Getting Back on Track

GST rate reduction from 28 per cent to 18 per cent has provided a breather to the construction equipment industry. Although 15 per cent of items would still be at 28 per cent, the major grouse has been addressed. That said, as many as 42,710 units were sold between January and September this year, against 37,346 units in the same period in the last financial year. Just this year, the number of units sold has equalled the prior record of 70,000 units sold during 2011. The industry has grown by 19 per cent in Q1 and 22 per cent in Q2 except for the 35 per cent dip in July owing to GST implementation, according to ICEMA reports. With an eye on growth of over 25 per cent, the construction equipment industry is gearing up for EXCON 2017, to be held from December 12 to 16 in Bengaluru, spread over 260,000 sq m. Although real estate has been tottering, projects like Bharatmala Pariyojana and metro-rail projects across the country are fuelling the revival alongwith irrigation and urban rejuvenation projects.
There is a move to bring real estate under the GST ambit. However, the present constitutional amendment did not cover real estate and stamp duty continues to be within the domain of state tax. Several states may not be ready to part with stamp duty and therefore legalities are being explored. Even currently, as land is an immovable asset, the industry has been given 33 per cent abatement on the 18 per cent GST. Therefore, the effective charge on the sector, for property under construction, is now 12 per cent as against the listed 18 per cent. A further effect of input credit would bring the incidence down to 9 per cent or so. There is no GST on completed projects as they are considered immovable assets.
The unsung success of the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) needs to be highlighted too. The highest-ever construction of 130 km rural roads per day has been achieved under the PMGSY, leading to an addition of 47,400 km of PMGSY roads in 2016-17.
PM Narendra Modi is planning to spend an additional $14 billion under this scheme by March 2020; about Rs 1.4 lakh crore has already been spent under the programme. The cost will be shared in a 60-40 ratio by the federal and state governments.
Logistics has now been provided infrastructure status, allowing the growth and expansion of this sector at easier financial cost, which can help in distribution and access of goods across the country. This will compliment the rollout of the GST.
Even though the second quarter of 2017-18 has had insipid financial results with the net profit of 1,300 BSE companies declining by 3.54 per cent from the same quarter the previous year and net sales rising 7.39 per cent during the same period, the periods ahead will improve as the base effects of demonetisation and relaxation of the GST effect will trickle in.

Set for an infra-run

Data suggests that demonetisation has hit the pace of announcement of new investment proposals during the quarter-ended December 2016

The Union Budget has set the tone for 2017 by accelerating the growth agenda. The allocation for infrastructure at Rs 3.96 lakh crore, over Rs 3.49 lakh crore last year, will fuel the sector. Of the increase of Rs 47,000 crore, transport itself will consume Rs 24,000 crore.

The Railway Budget has been the largest-ever at Rs 1.31 lakh crore – an 8.26 per cent increase over the Rs 1.21 lakh crore allocated in 2016-17. Railway lines of 3,500 km will be commissioned in 2017-18 while at least 25 stations are expected to be awarded during 2017-18 for station redevelopment. Allocation for highways has been increased from Rs 57,976 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 64,900 crore in 2017-18. Around 2,000 km of coastal connectivity roads have been identified for construction and development.

The dark horse in the transport sector, the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) has gathered pace. Last year, when I asked Minister Nitin Gadkari at a CII meet, why the PMGSY programme, which had tremendous potential, was not going anywhere – he responded that it did not fall under his ministry but that the government was working on an impetus for it.

The pace of construction of PMGSY roads has accelerated to reach 133 km per day in 2016-17, as against an average of 73 km during the period 2011-2014. And, the Budget has continued to provide Rs 19,000 crore in 2017-18 for this scheme. Together with the contribution of States, an amount of Rs 27,000 crore will be spent on PMGSY in 2017-18.

The other big bang boost has been for the housing sector. National Housing Bank will refinance individual housing loans of about Rs 20,000 crore in 2017-18. Affordable housing has been given the ´infrastructure´ status, which will enable these projects to avail benefits including interest subvention. Further, a target to complete 1 crore houses by 2019 has been set for the homeless and those living in kutcha houses.

Allocation for Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) has been raised from Rs 20,000 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 29,000 crore in 2017-18. Owing to these reforms, there is a likelihood of an ample availability of affordable housing in the next three years.

Among other infrastructure projects, the Metro projects will see the introduction of a Metro Policy and higher allocation of Rs 18,000 crore, against Rs 10,000 crore in the previous year. AMRUT and the Smart Cities mission will continue to move forward with an allocation of Rs 9,000 crore, against Rs 7,296 crore, as 60 selected cities gear up to issue tenders for city development.

The Namami Gange project has been allocated an increase of Rs 100 crore from Rs 2,150 crore to Rs 2,250 crore. And, Sagarmala has received an enhanced allocation of Rs 150 crore from Rs 450 to 600 crore. The Swachh Bharat campaign is being vigorously run and the allocation has risen to Rs 16,000 crore. Armed with the demonetisation swell in the banks, the finance minister had some head room to hold back the temptation of hiking the service tax in view of the forthcoming Goods and Service Tax (GST), which was a big relief. Further, though the large corporate sector did not get the tax reduction, the FM reduced taxes by 5 per cent for the MSMEs, which have an annual turnover of Rs 50 crore or less, thereby benefitting nearly 64 lakh companies.

