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RBI credit policy: Economists polled differ over rate cut, but see change in stance to neutral

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The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) may not tinker with the policy rate, but will change its stance to neutral. Economists and market experts whom Moneycontrol spoke to were divided on the rate cut but were confident of a change in stance by the banking regulator.

This is the first policy of RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das, who also heads the monetary policy committee.

The change in the stance from ‘calibrated tightening’ to ‘neutral’ is what is being keenly watched by the market. In its December policy, the MPC decided to keep the policy repo rate on hold at 6.5 percent and maintain its 'calibrated tightening' stance.

Shubhada Rao, Chief Economist at Yes Bank, said that while there could be a pause in this policy, the stance may be changed to neutral. However, she sees possibility of a rate cut sometime in 2019.

In its fifth bi-monthly monetary policy in December 2018, while the decision on keeping the policy rate unchanged was unanimous, Ravindra Dholakia voted to change his stance to neutral. The committee members maintained that the central bank’s focus remained focused on taming inflation, even if it came at the cost of higher rates.

A Kotak Economics Research Securities report expects the committee to change its stance to ‘neutral’ in February and 25 basis points repo rate cut in April and June given the benign inflation trajectory.

Deepak Jasani, Head-Retail Research, HDFC Securities, said RBI is likely to change its stance from calibrated tightening to neutral. However, he added that a rate cut at this stage may be a bit premature though there are reasons to back it.

Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation hit an 18-month low, rising 2.19 percent in December as compared with 2.3 percent in November due to cheaper fuel and food items, data released by the government showed. CPI, or retail inflation, is the main price gauge that RBI tracks.

At its last policy, the MPC expected retail inflation to moderate to 2.7-3.2 percent during October-March, before rising to 3.8-4.2 percent in April-September in 2019-20, with ‘risks tilted towards the upside’.

MPC had earlier said that the benign outlook for headline inflation is driven mainly by the unexpected softening of food inflation and collapse in oil prices in a relatively short period.

Consumer food price index had seen a de-growth to 2.51 percent in December from (-) 2.61 percent in November. Among food and beverages, prices of fruits, eggs, vegetables, pulses and sugar fell during December.

Niti Aayog open to have a role in allocating developmental funds to states: Rajiv Kumar

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The Niti Aayog is open to the idea of having a role in fund allocation to states for developmental expenditure and would discuss the matter with the 15th Finance Commission, the think tank's vice chairman Rajiv Kumar said on Monday.

Former chairman of the Finance Commission Vijay Kelkar recently suggested that the Aayog should be given financial powers to help address regional imbalances.

The Aayog, unlike its predecessor Planning Commission, does not have financial powers nor any say in preparing annual plans of the states. "I have always respected Dr Kelkar and his views comes from a very long experience, both as finance secretary as well as chairman of the Finance Commission.

"I having worked as the vice chairman of Niti Aayog for 16-17 months, what I do feel is that there needs to be some independent allocations for states to undertake their developmental expenditure," Kumar told PTI in an interview. He said that if the Aayog would be given some role in allocating development expenditure to states, then that would also "promote co-operative and competitive federalism".

"And I can also say to you that we are going to be discussing this with the 15th Finance Commission...," the Aayog vice chairman said. In a recent research paper, Kelkar suggested setting up of 'Niti Aayog 2.0' that would have financial powers as part of efforts to address regional imbalances.

Kelkar had also suggested that the vice-chairman of the new Aayog be made a permanent invitee of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA). Socialist-era Planning Commission was replaced by the Aayog on January 1, 2015. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the chairman of the Aayog.

While the Aayog is open to the idea having a role in resource allocation to states, Kumar made it clear that he was not seeking revival of the Planning Commission. "But certainly we don't want to return to old days of the Planning Commission and have a huge expansion in the number of centrally sponsored schemes etc...," he noted.

The Planning Commission used to play a key role in deciding the expenditure plans of central ministries as well as that of states. "I think the time has come to achieve a better balance between complete fiscal sovereignty and some allocation for targeted infrastructure in development-oriented expenditure across the states to ensure that there is a better convergence within the states.

