Challenges facing India’s Infrastructure Sector – Part II

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In my last post, I had written about the challenges faced by infrastructure sector in India. If we were to look into the reasons behind the challenges in India’s Infrastructure sector, we see that the problems can be broadly categorized into structural or procedural in nature.

Structural reasons:
  1. Faulty incentives: Government organizations as well as the concessionaire are wrongly incentivized while implementing the infrastructural projects. Government contracts are generally awarded on the basis of lowest price and this encourages private players to undercut each other in prices for winning the contracts, thus resulting in poor quality bids and shifts the focus from long term viability of the project to short term gains, while transferring the risk to debt owners or the tax-payers.
  2. Oligopoly of project proponents:  Infrastructure projects require very high capital contribution and bank funding. Since India is still young in terms of numbers and complexity of infrastructure projects executed, at present we find only a handful of companies bidding and being awarded with projects in the country leading to a situation of “managed competition” where projects theoretically can be “distributed or shared”.
  3. High cost of funding : High cost of borrowing both from bank loans and bonds, has off late increased reliance of companies on ECB to reduce cost, which exposes the project to currency volatility, underestimates cost over the project period and increases the risk of correctly forecasting cost of borrowing subsequently when refinancing.

Procedural reasons:

  1. Underassessment of risks: The quality of data/ information on which key assumptions are based have a great role to play on the integrity of the project. Underassessment of risks due to faulty assumptions, allows the bidder to quote low price for end users charges, which after a while may not be sustainable as can be seen in the cases mentioned in my last article, leading to situations where the concessionaires attempt to re-negotiate contract, citing some excuse, often soon after being awarded the project. Government agencies with the responsibility of evaluating the bids, need to take a objective view of the nature and severity of risk involved. On solution could be that the Government agency entrusted with the implementation of the project could fix boundaries for various parameters including end user charges, so that bids are within band in which bidders compete on the basis of better understanding and forecasting of risks, efficient use of resources and quality of management, rather than reckless gambling.
  2. Reduction of promotor’s stake in risk and reward:  As is the international practice, in project finance/ PPP projects, some of the consortium members and equity contributors are also providers of goods and services for execution of the project. Such companies always have some room to recover their investment through innovative pricings of sub-contracts much before the cash waterfall would allow payback to equity providers. If such a thing does happen, it leaves the founder companies with virtually no risk and creates ground for them to be opportunistic during subsequent bargaining for revision of prices.
  3. Delay in fixing accountability: The slow judicial system in the country causes delays in enforcing liabilities in case of mistakes committed by companies or when companies try to put themselves at an advantageous position vis a vis other stakeholders. Delays can cause erring parties to get away with playing around in the grey zones of the contractual agreement and passing on the burden to the end users and tax payers
All these factors point to the need for a more favorable environment, with institutions, mechanisms and improved governance standards to bring in the required efficiencies for allowing PPP to evolve and mature.

Public Private Participation in India – Issues & Challenges

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Infrastructure development had been identified as a critical prerequisite for sustaining the growth momentum of the Indian economy. Given the huge infrastructure deficit that India is facing, government has increased the target for infrastructure outlay during the twelfth plan period (2012 – 2017) to one trillion dollars, about half of which is envisaged to come from the private sector, including an annual $30 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows. Attracting such astronomical sum of investments will require the government to create a conducive environment with robust institutions and improved governance standards to ensure consistency and predictability of returns for the investors and to mitigate the risks of financing. Ensuring improved governance standards has so far emerged as the main challenge in meeting the country’s infrastructure shortages.

The infrastructure projects, though significant for the economic development, are highly capital intensive, require investments with a long time frame and hence are fraught with uncertainty. So Public Private Participation (PPP) are being seen as an efficient way to bridge the country’s infrastructure deficit, by engaging both the public and private sector and thereby distributing the associated risks.  PPP projects are basically implemented in Project Finance mode where the liabilities of the company are non-recourse. The projects are usually undertaken by a consortium of developers who execute the project and a consortium of lenders who provide debt. Such projects may require a number of rounds of financing during its life time. The greatest challenge in PPP projects is to understand the risks and adequately distribute and manage them to make it beneficial for all the key stakeholders involved in it.

A series of events bring out the flaws in execution of PPP projects in India.

  1.  Independent Power Producers/ Ultra Mega Power Producers including those promoted by powerhouse like Tatas and ADAG have appealed for upward revision of power off take price much before the contracts are due for renewal. The steep increase in tax introduced by major coal exporters like Australia and Indonesia, have severely impacted the cost of operations of the power plants using imported coal. It is apparent that the project developers had failed to reasonably assess this risk at the time of submission of their proposals.
  2. There have been reports of violation of Concession agreements in toll road projects including few cases where the concession agreements were terminated. Many such cases have gone into litigation. In highway development, most of the disputes have arisen due to controversies in payment and collection of toll for finished projects and rolling of credit and interim payments as concessionaires missed completion deadlines in projects under execution. According to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the Gurgaon Expressway Project, that was supposed to be the showcase for tolled highways in India has everything going wrong with it — corruption in toll collection, substandard construction and maintenance, chaotic traffic management and unsafe ride.
  3. The Airports Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) approved an increase of 346 per cent in airport charges by Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), to help them recover the cost of operating the airport. This has adversely impacted thousands of passengers and resulted in Delhi being the most expensive airport in the Asia-Pacific region. Both domestic as well as major international airlines operating out of India have challenged the steep increase in airport charges and dragged DIAL to court.
  4. Airport Metro Line in Delhi, used by over 15,000 commuters daily, was suspended after safety concerns of the elevated tracks were raised by Reliance Infrastructure-led consortium, which operates the line. As a public-private project, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has built the civil structure on the Line and Reliance Infrastructure is responsible for operations and maintenance. There operations have been incurring losses; this has led to the speculation if financial losses are the reason for suspension of services. .

While the concerned parties do have a right to protect their interest, repeated disagreements and litigations point to basic faults in the way PPP is being implemented in the country. So one would obviously ask- why the project developing consortiums were unable to predict the turn of events and did not provide for it in their bids and why did the Government accept their overtly ambitious and faulty bids.

In the next section, we will further analyze the issues facing the infrastructure sector in India.

Invisible Innovation In India

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TurtleOver the past few decades, India has become a global hub for back office services and software development’. This has created a common belief in the west that people from developing countries such as India are generally good as software developers.

As Indians too, we often wonder that why as a country we have not been able to produce to produce world class innovations like a Google or an Apple so far. What is lacking in the country that holds back innovation?

Dr Nirmalya Kumar, Professor of Marketing and Dr Phanish Puranam, Professor of Strategy at the London Business School say that a part of the answer lies in how we look at innovation.

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