smart cities are connected using a technology platform and controlled at an integrated centre and this may help in better urban planning and in the usage of available resources intelligently. But there are apprehensions in various quarters that these cities are likely to be ring-fenced through closed circuit cameras and lots of equipment in homes and offices will contain electronic chips to transmit information jeopardizing individuals' personal privacy. In this regard, every precaution should be taken to restore the privacy of the people.
Industry's reactions on Budget:Neel Ratan, Executive Director, Government and Public Sector, PwC India
With the urban migration trend, the only way for us to sustain as a society is to invest in new cities. These new cities need to focus on leveraging technology to improve service delivery, quality of life and at the same time optimize the usage of resources. Although actual creation of 100 new cities will require large financial outlays, however the current budget allocation is a step in the right direction.
Vipin Sondhi, MD & CEO, JCB India Ltd, India's largest Construction Equipment Manufacturer
In view of the fact that this government has been in office for less than 2 months, no big bang reforms were anticipated. The Union Government recognizing the need for revival of investment cycle had already extended the Excise Duty Cut on Capital Goods for another 6 months in June, 2014 itself. The budget's focus on infrastructure sector, encouraging banks to lend long-term funds to infra projects, extending the benefit of investment allowance to Small and Medium Enterprises and emphasis on manufacturing growth should help revive the capital goods sector. While PPP in relation to many new projects has been announced, however, a roadmap for execution of existing stalled projects could have helped turn things quickly.
Anshuman Magazine, Chairman and Managing Director of CBRE South Asia Pvt. Ltd.
The biggest announcement for the real estate sector was that SEBI was being directed to introduce REITs in India. We expect the entry of the much-awaited investment instrument to provide alternative funding channels to the realty sector. Going forward, it will also act as a key enabler for capital markets in the country and provide investors with exit options. I perceive this announcement as the single most consequential reform witnessed in the sector in recent times.
A.M.Muralidharan – President, Volvo Construction
Considering that we have a new government at the centre, expectations from the Union Budget 2014-15 were quite high specially with regards to segments like infrastructure but there were no major infrastructure policies including that of land acquisition announced in the Budget to kick start the process . However, the government's plan to allocate Rs.2,037cr to clean up Ganga; Rs.50,000 cr for urban infra projects and announcement of metro projects in cities with 20 lakh people is very encouraging for construction equipment manufacturers. Further, the government's plan to allocate Rs.14,389 cr for rural road development, Rs.8,000 cr for rural housing scheme and Rs.7,060 cr towards development of 100 smart cities is a boost to the infrastructure segment. It will also be allocating Rs.37,850 cr for road building plan via NHAI and will soon initiate work on selective highways along with corridors.
Pradeep Jain, Chairman – Parsvnath Developers
We hail the maiden budget speech by Hon Finance Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitly, this clearly suggests the development flank taken by the NDA govt. Real Estate sector for long time and was blatantly ignored with no significant proposals made to spur growth in this sector. For the first time after the slowdown the Union Budget 2014 gives a boost to the real estate sector. We thank Hon'ble Minister for paying attention through legislations like REIT, promoting affordable housing and allocating over $50,000 cr towards urban infrastructure.
Anand Sundaresan, Vice Chairman & Managing Director, SCHWING Stetter
Huge investment earmarked for the road sector, Port Connectivity, Smart City Development, North East Road Development Project and the 16 new ports and road and rail connectivity are some of the initiatives which will definitely create market for the construction equipment industry, which is something the industry has been eagerly waiting for quite some time. We only hope that these projects are implemented quickly so that the construction equipment industry will get benefits at the earliest.
V.G.Sakthi Kumar, Whole-time Director, SCHWING Stetter Sales & Services Private Limited
The First Budget of the new government looks very positive with many new road projects have been announced, which are to be executed by NHAI, Power (Conventional & Non-Conventional), Housing, Ports & Airports, Commitments for supplies to Thermal Plant and extension Tax Holiday to Power Companies will encourage more investments in this area. Allowing banks to decide on Long-term Financing in Infrastructure Projects is a welcome move which will benefit companies engaged in building infrastructure across sectors.
T.T. Ram Mohan, IIM, Ahmedabad
The budget has plenty of incentives and boosters for infrastructure: a tax holiday for power companies until 2017; waiver of statutory requirements of banks on long-term liabilities raised for infrastructure (in which the RBI has since included housing loans upto a certain limit); the creation infrastructure investment trusts whose interest income will not be subject to tax, etc. That apart, there are provisions for enhanced investment of government investment in infrastructure of nearly 25%. This is significant in percentage terms but in value terms, the level of government investment falls way short of requirements. In any case, government's role in infrastructure is pared back to around 15%, down from 25% a few years ago.
What the incentives in the budget miss is that the problem in infrastructure today is not the level of returns. The problem is uncertainty or risk because projects simply cannot get completed as planned. The Economic Survey mentions that there are over 100 projects with investment of Rs.1000 crore that have got delayed, with an average cost over-run of around 23%.
The reasons for these delays are well-known: lack of clearances of various kinds, absence of fuel linkages, inability to get additional finance to take care of overruns etc. Banks are not in a position to provide finance because of the high level of NPAs on existing exposures and also because their levels of capital are not high enough to create appetite for the risk that goes with infrastructure finance. Many infrastructure companies are neck deep in debt. They need their existing debt to be restructured and to bring in equity by monetising their assets. Neither of this can happen quickly. We need to sort out problems in existing projects. Until then, we cannot expect fresh investment to come.
The most basic problem, which remains unaddressed, is that the PPP model is broken. How do we rework contracts when, say, revenue projections do not come up to expectations and if government does not wish to rework contracts, how does it go in for fresh bidding?
The necessary institutions either do not exist or they are quite new and will take time in order to get their acts together. There is a more fundamental question that needs to be asked: in which developed countries or even developing countries (such as China or Malaysia) has the private sector been given the overwhelming role for driving infrastructure? Is it a realistic proposition at all? Will FDI enter in a big way without conditions that expose the government to serious criticism and even accusations of 'scams'?
Anil Chaudhry, Country President and Managing Director, Schneider Electric India
Smart Cities are at the heart of the Union Budget of the new government. The allocations and the measures announced now give shape to Mr. Narendra Modi's initial idea of 100 smart cities. The government has made an allocation of Rs.7060cr - an enabling factor that will boost the planning and development of the smart cities. And to complement it, the government has incisively identified 7 corridors. Overall, these are very promising preamble to the realization of the smart city concept. It now needs to be seen how the details are worked out by the government.
Tushar Mehendale, Managing Director, ElectroMech Material Handling Systems
The focus on setting up newer industrial clusters is a step in the right direction. The government has also promised to review all the retrospective tax imposition cases. This coupled with overall increase in investments in highways and tax holidays for power plants will definitely contribute in kick starting the capex cycle in various industries."