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

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India’s Fiscal

Near-term Performance and Medium-term Imperatives

How was Union Budget 2023–24 able to simultaneously consolidate the defi cit and increase capital expenditure? Where did the fiscal space come from? And where is the capex going? Stepping back, how are broader public sector dynamics evolving—both borrowing and capex? As debt has surged post pandemic, focus will turn to medium-term fi scal imperatives. What is India’s debt-stabilising nominal GDP growth? And if defi cits must be reduced in the coming years but health, education and infrastructure spending must simultaneously go up, where can the fi scal space come from? And why is it important to focus on direct taxes—instead of indirect taxes—on the revenue side, while increasing absorptive capacity to spend on the expenditure side? This essay seeks to answer these questions.

This article is part of the special issue of the Budget 2023–24.

Strange as it may seem, the backdrop to Union Budget 202324 was more conflicting than the recent years. Over the last few years, at least the intellectual consensus was clear. The pandemic year called for a forceful fiscal response, while the last two budgets called for a gradual tapering of fiscal support as the pandemic retreated and the economy began to recover. To be sure, the RussiaUkraine war complicated 202223 fiscal math, because the surge in commodity prices necessitated higher subsidies to buffer the economic agents from some of the shock. But, to its credit, budget 202223 had implicitly provisioned for some fiscal buffers, by budgeting revenues overly conservatively. Those buffers, in turn, allowed the budget to absorb higher subsidies without derailing the fiscal math.

So, why was FY 2023s backdrop so challenging? Primarily, because there were multiple, ostensibly conflicting, objectives. (i) Some fiscal consolidation was imperative given the level of starting points. Despite the fact that states overconsolidated in FY 2022 (reducing their deficit from 4.1% in FY 2021 to 2.8% of gross domestic product [GDP] in FY 2022, which seemed excessive given the nascent recovery at the time) and the union is likely to stick to its budgeted deficit of 6.4% of GDP in 202324, Indias public sector borrowing requirement (PSBR) will still be much above 9% of GDP in FY 2023. Even though concerns about crowding out may be premature, given the state of private investment, the need to consolidate is best understood by appreciating the link between the twin deficits.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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