"And all those states that are now today have weaker infrastructure (and need to) catch up with the more forward states," Kumar said. Echoing similar views, former Union minister and noted economist Yoginder K Alagh said that in 2014, he had called for the new body to have powers to allocate funds as per transparent rules.

"The government abolished the Planning Commission, started a large number of central schemes but resources (are allocated) by the finance or the ministry concerned. Some chief ministers' say this is arbitrary. Kelkar rightly wants a rule-based system,"Alagh told PTI.

About the interim Budget for 2019-20, Kumar said it has achieved a very good balance between providing a growth stimulus and maintaining the fiscal discipline. On former finance minister P Chidambaram's criticism that the Budget was an 'account for votes' and not a 'vote on account', Kumar said, "you cannot expect a non-election budget in an election year".

"... addressing some of the issues of some of the classes of the people is good political economy and only shows that the government is sensitive to the problems of the particular segments," Kumar said. Regarding the disinvestment target for 2019-20, he said the government when it comes back to the office would pursue the target much more efficiently.

"We will make sure that this Rs 90,000 crore disinvestment target will be achieved through some strategic disinvestment of loss-making PSUs.

The Interim Budget has set a target of Rs 90,000 crore to be mopped up from CPSE disinvestment in 2019-20 higher than Rs 80,000 crore in the current fiscal. Meanwhile, the Aayog vice chairman said there is now a need for re-establishing the quality of the India' statistical system.

The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation should not only come out as a collector of all data but also a quality regulator of all data, he opined. "What we have inherited is a relatively neglected statistical and data system in the country. I think, we now need to reverse that.

"And there was a time when the Department of Statistics was also a part of the Ministry of Planning, and I think that particular co-ordination is required," he said. The Department of Statistics has now rechristened as the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

Budget 2019: Govt to develop national portal for artificial intelligence, says FM Piyush Goyal

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Finance Minister Piyush Goyal on February 1 said that the government will soon develop a national portal for promoting the development of artificial intelligence, while delivery his budget speech.

"A national artificial intelligence portal will also be developed soon," he said.

With the aim to take the benefits of artificial intelligence and related future technologies to the people, a national programme on artificial intelligence has been envisaged by the government.

"This would be catalysed by the establishment of the National Centre on Artificial Intelligence as a hub along with Centres of Excellence. Nine priority areas have been identified," he said.

The announcement comes at a time when global giants such as Foxconn have expressed their plans to set up advanced industrial artificial intelligence research and development centres in the country.

Many educational institutions are also warming up to the concept of artificial intelligence.

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad for instance recently said it was starting a first full-fledged B.Tech (Bachelors of Technology) programme in artificial intelligence (AI) for the academic year 2019-20.

Fitch warns of fiscal slippage if govt goes for populist Interim Budget

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Ahead of BJP-led NDA government presenting the final budget of its tenure, Fitch Ratings on Thursday warned of a second consecutive year of fiscal slippage in the event of Finance Minister Piyush Goyal resorting to populist spending to win over lost vote base.

The interim budget to be presented on Friday could give some indication of the government's commitment to fiscal consolidation, which is one of the main sensitivities in the sovereign ratings, Fitch said.

"Pressure for new expenditure to attract votes, particularly among rural and small-business owner voters, has increased as polls have shown the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is becoming less assured of victory in the general elections.

"The BJP has reportedly lost votes in some recent state elections due to rural distress and public concerns over job creation. Targeted cash programmes appear the most likely form of support, as they would avoid downside risks of alternatives, such as the farm loan waivers that undermined the loan repayment culture in the past," it said.

Populist spending, it said, would aggravate fiscal pressures, which are already building due to revenue shortfalls.

"Higher pre-election spending could risk a second consecutive year of fiscal slippage relative to the government's targets and would further delay plans to reduce the high general government fiscal deficit and debt burden," it said.

Fitch said longer-term trends are more important to the sovereign rating profile.

