Intervention by Piyush Goyal on Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations during the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Geneva - Business Guardian
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Intervention by Piyush Goyal on Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations during the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Geneva

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Aim to link desi startups with US investors: Goyal

Following is the text of the Intervention made by Union Minister of Commerce & Industry, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution and Textiles, Shri Piyush Goyal on Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations during the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Geneva:

“India is a strong advocate of sustainability, and its glorious history speaks volumes of its traditions, customs and good practices in managing its natural resources. At the same time, I urge you to take cognizance of the fact that many nations from both hemispheres allowed their gigantic industrial fleets to exploit and plunder the ocean’s wealth over the past several decades, leading to highly unsustainable fishing. In contrast, India maintained fleets of modest size that largely fished in its Exclusive Economic Zone, operating with passive gear and leaving bare minimum footprints on the seascape.

Our subsidies are one of the lowest; we are a member only in one RFMO, and we are not a distant water-fishing nation. We don’t operate huge fishing fleets to exploit the resources indiscriminately like any other advanced fishing nation. I have before me a chart which shows the vastly differing subsidies given by different nations. India, for every fisher family that we have, gives barely $15 in a year to its fishermen families and there are countries here, which give as high as $42,000, $65,000 & $75,000 to 1 fishermen family. That is the extent of disparity that is sought to be institutionalized, through the current fisheries text.

India’s fisheries sector is traditional and small-scale in nature and we are essentially one of the disciplined nations in sustainably harnessing the fisheries resources.

Excellencies, Fish is an inseparable part of Indian mythology, religion and culture. India’s engagement in the sustainable harnessing of its fish & aquatic resources has always been exemplary. The traditional fishers’ life in India has been intertwined with the oceans and seas since times immemorial. Fish is the only source of their livelihood over generations; responsible and sustainable fishing is ingrained in the ethos of our fishers. Our traditional fishers toil under harsh and extreme conditions to bring the highly delicious and nutritious fish protein to our plates & to the plates of many other countries.

In spite of abject poverty and illiteracy, Indian Fishers practice voluntary restraint for 61 days in a year to allow Fish to grow and regenerate. They may go hungry but do not venture into the seas during these 61 days. In fact, as we speak today, there is no fishing happening in my country anywhere. On the West coast, where the Arabian sea is, and from where I come from, it is stopped from 1stJune to 31st July. In the Bay of Bengal, in the East, it is stopped from 15th April to 14th June to allow the fish to breed & regenerate. Our traditional fishers are mired in deep poverty and their only asset is a boat and net.

I strongly feel that this outcome of the exercise being carried out now, has not provided a level-playing field to the developing nations to address the aspirations of the traditional fishers and their livelihood. Several million fishers, nearly 9 million families in India depend on assistance and support from the Government, albeit very small which I just demonstrated, for their livelihood. Any decision not to provide space for small-scale and traditional fishers to expand their capabilities would only rip away their future opportunities.

It may not be out of place to say that several advanced fishing nations are indiscriminately exploiting the fisheries resources in others’ EEZ and the high seas by being members of multiple RFMOs. India has argued in the past that such nations shall own the responsibility for the damage they have caused to the global fisheries wealth and should bring them under a tougher discipline regime. Still, to our distress, the present text does not stop such over-exploitation; instead, it indiscreetly allows such practices indefinitely.

Incidentally, I see a lot of countries very concerned about their fishermen. But what are the number of fishermen? One may have 1,500 fishermen, another may have 11,000 fishermen, another has 23,000 fishermen, and yet another 12,000. The concern of the small number of fishermen prevails over the livelihood of 9 million fishermen in India. This is completely unacceptable! And that is the reason, India is opposed to the current text, also opposed to the way De minimis is sought to be institutionalized. I see in every which way, the Uruguay round assymetries and discrimination in agriculture being sought to be institutionalized in fishing today. And I would urge all the developing countries to beware of such efforts. To be cautious while we mortgage away our future and the future potential of our poor people to grow, to become more prosperous in the future and to get a chance, a better chance in life.

