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India seeks hefty dividends from state firms as its revenues falter

All state companies evaluated by the government sought exemptions

Neha Dasgupta | Reuters  |  New Delhi 

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Illustration by Ajay Mohanty

India is demanding millions of dollars in dividends from 12 reluctant state companies to make up for an expected tax revenue shortfall this fiscal year, as a slump in economic growth risks New Delhi overshooting its fiscal deficit target.

The demand has been made following a finance ministry assessment on October 25 of the financial health of 14 state companies, including top miner and trading firm MMTC, according to a government document reviewed by Reuters.

The ministry asked 12 of the companies to payout between 30 per cent and as much as 100 per cent of their 2016-17 or 2017-18 net profit in dividends, share buybacks or bonus shares. The other two companies were exempted.

All state companies evaluated by the government sought exemptions. The finance ministry, and did not reply to Reuters emails seeking comment.
 
India's federal budget is under pressure this year following an unexpected slump in economic growth, which slipped to its lowest level in three years in the three-months ending June, the first quarter of the 2017-18 financial year. As of September, the half-way mark for the fiscal year, the budget deficit had reached Rs 4.99 lakh crore or more than 91 per cent of its full-year target.

Surjit Bhalla, a member of the prime minister's economic advisory council, told Reuters in an interview in October that the government wanted to stick with a budget deficit target of 3.2 per cent.

The government's revenues have also been hit by a sharply lower dividend from the central bank.

Demands

The assessment by the finance ministry did not specify the combined amount of payouts expected of the 12 companies.
But, New Delhi has budgeted $21.86 billion in payouts from all state companies this financial year, slightly down on the previous fiscal year. Indian businesses have been disrupted by last year's shock ban on high-value notes and the roll-out of a new national goods and services tax.
Indian state firms will only finalise their full dividend payouts for the current 2017-18 financial year in September next year.

has told the finance ministry it would only be able to pay less than half of the Rs 2,500 crore in dividend payouts that the government is demanding for the current financial year of 2017-18, a senior company executive said. He declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Three senior government officials said is reluctant to comply with the government's demands because it already has to pay a Rs 3,000-crore penalty to the eastern state of Odisha for illegal mining and needs cash for capital investments.

The senior company executive said a payment of Rs 2,500 crore to the government would mean paying out a further Rs 3,500 crore to other shareholders in the company.

"Where will the money come from?" the source said.
That would compare with NMDC's projected 2017-18 net profit, based on Thomson Reuters SmartEstimate data, of Rs 3,770 crore.
has also been asked to issue bonus shares before September 30, 2018, the document showed.
The government has asked to pay Rs 30 crore in dividends and issue bonus shares for 2016-17. The firm is seeking exemptions from both.


"The committee noted that MMTC's defined reserves and surplus is more than 10 times of its paid-up equity share capital," the document said.
 
Three unlisted companies from defence and railways were asked to pay a maximum 100 per cent of their net profit as dividend, the document showed.
 
A Prasanna, an economist with ICICI Securities Primary Dealership in Mumbai, said the government had the right to seek higher dividends from cash-rich companies as long as the money was sitting idle.
 
"But asking all public sector units to step up investments and dividends at the same time may become counterproductive," he said. 


First Published: Tue, November 14 2017. 01:24 IST
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