"We believe the central government may still be able to meet its fiscal deficit target of 3.3 per cent of GDP for FY19, which would help support its fiscal credibility, although this may be achieved by deferring capital expenditure and postponing bill payments until after March," it said.

The final budget for the fiscal year ending in March 2020 (FY20) will be presented soon after the next government takes office following general elections, which are due by May 2019.

Revenue from the new GST is well below target, Fitch said citing it as an reason for revenue falling short of the target so far in the current fiscal year that ends on March 31, 2019.

"Officially, the government still aims to adhere to a debt ceiling of 60 per cent of GDP by March 2025, as adopted under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act. However, this would require significant and politically difficult fiscal consolidation. The newly elected government's final budget, likely to be presented around July, should provide more meaningful guidance on the medium-term fiscal outlook," it said.

Fitch's base-case scenario is that general government debt will remain close to 70 per cent of GDP in the next few years, and will constrain India's sovereign rating (BBB-/Stable).

Indian budgets normally offers guidance on plans for structural reforms and tax changes.

"The current government could choose in its interim budget to signal the reform direction it would adopt in a possible second term, but we believe it is more likely to include such plans in the final budget...," it said.

The government's reform efforts have led to a strong improvement in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business ranking in recent years, but FDI inflows have remained roughly stable as a percentage of GDP over the past five years, as there are lingering difficulties, such as in enforcing contracts and the functioning of the labour market.

Indian sovereign bond yield touch 7.6% ahead of interim budget: DBS

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The yields on India's benchmark sovereign bonds were hovering around 7.6 percent ahead of the country's interim budget, according to a report by Singapore banking group DBS.

The yields of the most traded 2028 INR sovereign bond were bid in the 7.5-7.6 percent range and are up around 18 basis points since late-2018.

"Yields of the new 10-year are supported above 7.3 percent, with last Friday's auction (for 5-year, 10-year) attracting interests by a large corporate which resulted in a short-squeeze amongst the other participants," according to DBS.

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of India's liquidity supportive stance also continues and the last tranche of open market operations (OMOs) for January is lined up for January 31.

In February, the RBI plans to buyback bonds worth Rs 375 billion, taking the FY19 haul to Rs 2.86 trillion.

The report further noted that the next event risk for the INR bond markets is the ensuing Interim budget for financial year 2019-20.

Coming ahead of the general elections in April-May 2019, the interim budget will express the intent of the government, it will outline expenditure and revenue projections for FY20, assuming the incumbent is voted back to power.

An overview of the past five years' achievements and blueprint for the upcoming year is also expected to be a part of the announcement, according to the DBS report.

"With the FY19 target of 3.3 percent of GDP likely to be met (any slippage to be limited to 3.5 percent), we expect the FY20 deficit target to be set higher at 3.2-3.3 percent vs recommended 3.1 percent," wrote DBS Group Research economist Radhika Rao and Strategist Duncan Tan.

Opposition political parties have meanwhile upped the ante, as the Congress party promised to provide a 'Minimum Income Guarantee' to the poor if voted to power, increasing pressure on the incumbent to address the ongoing farm distress.

"If fiscal deficit targets are along our expectations, bond markets are unlikely to witness big swings," wrote the duo.

Indian School of Business' 3 ingredients that put it on the global top 25 list

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Indian School of Business (ISB) is the only Indian institute to feature among the top 25 management institutes in the world as per the FT Global MBA Rankings 2019. Rajendra Srivastava, Dean of ISB talks about what makes the institute's expansion plans. Excerpts:

Q: You are the only Indian B-School to make it to the top 25 in the FT MBA rankings. What are the factors that contributed to this?

A: We've been working at it steadily. There are three major ingredients. The main ingredient is the quality of students. We only admit students with work experience. The average that they have is five years.

Also, when we admit students, we not only look at the test scores but the soft skills as well. Further, we look at emotional quotient, ability to communicate, team-building capability and intelligence quotient. Now, we are also looking at what I call the 'heart quotient'. This looks into whether they care about society and community.

The faculty is also very research focussed. We are looking to add 30 percent to our faculty strength and will have 70 resident faculty members. We get a lot of experienced visiting faculty and this brings a balance that comes from the global perspective of these faculty. Going forward, we are looking to hire faculty members from the East (Asia) as well.

