ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Articles By M Govinda Rao

Concerns about Balancing Growth and Stability

Union Budget 2023–24 attempts to strike a balance between accelerating growth and achieving fiscal consolidation. The increased allocation to capital expenditure is important to crowd in private sector investment. However, the allocation to the Food Corporation of India and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited under capital expenditures is not likely to yield returns. On fiscal deficit reduction, more front-loading it’s adjustment in 2023–24 would have eased the problem of achieving the target of 4.5% of gross domestic product by 2025–26. Furthermore, the budgeted reduction is predicated on the assumption of significant compression in subsidies and transfers. Ultimately, the success of the intentions depends upon implementation.

Growth Impetus, Fiscal Dominance and Macroeconomic Concerns

The budget focuses on accelerating growth by increasing capital expenditures and compressing the fi scal defi cit. However, excluding the additional loan to the states, the capital expenditure as a ratio of gross domestic product is actually lower. Reducing the fi scal defi cit by compressing subsidies and transfers may also pose challenges. Finally, the interest-free loan to the states seems to be a strategy to ensure binding control over their borrowings for the next 50 years.

Fiscal Transfers in Pandemic Times

The Fifteenth Finance Commission has trodden carefully in dealing with the controversial terms of reference issued to it in the presidential order. The commission had the challenging task of dividing fiscal resources between the union and the states due to the serious uncertainty posed by the pandemic. In many ways, the recommendations of the commission marks continuity. Devolution of 41% in the divisible pool of taxes to the states, despite the nudging of the centre in the terms of reference to review it and the continuation of revenue deficit grants, are some examples. The phasing out of the revenue deficit grants to the states in the next five years is likely to pose challenges to the fiscally weak states. The conditionalities mandated for availing local body grants may deny the much-needed money for them as the states may not have the incentive to undertake the reforms unless the public pressure builds up. On the whole, the report of the commission is on expected lines; it does not disappoint but all the same, like the previous commissions, it is a work in progress.

 

A Budget for Pandemic Times

The budget for 2021–22 is important for three reasons. First, it provides a reality check on the government’s attempt to keep up public spending in the wake of severe contraction in revenues and expansion in expenditures needed to save lives and livelihoods. Second, it shows the large increases in deficits and debt in the already prevailing stressed fiscal environment. Third, as the economy was already slowing down even before the pandemic due to structural factors, it attempts to provide reform signals to reclaim the earlier growth trajectory. While it has tried to prioritise growth, there is considerable risk from burgeoning deficits and the possible impact in price stability from large liquidity infusion to facilitate government borrowing at low cost that is likely to occur. The reform proposals are important, but the test lies in how effectively they are implemented.

 

Tax System Changes in the Budget

There were high expectations from the budget on the changes in the tax system to provide stimulus to the beleaguered economy. However, fiscal conservatism has prevailed. The attempt to broaden the base by eliminating tax exemptions and preferences could have been done without complicating the tax structure. On the macro side, there are questions about the unrealism of the revenue estimates. Unduly optimistic estimates result in “tax terrorism,” lead to inefficient budget management and have adverse impacts on state finances.

 

Road Map for Structural Reforms in Budget 2019

There were great expectations of fast-tracking reforms in the budget. However, it disappoints in setting a road map for creating a virtuous cycle of investment and growth. On the fiscal front, the overambitious revenue projections raise questions of credibility and feasibility of containing the deficits at the budgeted level. The wait for banking and financial sector reforms continues. The selective increases in import duties are retrograde, and increase in the taxes on the super-rich complicates the tax system without much gain in revenues. The centralisation through the levy of surcharges does not match the lip service given to cooperative federalism.

Redesigning the Fiscal Transfer System in India

An overwhelming proportion of the poor live in low-income states in India. These states are home to over two-thirds of the children in the 0–14 age group. Therefore, provision of comparable levels of basic social services and physical infrastructure is important to ensure balance and stability in the Indian federation. This underlines the importance of intergovernmental transfers. Conceptually, general purpose transfers are given to enable the states to provide comparable levels of public services at comparable tax effort, and specific purpose transfers are given to ensure a minimum standard of public services. The shortcomings in both the design and implementation of the transfer system in India hinder its ability to achieve the objectives.

Role and Functions of NITI Aayog

The architecture, engineering and management aspects of the new institution, NITI Aayog, will have to be crafted carefully, if it is to serve as an institution to impart dynamism to the developmental process in a harmonious manner. Its effectiveness will depend on how it charts out a course for itself. An important question is whether the Aayog will have influence when it does not have the power to give grants and does not have the powers to make plan allocations to different ministries and departments.