The Government seems to be facing a somewhat similar situation that it faced way back in 1991 when it launched big bang reforms for liberalization of the Indian economy. With slowing growth rates and a sliding Rupee, the Government seems compelled to take immediate measures. One such set of measures relates to reforms that help attract greater flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country.
Yesterday, the Cabinet approved relaxation of foreign investment in various sectors. The gist of the reforms and the proposed position regarding FDI are set out below:
- Petroleum and natural gas and refining: up to 49% under the automatic route;
- Commodity exchanges: up to 49% under the automatic route;
- Power exchanges: up to 49% under the automatic route;
- Stock exchanges, depositories corporation: up to 49% under the automatic route;
- Asset reconstruction companies: up to 49% under the automatic route, and between 49% and 100% under the FIPB route;
- Credit information companies: up to 74% under the automatic route;
- Single brand retailing: up to 49% under the automatic route, and between 49% and 100% under the FIPB route;
- Basic and cellular services: up to 49% under the automatic route, and between 49% and 100% under the FIPB route;
- Courier services: up to 100% under the automatic route; and
- Defence production: CCS may approve proposals on case to case basis beyond 26% which are likely to result in access to modern and state of the art technology in the country.
These are only decisions of the Cabinet and will need to be translated into Press Notes that become part of the FDI policy. It remains to be seen whether additional conditions or qualifications may be included that may affect the nature and extent of these policy changes.
Among the various sectors, the one that might see tremendous activity in the near-to-medium term is the telecom sector where up to 100% foreign investment has been allowed. Being a sensitive sector, hitherto only a maximum of 74% was allowed that required foreign investors to have Indian parties holding the balance 26%. Now, it is likely that there may be a spate of M&As whereby the foreign partners may buy over the stake of the Indian partners so as to make the Indian telecom entity a wholly owned subsidiary of the foreign parent.
While there was a great amount of anticipation regarding reforms relating to FDI in the defence sector, the changes have not been overarching in nature. The discretion still remains with the Government to decide whether to grant approvals that merit more than 26% foreign investment.