Economic Development

  • Striking a note of caution

    India's growth is unlikely to slip below the 9% rate in the next few years, says the finance ministry's Economic Survey, but the downside risks have become stronger this year. Among those risks are the international subprime crisis and a slackening of growth in agriculture and manufacturing within the country. The other is the political opposition, because of which the Survey tabled in Parliament by finance minister P Chidambaram on Thursday has had to tuck away its 12-point list of reforms in a box, outside the main narrative. The more significant of these reforms are in the financial sector: allowing the public float of at least 10% in all public sector units, permitting FDI in retail, raising the FDI cap in insurance, besides 100% foreign investment in greenfield rural agricultural banks. The Survey says if the current growth trend persists "

  • Unemployment as a global economic malady

    Unemployment is a common global economic malady, the level of which distintly varies between developed and under developed nations with Keynesian involuntary and frictional type in respect of developed nation and structural type as regard to under developed country like India which contributes to maximum growth of population and insignificant economic growth. Under employment or disguised employment has intensified its dimensions mainly in the rural sector where despite having capacity and willingness, persons fail to avail any gainful activities and as such job seekers out-number the job availability creating a major wastage of manpower. Unemployment in our country is partly due to overwhelming growth of population which has occurred in view of immigration from earstwhile East Pakistan and partially due to non-availability of land, less productivity, lack of industrial infrastructure, haphazard growth of educational institutions and expansion of education which is responsible for cropping up of new entrants in an already over crowded labour market. Agriculture being a seasonal activity fails to provide employment to rural masses throughout the year while perennial activity is not available in reality owing to excessive pressure of population. Exodus from rural areas coupled with slow pace of industrialisation has proved to be a constrain in providing employment opportunity to the growing urban population. Rapid expansion of general education mingted with slow growth of technical and vocational facilities has resulted in a peculiar educated unemployment problem. Accurate estimation of unemployment has become a tough task in view of ever increasing unemployment and under employment and failures of employment exchanges in recording correct figures. While unemployment in this State as a percentage of labour force has become double as compared to the country within 1985-2000 as per NSSO report, it is estimated to be 10.9% of total labour force with a total of 13 lakh (71%) registered educated job seekers, HSLC passed (51%) out-numbered HSSLC passed (30%) and graduates (16%) while technical and post graduate job seekers constitute a very minimal (3%) percentage. Placement of job seekers increased to 16% in between 2004 and 2005 constituting minimal (0.5%) increase in public sector and 9.3% increase in private sector with nearly 31% women employment in organised sector. Rural and women unemployment has become three times to all-India rate having acute unemployment among educated. Most of the self employed or partially employed youth bother a little to inform the employment exchange about their absorption which is also responsible for non-capturing of accurate employment situation. According to the NSSO report, the number of unemployed in this State is 18 and 24 per 1000 respectively in rural and urban area as against only 9 and 19 respectively in national level indicating a greater dimension of the problem in this State. According to the task force, the rate of unemployment in this State increased from 7.96 in 1993-94 to 8 per cent in 1999-2000 which is quite high compared to all India (nearly 7%), 2.93% of Himachal Pradesh and 3.06% of Rajasthan. Youths in this State are mostly interested in Government jobs in lieu of self employment or employment in private venture, which has enhanced the demand for jobs leading to major corruption in the recruitment policy. Ban on creation of posts and restriction on filling up vacancies has created mounting unemployment problem resulting in a grave political, economic and social disorder. Despite shooting up of GDP, employment growth in the State declined significantly within 15 years in agriculture. The call of the hour is to generate job opportunities through filling up vacancies considering intellectual achievement. It is necessary to locate certain sectors where unemployed youths can be accommodated suitably leaving aside Govt assignment. According to a study, the employment elasticity of various sectors varied significantly with primary sector of elasticity 0.74, manufacturing sector 0.19, trade and commerce 0.37 with overall average of 0.45. ILO having its goal of promoting opportunities for both the sex and ensuring security, freedom and dignity depicted persistent unemployment and dismal scenario of the world's employment situation in its

  • PC budgets for early elections

    Rs 60k-crore farm loan waiver, I-T exemption limit raised. P Chidambaram unveiled a Budget cleverly designed to win him many popularity contests. There were concessions on the income tax, reductions in customs and excise duties, and the mother of all farm loan waivers. While playing to multiple galleries, the finance minister also managed to reduce the fiscal deficit to lower than the target set under the fiscal responsibility law, and showed progress on the revenue deficit. Along the way, he designed his announcements so as to attack the twin problems confronting the economy: inflation (the excise and customs cuts will help lower prices) and falling consumer demand (lower tax rates for small cars and two-wheelers, and more money in people's pockets from the income tax concessions). Keeping in mind the Congressman's favoured