In fact, India has been able to sustain its fisheries wealth, providing livelihood to its millions and food and nutrition to its growing population, because we have kept sustainability at the core, yet given them an opportunity to fish in our economic zone (EEZ). It may not be out of place to state that the developing nations have been a mute witness to these unsustainable exploitation of fishery resources by industrial fishing fleets of the distant water fishing nations. As the FAO status of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 Report suggests, there are an estimated 67,800 fishing vessels of at least 24 meter length. It further reported that the proportion of these large vessels was highest in Oceania, Europe, and North America. A recent study, (Rousseau et al., 2019) found that the large fishing vessels, making up only 5% of the fleet constituted more than 33% of the total engine power.

A recent article research published in Science Advances on the Economics of fishing the high seas (Enric Sala et al 2018) alludes that high sea fishing at the current scale is enabled by large government subsidies, without which as much as 54% of the present high seas fishing would be unprofitable at current fishing rates. India would once again like to reiterate its position that advanced fishing nations own the responsibility of the damage caused to the global fisheries wealth especially in the high seas which are also the common heritage of the humankind.

In this context, we would like to emphasize that ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ and ‘polluter pays principle’ should be the bedrock of any agreement related to sustainability.

India would strongly urge that Distant Water Fishing Nations should be subject to a moratorium on giving any kind of subsidies for 25 years for fishing or fishing-related activities beyond their EEZ. It is essential, that they transfer these capacities to the Developing countries and LDCs to give them a chance to grow.

It would be a matter of great concern for India such Distant Water Fishing Nations are provided carve out under the shelter of conservation and management measures in the draft Ministerial Text on fisheries subsidies (article 5.1.1).

On the contrary, we see from the current text that the subsidies extended by the developing countries to their millions of small-scale and artisanal fishermen for meeting their genuine needs and enabling their access to fishing for livelihoods in their own EEZ is subjected to scrutiny with the onerous responsibility to demonstrate sustainability. We cannot not agree to such an imbalanced text.

Subsidies like income and livelihood support during the seasonal no fishing for regeneration of fish stock, and provision of social security nets to the socially disadvantaged fishing communities cannot contribute to overfishing. Such subsidies in fact contribute to the reduction of vulnerabilities of the poor fishing communities who work in extremely harsh environment.

We must also be mindful of the fact that the ecosystem attributes of tropical waters are different from the temperate waters and in tropical waters the regeneration of the fish stocks is much faster vis-à-vis the temperate waters and therefore the same yardstick cannot apply.

Similarly, a de-minimis on the global catch basis without reference to the fishing, the fishermen families involved, the size of the nation, the size of the population being supported is a completely arbitrary and unfair situation.

Whether point 7 or point 8, it does not take into account that an African country maybe supporting 220 million people population or possibly supporting a very large number of fishermen against another country which maybe supporting a 2 million – 3 million population and ten thousand fisherman, how can the de-minimis be the same for all sets of people.

We are also extremely concerned with the proposed prohibition limited to only specific fuel subsidies and leaving out the non-specific fuel subsidies. In the total fisheries subsidies, the share of fuel subsidies is estimated to be around 22 percent, which is mostly in the form of non-specific fuel subsidies. Through this agreement, we are trying to address the issue of sustainability. Leaving out disciplining non-specific fuel subsidies has no justification in the science of fisheries conservation. The Agreement would negate the objective of sustainability as envisaged under SDG 14.6 and our resolve to stop subsidies for IUU fishing.

The transition period of 25 years sought by India is not intended as a permanent carve-out, it is a must-have for us and for other similarly placed non-distant water fishing countries. We feel that without agreeing to the 25-year transition period, it will be impossible for us to finalize the negotiations, as policy space is essential for the long-term sustainable growth and prosperity of our low income fishermen.

The exemption from disciplines for the low income or resource-poor or livelihood fishing particularly again for those nations not involved in long distance fishing up to our EEZ i.e. 200 nautical miles, is highly essential to provide socio-economic security to these vulnerable communities. This will allow us to disperse the fishing operations of the low income, resource poor, small-scale and artisanal fishers deeper in the EEZ in order to reduce the fishing pressure in the nearer to coast regions. While urging for this exemption, it may not be out of place to state that Members have a sovereign right to explore, exploit and use the resources within their jurisdictional waters. We are also mindful of the responsibilities bestowed on us while exploiting the resources in our own sovereign waters.