Q: Has the thrust on corporate engagements also helped?

A: We have also focussed on engagement with the corporate community and government. The engagement with the corporate community is not only through recruiting but also through executive education. This is important not as a source of revenue but also helps in brand building.

Also, the corporate community has an opportunity to guide content development and research programmes in areas like infrastructure and healthcare.

Q: Is the institute also looking to develop more India-focussed case studies?

A: About two years ago, we were doing 25-30 case studies a year. We have now pushed it up to 70 a year and the goal is to reach 100 per annum. Out of these, about 85 percent are based in India and the rest are emerging markets focussed. What we have realised is that there is a need to have more India-focussed cases because that is what students are interested in.

Q: Government is working on a second list to give the Institute of Eminence tag. In the first, the tag was granted to a few educational institutes. What is your view on it?

A: We are still waiting to see what is going to happen with the Institutes of Eminence (IoE) list.

We were disappointed (of not being featured on the list) but we will continue on our path.

We will look into the course curriculum and try to bring in additional modules related to analytics, public policy and corporate governance. We had planned these anyway irrespective of whether we get the IoE or not.

Q: Are you in talks with All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to get an accreditation?

A: We have global accreditations including AACSB and EQUIS. In India, we are continuing to keep our dialogues open. We are well recognised globally as the leader in management education and hopefully, people at home will take notice too.

Q: After Mohali, is there a plan to open up campuses in other parts of the country?

A: In the future, our investment is going to be in soft assets like content development and digital infrastructure. We can have more telepresence. We are already delivering programmes in Gurgaon, Mumbai and Bengaluru for working professionals. But we will not buy real estate and will rent it wherever required.

Q: The ISB management programme is considered premium. Are additional scholarships on the anvil?

A: The fee structures of Indian Institute of Management are not that far behind than us. However, since the reputation of the school and the alumni are high, bank loans are easily available. For students, there are usually four or five banks queuing up to provide education loans.

Having said that there is an endeavour to tap the alumni network for this purpose. We are building up the endowment and the alumni are providing funds for the deserving students too.

BJP warms up to sulking allies in UP, might field candidates from rival parties: Report

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s Uttar Pradesh cadre has turned warmer towards its sulking allies in the state, including Apna Dal and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), after Priyanka's Gandhi's entry, The Economic Times has reported.

According to the report, the BJP top brass in the state is alarmed by the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance. With the Congress' decision to make Priyanka Gandhi its UP (East) in-charge, the BJP is likely to accommodate the demands of its smaller partners, sources told the newspaper.

Apna Dal, led by Union Minister Anupriya Patel, and SBSP has been reportedly 'unhappy' with its senior partner. Leaders from both parties have recently criticised the state as well as the central government on issues such as Ram Temple and reservation.

In a symbolic gesture, SBSP president Om Prakash Rajbhar and Patel had, in December, skipped a key rally in UP attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Patel had later also said the BJP should "respect" its allies and "learn from its mistakes".

According to the report, both Apna Dal and SBSP have sizable vote banks in eastern UP, where Priyanka is set to lead the Grand Old Party.

The report states that apart from warming up to existing allies, the BJP is also looking for newer allies in UP as well as states such as Tamil Nadu. Sources told the newspaper that BJP is in touch with Patel's mother Krishna and her sister Pallavi, who have floated a separate outfit after infighting within the Apna Dal had split the party.

According to the report, BJP might poach and field over three dozen leaders from rival parties during the upcoming polls. The saffron party is also trying to stitch a "rainbow alliance" across the country. The party, according to the report, is in touch with both factions of the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu, where it hopes to make inroads.

The BJP has also tried to placate the Shiv Sena by sanctioning a memorial worth Rs 100 crore for party supremo Bal Thackeray, who died in 2012.

India's exports up 32% to China, 12% to US during June-Nov 2018: FIEO

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The tariff war between the US and China is benefitting India as its exports to the neighbouring country have increased by about 32 percent to $8.46 billion during the June-November 2018 period, exporters body FIEO said on Thursday.