  • Do not rule out 9% growth, says FM

    A day after presenting his fifth Budget in the UPA government, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said budgets did not win elections, unless they were properly marketed. In a detailed interview on Saturday, Chidambaram said he still aimed at nine per cent growth for the economy in 2008-09. He also indicated that the surcharges on income-tax should go, provided revenues remained buoyant. Excerpts from the interview: You have presented five budgets in a row and looking back at them, what would make you the happiest about them and what would disappoint you? My happiest moments would be that my batting average so far has been 8.8 per cent. That is the economy. What about the Budget per se? The Budget was intended to set the course and pace of the economy and I think we have done fiscal consolidation, although we can argue about some items below the line. I think we have demonstrated that moderate and stable tax rates bring better tax compliance. We have demonstrated what inclusive growth is, that instead of being fixated only on growth, we can use the growth process to promote inclusive growth. I think these are many of the happy memories of the last four years. The disappointment is that we should have taken the reform process forward faster. There are still large areas of the economy which are under government controls. And if these controls had been removed, the economy would have grown faster. In case this is your last Budget? I will be happy if this is my last Budget. There are other things to do in life. People are calling this as an election Budget. Is that the way to look at it? For the last few years, every Budget has been an election Budget because every year is an election year. 2006 was an election year, 2007 was an election year, and 2008 is an election year. I think that is not a very correct way to describe it. I have presented the fifth Budget of this government and, according to schedule, the elections are in May 2009. So I would not agree that it is an election Budget. Will it help you win the elections? Budgets do not decide elections. It is how you communicate to the people what the Budget contains and what it wishes to do in the next year, which happens to be the election year. Take, for example, the Tamil Nadu state elections in 2006. It was the election manifesto which won the election. Likewise, a Budget, if it is communicated well to the people, can help win an election and what is wrong in that? You have done a Budget where there is a lot for the people, for farmers, for the middle class, tax payers, although companies are unhappy. So having done this, why not just go ahead and sign the nuclear deal and tell the Left if it wants to withdraw support, it can go ahead, as you now have something to go to the people with? These are the questions you need to address to the UPA leadership and the Prime Minister. I am only a finance minister. You have introduced many new taxes over the years and now you removed one of them, the banking cash transaction tax. I said so even when I introduced it. It is not a tax revenue raising measure. It is only a source of income issue. I would like to go back to your speech in 1997 when you said I propose to amend certain sections of the Income-Tax Act, to provide for the removal of artificial disallowances, travel and hotel expenses incurred for legitimate business purposes and you said it was a matter of simplification. So using that logic, why would you not do away with the fringe benefit tax, as a matter of simplification? I have explained this a number of times. I can deal with that expenditure as allowable or disallowable expenditure, which means I need discretion in the hands of the assessees. It was the assessing officer who enjoyed the discretion for many years until we brought in FBT. Now the assessing officer has no discretion. If this expenditure is made, you can take a base of 50 per cent or 20 per cent and we tax it. I think this is far better than leaving discretion in the hands of the assessing officer to decide whether the expenditure is allowable or to be disallowed. There is complication in FBT on employee stock options, for which industry might have come to you hundreds of times. I will take you into confidence. The FBT on employee stock options has been worked out in close consultation with industry CFOs. On the personal income-tax front, a tax payer may see halving of his income tax liability. If somebody makes Rs 5 lakh a year, he is earning Rs 40,000 a month. Most probably he lives in a city or a town. Rs 40,000 in a city or a town for a family is not a very large income. Of course, we have given him the tax relief, because compliance has increased, revenues have improved and I think moderation by adjusting the slabs will bring in more revenues. You will lose some of the revenue due to changes in the slabs. A large number of people move on to pay tax so that they can have a larger part of income on their balance-sheet and they can build capital. So when we move the tax slab, an assessee would not stop paying tax. He will still pay the tax that he paid the previous year and even build more capital for himself. So, we will get the revenues. You have assumed that income-tax revenue will climb by 18 per cent in 2008-09. It is a very reasonable assumption. People paying tax will continue to pay tax. They will simply comply better and I do not want to say anything more. They have been very nice to the Government in the past few years. Why should I say anything unkind about tax payers? Compliance will improve and I am sure everybody will comply better and we will get the revenues. That is our assumption and that is our assessment of the situation. There is no reason to assume that direct taxes will not grow at the same rate as this year. That is the question I have on corporation tax, because the trend in corporate profits shows a clear slowdown and is now running at around 15 per cent. Yet you assume a more than 20 per cent increase in corporation tax next year? I expect the demand to push up corporate toplines as well as bottomlines. There are signs that the global economy may slow down. Is it time to ensure that India keeps away from it by taking some measures? I said so in my speech that there is a slowdown especially in the consumer goods, and more particularly in consumer durables. I have identified various sectors - cars, two-wheelers, three-wheelers, paper and we have even cut taxes for buses and chasses. What about the corporation tax rate? Companies are doing well. They are making good profits. They are paying good taxes and it still works out to about 22 to 23 per cent effective tax rate for all companies. There is no reason to tinker with it this year. Why fix something which is not broken? You have been listing tax concessions that the government gives away. Would it not make sense to drop the nominal rate and remove some of the concessions? If you can get me agreement from the three chiefs of the chambers of commerce on which concessions can be removed, I will be very happy to do that. Every exemption provision has a lobby behind it. Let us now turn to the biggest announcement of the Budget, the farm loan waiver scheme. One of the questions is that it is meant only for those whose loans are overdue. But what about those who have sold their jewellery, land and have actually repaid the loans but will not get the benefit? So, what can I do about it? See it is always easy to pit one against the other. People will say what about those who borrowed from moneylenders. There is nothing I can do about it. There is no quantification of that