We are strongly of the view that the outcome of this exercise should provide a level-playing field to the developing nations to ensure that their small-scale and artisanal fishing fleets are sustained, and the livelihoods of their resource-poor fisher people are not threatened, food security issues are adequately addressed, and there is policy space for all maritime zones including the high seas, which should be provided to meet the growth aspirations of the traditional fishermen communities. We would also like to emphasize on providing time and space to enhance the capacities of the developing nations in resource management, fleet optimization, wherever required and taking this onerous task of meeting the requirements of the final outcomes of the fisheries subsidies to the last mile. We have always played a very active role in this long and arduous journey, we are often told that this is some last minute thought we have brought out, I will strongly contest that we are on record since long on many of the issues that I have raised here today. I know I have been long but I thought it is necessary to open the eyes of this august assembly to the deep concerns of the low income countries and the developing world and the developed nations to the huge disparity sought to be foisted on us once again like it was done in Agriculture 35 years ago.

In conclusion, India would like to remind that the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2022 as the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture, let us all join hands to ensure that the outcomes of the fisheries subsidies negotiations provide the right support, balance, equity and thrust to the artisanal and small-scale fishers, who are also the backbone of global fisheries. By doing so, we would not only be honouring the decision of the UNGA but also paying a glorious tribute to the millions of fisher folk all over the world.”

Subsidies like income and livelihood support during the seasonal no fishing for regeneration of fish stock, and provision of social security nets to the socially disadvantaged fishing communities cannot contribute to overfishing. Such subsidies in fact contribute to the reduction of vulnerabilities of the poor fishing communities who work in extremely harsh environment.

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Policy&Politics

Govt extends date for submission of R&D proposals

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The Government has extended the deadline for submission of proposals related to R&D scheme under the National Green Hydrogen Mission. The R&D scheme seeks to make the production, storage, transportation and utilisation of green hydrogen more affordable. It also aims to improve the efficiency, safety and reliability of the relevant processes and technologies involved in the green hydrogen value chain. Subsequent to the issue of the guidelines, the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy issued a call for proposals on 16 March, 2024.

While the Call for Proposals is receiving encouraging response, some stakeholders have requested more time for submission of R&D proposals. In view of such requests and to allow sufficient time to the institutions for submitting good-quality proposals, the Ministry has extended the deadline for submission of proposals to 27th April, 2024.

The scheme also aims to foster partnerships among industry, academia and government in order to establish an innovation ecosystem for green hydrogen technologies. The scheme will also help the scaling up and commercialisation of green hydrogen technologies by providing the necessary policy and regulatory support.

The R&D scheme will be implemented with a total budgetary outlay of Rs 400 crore till the financial year 2025-26. The support under the R&D programme includes all components of the green hydrogen value chain, namely, production, storage, compression, transportation, and utilisation.

The R&D projects supported under the mission will be goal-oriented, time bound, and suitable to be scaled up. In addition to industrial and institutional research, innovative MSMEs and start-ups working on indigenous technology development will also be encouraged under the Scheme.

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Policy&Politics

India, Brazil, South Africa to press for labour & social issues, sustainability

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The Indian delegation also comprises Rupesh Kumar Thakur, Joint Secretary, and Rakesh Gaur, Deputy Director from the Ministry of Labour & Employment.

India, on Thursday, joined the G20’s two-day 2nd Employment Working Group (EWG) meeting under the Brazilian Presidency which is all set to address labour, employment and social issues for strong, sustainable, balanced and job-rich growth for all. India is co-chairing the 2nd EWG meeting, along with Brazil and South Africa, and is represented by Sumita Dawra, Secretary, Labour & Employment.