Exports to China had stood at $6.37 billion in June-November 2017.

In June and September 2018, the US announced high customs duties on several Chinese goods. In retaliation, China also raised levies on American goods.

Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) President Ganesh Kumar Gupta also said that during the period, India's exports to the US grew by 12 percent.

"Exports to China jumped from $6.37 billion in June-November 2017 to $8.46 billion in June-November 2018," Gupta said in a statement.

He said commodities that have exhibited high growth during the period to China include petroleum products, chemicals, cotton yarn, plastic raw material, and marine products.

"While tariff war is not good for the global trade, the same has come as an opportunity for other countries including India. Our exports to China in June-November 2018 went up by 32 percent and to US by 12 percent in the same period," Gupta said.

If the tariff escalation continues, India has to increase production capabilities to meet the growing demand in both the markets, he added.

Growth in exports to China is beneficial for India as it has huge trade deficit with the neighbouring country.

Trade deficit with China increased to $63.12 billion in 2017-18 from $51.11 billion in 2016-17.

India is taking several steps to promote shipments to China. Recently it has managed to export agricultural goods such as non-basmati rice to China.

Women, non-metros topping up on credit, says BankBazaar survey

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Non-metro cities have emerged as the bigger market for unsecured credit in terms of volume than the metros in 2018, according to BankBazaar Moneymood 2019 report.

The average personal loan ticket size in non-metros is Rs 2.80 lakh compared to Rs 2.55 lakh in metros. The unsecured credit portfolio includes personal loans and credit cards which are used more for consumption activities than secured loans. "Non-metros are as aspirational, if not more, compared to Indian metros, and they are comfortable taking a loan to fulfil these aspirations," BankBazaar noted.

The report, which focuses on emerging trends in the Indian personal finance sector, analysed the transactions of 169 million unique users who logged on to BankBazaar's website in 2018.

In terms of personal loan ticket size, Bengaluru topped the list with a loan size of Rs 47.23 lakh. The highest non-metro personal loan ticket size was from Vapi at Rs 25 lakh.

The change in trend is believed to be a result of the government's digital push, whereby more internet users are opting for online personal finance products.

"The government's strong push for rapid digitisation has ushered in a new wave of change in the buying behaviour of online personal finance products across metro and non-metro cities. We believe that more and more first-time internet users from non-metros will ride this digitisation wave and buy financial products online," Adhil Shetty, Co-founder & CEO, BankBazaar, said.

Women avail bigger home loans

Another trend highlighted in the report is that women are availing a larger home loan as compared to men. The average home loan ticket size for women is Rs 27.57 lakh compared to Rs 22.97 lakh for men.

Women are not far behind when it comes to having their own set of wheels either, with the highest car loan ticket size at Rs 12.93 lakh. Demand for credit cards was also quite high among women. The year gone by saw an 89 percent increase in fuel credit card applications from women.

Women also outperformed men in fulfilling their travelling aspirations, with a 73 percent rise in travel credit card applications as against 71.5 percent by men.

A higher credit demand among women is possibly due to ease of availing of loans quickly. As per the report, there is a 198 percent increase in paperless approvals of personal loans, 11 percent for credit cards and 38.3 percent rise in car loans.

Higher demand for lifestyle, travel and fuel credit cards

The demand for lifestyle credit cards has shown an upward trend, especially from those under 25 years. This is mostly due to attractive discounts and deals that have fuelled demand for cards from first-time and non-metro users, the report stated.

There has been a 64.5 percent year-on-year (YoY) increase in lifestyle credit card applications from non-metros and a 53.67 percent increase from users under the age of 25.

Demand for fuel credit cards also saw a massive spurt, with a 104 percent rise in applications from those under 25 years. A fuel card, or fleet card, is used as a payment card most commonly for petrol, diesel and CNG. Metros witnessed a 62 percent YoY increase in fuel credit card applications versus an 85 percent rise from non-metros, the report highlighted.