Issues that need further attention by the ministry include implementation of the projects. Even the irrigation projects, which found mention in his last year´s Budget speech where 23 of the 99 projects would require to be completed by March 2017, are likely to miss the deadline. As per CMIE, new investment proposals worth Rs 1.25 lakh crore were observed during the quarter ended December 2016. This is low compared to the average Rs 2.36 lakh crore worth of new investments seen per quarter in the preceding nine quarters of the Modi Government. Data suggests that demonetisation has hit the pace of announcement of new investment proposals during the quarter-ended December 2016. Two hundred and twenty seven new investment proposals worth Rs 81,800 crore were announced during this quarter till November 8, 2016. In comparison, only 177 investment proposals worth Rs 43,700 crore were made between November 9 and December 31, 2016.

As for stalled projects, though the current government was to invigorate the economy by debottlenecking and accelerating these, the data points to the contrary. CMIE capex figures show that year-end stalled project figures for 2016 are at their highest levels since December 1995. The total value of stalled projects has reached Rs 11.70 lakh crore in the December quarter, accounting for 12.11 per cent of the total projects under implementation. Among the prime reasons for which the projects are stalled, ´obstacles in environment clearances´ contribute to 20 per cent while ´lack of promoter interest´ seems to be a growing trend over ´land acquisition issues´.

However, the absolute value of new project announcements shows that 2016 ranks second best among the last five years. This means that but for demonetisation, the economy was set for a run. Even if we examine the performance for the road sector, the contracts awarded and the length of roads constructed in the highway sector has been way behind claims of the road ministry.

The status of construction awarded and completed during September 2016 vis-a-vis targets set forth for 2016-17 are as follows:
However, the stage is set for a revival of the tempo. The Dispute Resolution Bill, release of funds for cases stuck in arbitration, reduction in interest rates, resolution of some severely stuck road projects, consolidation of some road assets and the infusion of some foreign capital, which has come to the rescue for some developers – all has signaled the dawn of the good times by Diwali 2016. And now, with the demonetisation impact easing up, the delayed dawn of good times is on the horizon again.

Revival Mantra: Go Rural

The ´leap´ of the year turned out to be more of a ´hop, skip and jump´. Cautiousness prevailed as FM Arun Jaitley reined in the fiscal deficit to 3.5 per cent of GDP and stood his ground. The month began with the ´Make in India´ extravaganza which helped the state administration revisit the MOUs signed by industrialists with various BJP-ruled states. This was followed by the Rail Budget, the Economic Survey and the Union Budget. The mood of the nation is showing the strain. The corporate sector is in severe pain. Profitability of business has shrunk by Rs 20,000 crore in the public sector while it has shrunk by over Rs 30,000 crore in the private sector (as per a survey of 3,000 companies that excluded banks, finance and broking houses). The proportion of corporate debt owed by stressed companies, defined as those whose earnings are insufficient to cover their interest obligations, has increased to 41 per cent in December 2015, compared to 35 per cent in December 2014.

Yet, the GDP is estimated to grow by 7-7.75 per cent on the back of the three demand drivers: the infusion of the 7th Pay Commission payout (estimated Rs 1.02 lakh crore), the OROP payout (Rs 10,000 crore) and the public spending envisaged under the Union Budget. This is further backed by a higher probability of a normal monsoon although the benefit of the oil price is not likely to be as much as was available last year.

Public spending is clearly the engine of revival. In the current scenario with the private sector badly bruised, capital is shy and only government-funded, large-scale infra projects can revive the economic cycle. The FM has proposed an outlay of Rs 2,21,728 crore for infrastructure. Of this, the Rail Budget proposes to spend Rs 1,21,000 crore. The budget to electrify 2,000 km next year has witnessed an increase by 50 per cent. It has also targeted commissioning 2,500 km of broad gauge lines at 7 km/ day, almost 30 per cent higher than last year. LIC has agreed to invest Rs. 1.5 lakh crore to fund railway projects. In the roads sector, which has green-lit the infra revival, the Budget has accorded a higher allocation of Rs 97,000 crore and including an accelerated Pradhan Mantri Gram SadakYojana (PMGSY) with an outlay of Rs 27,000 crore. As per the roads minister (see cover story on page 51), Maharashtra itself will see a spending of Rs 68,000 crore in the coming nine months. Rural development is the mantra of this year´s budget as Rs 87,765 crore has been provided for irrigation, electrification and welfare. Coal production has been the highest ever at 550 mt while imports by India are sliding. Last fiscal, India spent Rs 1 lakh crore in importing coal. We have already saved Rs 22,000 crore this fiscal on this account. Coal India has been directed to double production from the present level to 1,000 mt by 2019-20. Most of this increase would happen via the surface mining segment and, to achieve this, the volume of overburden to be removed would shoot up from 1,000 million cu m to 2,500 million cu m. This will result in greater utilisation of existing deployed equipment while placing huge demands on the need to invest in additional mining equipment. Smart cities, too, would see RFPs of Rs 4,000 crore by the end of this calendar year.

The change in the complexion of state budgets like those of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, among others, are great proof that federal empowerment is working and will be the true opportunity in the years ahead. All states are laying great emphasis on infrastructure investment, education, power and youth employment. The 14th Finance Commission´s largesse to states will see an amount of Rs 2,87,000 crore, which going by the composition of the spending will see a greater thrust on infrastructure and social welfare. All considered, the Budget supports the creation of an ecosystem for the revival of rural demand for overall economic revival.