The Indian delegation also comprises Rupesh Kumar Thakur, Joint Secretary, and Rakesh Gaur, Deputy Director from the Ministry of Labour & Employment. India has pointed out that the priority areas of the 2nd EWG at Brasilia align with the priority areas and outcomes of previous G20 presidencies including Indian presidency, and commended the continuity in the multi-year agenda to create lasting positive change in the world of work. This not only sustains but also elevates the work initiated by the EWG during the Indian Presidency.

The focus areas for the 2nd EWG meeting are — creating quality employment and promoting decent labour, addressing a just transition amidst digital and energy transformations, leveraging technologies to enhance the quality of life for al and the emphasis on gender equity and promoting diversity in the world of employment for inclusivity, driving innovation and growth. On the first day of the meeting, deliberations were held on the over-arching theme of promotion of gender equality and promoting diversity in the workplace.

The Indian delegation emphasized the need for creating inclusive environments by ensuring equal representation and empowerment for all, irrespective of race, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic background. To increase female labour force participation, India has enacted occupational safety health and working conditions code, 2020 which entitles women to be employed in all establishments for all types of work with their consent at night time. This provision has already been implemented in underground mines.

In 2017, the Government amended the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, which increased the ‘maternity leave with pay protection’ from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for all women working in establishments employing 10 or more workers. This is expected to reduce the motherhood pay gap among the working mothers. To aid migrant workers, India’s innovative policy ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ allows migrants to access their entitled food grains from anywhere in the Public Distribution System network in the country.

A landmark step in fostering inclusion in the workforce is the e-Shram portal, launched to create a national database of unorganized workers, especially migrant and construction workers. This initiative, providing the e-Shram card, enables access to benefits under various social security schemes.

The portal allows an unorganized worker to register himself or herself on the portal on self-declaration basis, under 400 occupations in 30 broad occupation sectors. More than 290 million unorganized workers have been registered on this portal so far.

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Policy&Politics

India to spend USD 3.7 billion to fence Myanmar border

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India plans to spend nearly $3.7 billion to fence its 1,610-km (1,000-mile) porous border with Myanmar within about a decade, said a source with direct knowledge of the matter, to prevent smuggling and other illegal activities. New Delhi said earlier this year it would fence the border and end a decades-old visa-free movement policy with coup-hit Myanmar for border citizens for reasons of national security and to maintain the demographic structure of its northeastern region.

A government committee earlier this month approved the cost for the fencing, which needs to be approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, said the source who declined to be named as they were not authorised to talk to the media. The prime minister’s office and the ministries of home, finance, foreign affairs and information and broadcasting did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Myanmar has so far not commented on India’s fencing plans. Since a military coup in Myanmar in 2021, thousands of civilians and hundreds of troops have fled from there to Indian states where people on both sides share ethnic and familial ties. This has worried New Delhi because of risk of communal tensions spreading to India. Some members of the Indian government have also blamed the porous border for abetting the tense situation in the restive north-eastern Indian state of Manipur, abutting Myanmar.

For nearly a year, Manipur has been engulfed by a civil war-like situation between two ethnic groups, one of which shares lineage with Myanmar’s Chin tribe. The committee of senior Indian officials also agreed to build parallel roads along the fence and 1,700 km (1,050 miles) of feeder roads connecting military bases to the border, the source said.

The fence and the adjoining road will cost nearly 125 million rupees per km, more than double that of the 55 million per km cost for the border fence with Bangladesh built in 2020, the source said, because of the difficult hilly terrain and the use of technology to prevent intrusion and corrosion.

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Policy&Politics

ONLY 2-3% RECOVERED FROM $2-3 TN ANNUAL ILLEGAL TRADE THROUGH BANKING: INTERPOL

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However, Stock highlighted the enormity of the challenge, noting that between 40% and 70% of criminal profits are reinvested, perpetuating the cycle of illicit financial activity.

In a press briefing held on Wednesday, Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock unveiled alarming statistics regarding the extent of undetected money laundering and illegal trade transactions plaguing the global banking network. Stock revealed that over 96% of the money transacted through this network remains undetected, with only 2-3% of the estimated USD 2-3 trillion from illegal trade being tracked and returned to victims.