Even demand for travel credit cards saw a massive growth owing to the available benefits. Applications for a travel credit card rose 195 percent in the under 25-years bracket. Non-metros saw a whopping 309 percent rise in travel credit card applications compared to a 59 percent increase from metro cities.

Why farmers are opting out of crop insurance despite claim settlement

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Sumitosh Naskar is a farmer from West Bengal who has been making use of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) for the past two years. When he faced losses of Rs 200,000 during Kharif 2017, he was hoping the claim would be credited in a few weeks, but it took almost four months.

“I am happy that such a scheme exists but it is a reality that there are claim delays. As farmers when we enquire about the claims, there is a blame-game that continues between the government agencies and the insurers,” he said.

Naskar may not be among the farmers below the poverty line but he added that there have been several of his counterparts in the village whose sustenance is dependent on crops.


There are hundreds of farmers who have had similar experiences under PMFBY, which has completed three years. Delays in claim settlement in a few cases and requirement of Aadhaar for the joinees has led to a drop a 13.6 percent drop in the number of farmers insured under the scheme.

The scheme

Launched in 2016, PMFBY compensates farmers if any of the notified crops fail due to natural calamities, pests and diseases. The scheme seeks not just to insulate farmers from income shocks, but also encourage them to adopt modern agricultural practices.

Unlike previous schemes, PMFBY is open for both farmers who have taken loans (loanee) as well as those who have not (non-loanee). Naskar, from West Bengal, was a non-loanee.

The scheme covers food crops (cereals, millets and pulses), oilseeds as well as horticultural crops.

Farmers pay 2 percent of sum insured as the premium for Kharif crops while it is 1.5 percent of the sum insured for Rabi crops.

What are the challenges?

Aadhaar has been made mandatory for availing crop insurance from Kharif 2017 season onwards. Therefore, all banks have been asked to mandatorily obtain the Aadhaar number of farmers and the same applies for non-loanee farmers enrolled through banks/Insurance companies/insurance intermediaries.

This, said sources, has led to many farmers not being eligible for the scheme and therefore dropping out of the system.

“There should be a system to accept other proofs like the Kisan Credit Card or ration card for identity purposes under the programme,” said an insurance official specialising in agriculture schemes.

Secondly, there have been delays in the payments of claims. This has dissuaded farmers (non-loanee) from continuing with the scheme.

In an answer to a question posed in the Lok Sabha on claims delays under PMFBY, the agriculture ministry said admissible claims are generally paid by the insurance companies within two months of completion of crop cutting experiments/harvesting period.

This is, however, subject to availability of yield data and total state share of premium subsidy from concerned state government within time.

“Settlement of claims in some states get delayed due to reasons like a delayed transmission of yield data, late release of their share in premium subsidy by some states, yield-related disputes between insurance companies and states,” said the ministry.

They had also said non-receipt of account details of some farmers for transfer of claims and NEFT-related issues are also a factor. This scheme only allows electronic transfer of claims. No cash, cheque payments can be done.

The head of claims at a large private general insurance company added state governments often dispute the payment and delay releasing the subsidies.

“Delay in claims are unavoidable in certain cases because our payments are directly linked to when the government releases the payments,” he added.

Farmers, whose claims have either been delayed or denied, often develop a trust deficit and opt out of the programme. For instance, earlier damage due to wild animal attacks was not covered and claims related to that were rejected. This will now be covered under the new guidelines.

Way forward

The government has revised the operational guidelines of the scheme from the Rabi 2018-19 season onwards. This is aimed at ensuring better transparency, accountability and timely payment of claims to the farmers.

Under the new norms, state governments have to pay 12 percent interest rate for delay in the release of the state's share of subsidy beyond three months of prescribed cut-off date/submission of a request by the insurer. Also, there is a provision of 12 percent interest rate per annum to be paid by the insurance company to farmers for the delay in settlement claims beyond 10 days of the cut-off date.

However, the government has not yet clarified on the facilities for the farmers who are not enrolled under the Aadhaar scheme. Once other modes of identity are allowed under PMFBY, it is anticipated that more numbers will join.

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