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Bill designates L-G as the authority who will have the final say on the postings and transfer of bureaucrats in the Delhi government

The Bill to replace the Delhi services Ordinance will be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act, 2023, seeks to designate the Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) as the authority with a final say on the postings and transfers of all bureaucrats serving under the Delhi government.

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The draft Bill, which mandates the creation of an authority for transfers and postings of senior officers in the Delhi government, has been circulated among MPs. The Bill deviates from the May 19 Ordinance on two aspects. First, it drops Section 3A that said, “Notwithstanding anything contained in any judgment, order or decree of any court, the Legislative Assembly shall have the power to make laws as per Article 239AA except with respect to any matter enumerated in Entry 41 of List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India or any matter connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

The second deviation is that it also empowers the L-G to appoint the heads of boards or commissions that are enacted by Delhi Legislative Assembly.

The Ordinance, promulgated on May 19 effectively negated the May 11 Supreme Court judgement that gave the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government the power to make laws and wield control over bureaucrats deputed to the Delhi government.

The objective of the Bill was “to give effect to the intent and purpose behind the provisions of Article 239AA of the Constitution, a permanent authority, headed by the Chief Minister of Delhi along with the Chief Secretary, and the Principal Secretary, Home, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi.”

The pitch to draw in semiconductor players must go beyond incentives

The government has made a fresh bid to attract major global chip manufacturers into the country. At the Semicon India summit last Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told prospective investors that the government had drawn on their suggestions after the first such conference last year, and taken pro-active decisions to address areas of concern. Apart from low corporate tax rates and sops for all new manufacturing projects, he said the incentives offered to tech firms to set up production facilities under India’s semiconductor programme have been scaled up to 50% financial assistance. So, essentially, the government would bear half of the typically large investment outlays that companies commit to undertake. Ahead of Mr. Modi’s U.S. State visit, the decks were cleared for a $2.75 billion assembly, testing, marking and packaging facility in Gujarat proposed by the U.S.-based Micron Technology. The deal, perhaps nudged by the two countries’ cooperation pact to build a semiconductors supply chain, has piqued investor interest and spurred Micron’s suppliers to explore the option of co-located facilities.

With several countries seeking to de-risk themselves from the dominance of China in the chips manufacturing supply-chain through collaborative or ‘friendshoring’ arrangements, the rationale for the enhanced pitch to investors is unquestionable. But the competition is already fierce. The $52 billion financing support announced by the U.S. for semiconductor makers in 2021 has drawn over $200 billion in commitments. Wooed by an array of subsidies, Intel alone has committed $80 billion in outlays across the European Union. In India, a $10 billion production-linked incentive scheme was unveiled for chip makers in late 2021. A $20 billion venture announced by Vedanta and Foxconn last year has, however, come undone. It is critical that the Micron investment is hand-held till fruition to create an effective exemplar effect. Apart from incentives, investors also need to see evidence of a stable operating environment with a predictable policy framework that is not amenable to knee-jerk deviations such as export curbs to cope with shortages. They would also compare India’s trade linkages with world markets through bilateral or multilateral compacts and its approach to tariffs on myriad components that may need to be shipped in. The Prime Minister’s assurance of understanding the needs of the global chip supply chain needs to be matched by actions to assuage such concerns. There could still be many a slip between the lip and the chip.

Over the last 15 years, the Government of India has attempted to replicate the success that liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) adoption has seen in urban households, in poorer and rural households. The Grameen Vitrak Yojana, launched in 2009, has helped grow the rural distributor base from 18% to 60% of the total LPG distributor base today. The ambitious Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) has provided more than 9.5 crore new households with LPG connections since 2016. With near-universal coverage of LPG, this is nothing short of an administrative and operational miracle. However, for the first time, LPG consumption in Indian households saw an absolute reduction in FY23 (minus 0.5% versus FY22) after years of steady growth. The questions are: how long must India consider just subsidising LPG to improve adoption? And what are the other options that it can explore?

The LPG story

In the recent past, the share of Indian households using LPG as the primary cooking fuel had risen to 71% in 2020 from 33% in 2011, according to the India Residential Energy Consumption Survey (IRES) conducted by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). It was a clear indication that Indian households wanted to adopt clean cooking solutions, and policy could overcome ‘preferences’ and financial barriers. However, global events that unfolded since the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing loss of livelihoods and income on the one hand and the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting surge and volatility in crude and product prices on the other, have dented even a near-term prospect of universal use of LPG in Indian households.

In 2020, with the onset of COVID-19, subsidy for LPG consumption was withdrawn for all consumers.

Then, in FY21, three free cylinders were provided to all PMUY consumers as part of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana. This drove the annual refill rates for LPG among PMUY consumers to their highest levels of 4.55 cylinders per active connection (from three to four cylinders in other years). However, of the possible 24 crore free cylinders available for the taking, only 14.1 crore were actually consumed.

Further, a nominal subsidy of ₹200 per cylinder was reinstated for PMUY consumers in September 2022, and it helped improve refill rates in FY23 (4.09) versus FY22 (3.68). Average refill rates for active non-PMUY consumers are in slow decline — 40% of PMUY consumers choose to get two or less refills in a year now. These outcomes suggest that despite significant efforts, home delivery and distribution channel issues remain and more budgetary outlay will be needed for subsidies to entice the poor to consume LPG and avail its health benefits.

Another challenge is that India’s dependence on imported LPG — the refined commodity — has steadily increased to over 64% in FY23 (versus 46% in the pre-PMUY phase). Further, Indian households have seen a near-doubling in LPG prices since May 2020 in nominal terms. With volatile international prices, especially since the Russian war against Ukraine, and a domestic budget that relies on petroleum (and its products) taxation significantly, it is unlikely that India can return to a regime where a subsidy of approximately INR20,000 crore (2011-12 prices) was provided each year for LPG consumption over the first two decades of the 21st century.

Diversity in clean cooking

In order to resolve this impasse, India’s clean cooking policy must actively pivot towards the adoption of a suite of clean-cooking technologies and shift from an LPG-only strategy. For example, electric cooking, including induction cook-tops, can significantly offset the need for flame-based cooking. With near 100% access to electricity connections, rural households can also shift specific cooking needs to electricity. A CEEW study finds that even at a high tariff of ₹8 for each unit of electricity, e-cooking would still be cheaper than cooking using LPG at today’s prices. Equally, there are legitimate concerns about the power distribution grid in rural India and its ability to support all-electric cooking, given the high power needs of the extant technology.

In urban areas, nearly 10% of households already use electrical appliances for their cooking needs, and they can seed the bigger transition that we want to realise in rural areas. One possible mechanism to nudge the shift to e-cooking could be through telescopically increasing LPG prices beyond a threshold (say, seven cylinders that the average household consumes today). This could displace LPG in higher-use groups and, in turn, create a demand for new e-cooking technologies and models, and precipitate a bandwagon effect.

Demand from these early adopters can then spur the domestic manufacturing ecosystem for e-cooking technologies and stem this runaway dependence on imported LPG and crude, and the outflow of precious forex. This requires targeted support in the interim for manufacturers to embrace efficiency and design for the needs of Indian households — how about a gas and electric cooktop in one device for a start? Displacement of ‘chulhas’ by e-cooking would also avoid climate pollutant release. With the newly launched carbon market, India can actually monetise these avoided emissions and help finance the capital needed by poorer rural communities to adopt e-cooking. The debate needs to move from LPG subsidy alone to financing and business models that value India’s clean cooking transition for its climate and clean air benefits, through a bouquet of solutions.

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