Interpol, working in conjunction with law enforcement agencies and private financial sectors across its 196 member countries, is committed to combating the rising tide of fraud perpetrated by illicit traders. These criminal activities encompass a wide spectrum, including drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms dealing, and the illicit movement of financial assets.

Stock emphasized the urgent need to establish mechanisms for monitoring transactions within the global banking network. Currently, efforts are underway to engage banking associations worldwide in setting up such a framework. However, Stock highlighted the enormity of the challenge, noting that between 40% and 70% of criminal profits are reinvested, perpetuating the cycle of illicit financial activity. The lack of real-time information sharing poses a significant obstacle to law enforcement agencies in their efforts to combat money laundering and illegal trade.

Stock underscored the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in exacerbating this problem, citing its use in voice cloning and other fraudulent activities. Criminal organizations are leveraging AI technologies to expand their operations and evade detection on a global scale. Stock emphasized the importance of enhanced cooperation between law enforcement agencies and private sector banking groups. Realtime information sharing is crucial in the fight against illegal wealth accumulation.

Drawing inspiration from initiatives such as the “Singapore Anti-Scam Centre,” Stock called for the adoption of similar models in other countries to strengthen the collective response to financial crimes. In conclusion, Stock’s revelations underscore the pressing need for concerted action to combat global financial crimes. Enhanced cooperation between public and private sectors, coupled with innovative strategies for monitoring and combating illicit transactions, is essential to safeguarding the integrity of the global financial system.

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Policy&Politics

FM defends Atal Pension Scheme, highlights guaranteed returns

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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman defended the Atal Pension Yojana (APY) against Congress criticism, asserting its design based on choice architecture and a guaranteed minimum 8% return. She emphasized the scheme’s opt-out feature, facilitating automatic premium continuation unless subscribers choose otherwise, promoting retirement savings. Sitharaman countered Congress allegations of coercion, stating the APY’s guaranteed returns irrespective of market conditions, supplemented by government subsidies.

Responding to Congress’s claim of scheme misuse, Sitharaman highlighted its intended beneficiaries – the lower-income groups. She criticized Congress for its alleged elitist mindset and emphasized the scheme’s success in targeting the needy. Sitharaman accused Congress of exploiting vote bank politics and coercive tactics, contrasting it with the APY’s transparent framework. The exchange underscores the political debate surrounding social welfare schemes, with the government defending its approach while opposition parties raise concerns about implementation and efficacy.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s robust defense of the Atal Pension Yojana (APY) against Congress criticism highlights the ongoing debate over social welfare schemes in India. Sitharaman’s assertion of the APY’s design principles, including its opt-out feature and guaranteed minimum return, underscores the government’s commitment to promoting retirement savings among lower-income groups. The Atal Pension Yojana, named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was launched in 2015 to provide pension benefits to workers in the unorganized sector. It aims to address the significant gap in pension coverage among India’s workforce, particularly those employed in informal and low-income sectors. The scheme offers subscribers fixed pension amounts ranging from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 5,000 per month, depending on their contribution and age at entry, after attaining the age of 60. Sitharaman’s response comes after Congress criticism alleging the APY’s inefficacy and coercive tactics in enrolment.

Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh described the scheme as poorly designed, citing instances of subscribers dropping out due to unauthorized account openings. However, Sitharaman refuted these claims, emphasizing the APY’s transparent and beneficiary-oriented approach. The finance minister’s defense focuses on three key aspects of the APY: Choice Architecture: Sitharaman highlights the opt-out feature of the APY, which automatically continues premium payments unless subscribers choose to discontinue.

This design element aims to encourage long-term participation and ensure consistent retirement savings among subscribers. By simplifying the decision-making process, the scheme seeks to overcome inertia and promote financial discipline among participants. Guaranteed Minimum Return: Sitharaman underscores the APY’s guarantee of a minimum 8% return, irrespective of prevailing interest rates. This assurance provides subscribers with confidence in the scheme’s financial viability and incentivizes long-term savings.

The government’s commitment to subsidizing any shortfall in actual returns further strengthens the attractiveness of the APY as a retirement planning tool. Targeting the Needy: Sitharaman defends the predominance of pension accounts in lower income slabs, arguing that it reflects the scheme’s successful targeting of its intended beneficiaries – the poor and lower-middle class. She criticizes Congress for its alleged elitist mindset and suggests that the party’s opposition to welfare schemes like the APY stems from a disconnect with the needs of marginalized communities. Sitharaman’s rebuttal also addresses broader political narratives surrounding social welfare policies in India.

She accuses Congress of exploiting vote bank politics and coercive tactics, contrasting it with the transparent and inclusive framework of the APY. The exchange underscores the ideological differences between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress, with each side advocating for their vision of social welfare and economic development. In addition to defending the APY, Sitharaman’s remarks shed light on the broader challenges and opportunities facing India’s pension sector.

Despite significant progress in expanding pension coverage through schemes like the APY, the country still grapples with issues such as financial literacy, informal employment, and pension portability. Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach involving government intervention, private sector participation, and civil society engagement.

As India strives to achieve its vision of inclusive and sustainable development, initiatives like the APY play a crucial role in promoting economic security and social equity. Sitharaman’s defense of the scheme underscores the government’s commitment to addressing the needs of vulnerable populations and ensuring their financial well-being in the long run.

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Economic

Regulatory steps will make financial sector strong, but raise cost of capital

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India’s financial system regulator, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), is demonstrating a serious commitment to improving governance and transparency at finance companies and banks, with the RBI’s recent measures aimed at curtailing lenders’ overexuberance, enhancing compliance culture and safeguarding customers.

While the global ratings firm has appreciated the RBI’s “diminishing tolerance for non-compliance, customer complaints, data privacy, governance, know-your-customer (KYC), and anti-money laundering issues”, it has cautioned that increased regulatory risk could impede growth and raise the cost of capital for financial institutions. “Governance and transparency are key weaknesses for the Indian financial sector and weigh on our analysis. The RBI’s new measures are creating a more robust and transparent financial system,” says S&P Global Credit Analyst, Geeta Chugh. “India’s regulator has underscored its commitment to strengthening the financial sector. The drawback will be higher capital costs for institutions,” Chugh cautions.

The RBI measures include restraining IIFL Finance and JM Financial Products from disbursing gold loan and loans against shares respectively and asking Paytm Payments Bank (PPBL) to stop onboarding of new customers. Earlier in December 2020, the RBI suspended HDFC Bank from sourcing new credit card customers after repeated technological outages. These actions are a departure from the historically nominal financial penalties imposed for breaches, S&P Global notes.

Besides, as the global agency points out, the RBI has decided to publicly disclose the key issues that lead to suspensions or other strict actions against concerned entities and become more vocal in calling out conduct that it deems detrimental to the interests of customers and investors. “We believe that increased transparency will create additional pressure on the entire financial sector to enhance compliance and governance practices,” adds Chugh. The global agency has also lauded the RBI’s recent actions demonstrating scant tolerance for any potential window-dressing of accounts.

These actions include the provisioning requirement on alternative investment funds that lend to the same borrower as the bank finance company. Amidst the possibility of some retail loans, such as personal loans, loans against property, and gold loans getting diverted to invest in stock markets and difficulty of ascertaining the end-use of money in these products, S&P Global underlines the faith of market participants that the RBI and market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, want to protect small investors by scrutinizing these activities more cautiously.

On the flip side, at a time of tight liquidity, the RBI’s new measures are likely to limit credit growth in fiscal 2025 (year ending March 2025). “We expect loan growth to decline to 14 per cent in fiscal 2025 from 16 per cent in fiscal 2024, reflecting the cumulative impact of all these actions,” says Chugh. The other side of the story is that stricter rules may disrupt affected entities and increase caution among fintechs and other regulated entities and the RBI’s decision to raise risk weights on unsecured personal loans and credit cards may constrain growth. Household debt to GDP in India (excluding agriculture and small and midsize enterprises) increased to an estimated 24 per cent in March 2024 from 19 per cent in March 2019. Growth in unsecured loans has also been excessive and now forms close to 10 per cent of total banking sector loans.

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