  • Not an election sop: Chidambaram

    P. Chidambaram Finance Minister P. Chidambaram on Saturday conceded that the challenge thrown to Opposition members who were dubbing the Rs. 60,000-crore farm loan waiver programme proposed in the Union Budget for 2008-09 as an election sop "to stand up and be counted and not duck the issue' was, in fact, a political one. "It is

  • AIDWA hails focus on agrarian crisis

    The All-India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) has hailed Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's initiative of taking cognisance of the huge agrarian crisis and taking steps to bring relief to farmers, who include a large number of women also. In a statement, Subhashini Ali, president, and Sudha Sundararaman, general secretary of the AIDWA, said the measures for debt waiver and debt relief did not, however, address the critical issue of loans taken from private moneylenders. Secondly, many regions in the grip of crisis such as Vidharbha and Rayalaseema were dry land, where individual holdings were usually more than two hectares, eligible for relief. The crucial question of reduction in the rate of interest to 4 per cent on agricultural loans was ignored. Finally, it was not just debt relief but rejuvenation of the entire agricultural sector through a massive increase in public spending that would alleviate this crisis, the statement said. After four years, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government heeded to the voice of lakhs of anganwadi employees but their demand for an increase in wages was met only partially. Secondly, the budget did not reflect the allocations for universalisation of the Integrated Child Development Services and make 14 lakh anganwadi centres functional by the end of 2008 as per a Supreme Court directive, especially at a time when child malnourishment and infant mortality continued to remain high. Given the huge increase in the prices of essential commodities, especially wheat, rice, pulses, it was expected that the budget would suggest measures to curb inflation, which was exacerbated by the recent increase in fuel prices. Food security The statement said the UPA gave an undertaking in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) to strengthen the public distribution system and move towards universalising it. However, the meagre increase in the food subsidy allocation from Rs. 31,456 crore last year to Rs. 32,667 crore was hardly adequate to ensure basic food security for more than 70 per cent of the population that lived below poverty line. "This cannot meet the needs of food-deficit States such as Kerala, as well as States that were adversely affected by the recent cuts in allocations of foodgrains,' it said. The allocations for health and education remained far below the targets set in the CMP and the decision to shift the burden of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan to the States showed the lack of commitment of the Centre to implement the constitutional guarantee of right to education. "As far as gender budgeting is concerned, we welcome the fact that more Ministries had provided a gender budget analysis of their expenditure,' the statement added.

  • Anachronistic budgeting

    Is the 2007-08 fiscal deficit 3.1 per cent of GDP, or is it 3.5 per cent

  • The political economy of Budget

    Support for further economic reforms in the context of India's globalisation will be mustered more easily if the deprived sections are assured of some safety net, says M K Venu FINANCE minister P Chidambaram's fifth budget stumped the chattering classes, mostly with incomes of well over Rs 10 lakh a year. The Rs 10-lakh income threshold is relevant because there are less than 300,000 people in India showing a taxable income of Rs 10 lakh and above. But they exercise disproportionate influence on policy. There are many more in the above income category, who do not pay taxes and probably have even greater influence on public policy! The budget also stumped economists, who are also part of the chattering classes. Initially they did not know what to make of a budget that seemed to give everything to everybody. The budget certainly did not lend itself to instant analysis on television channels where many economic pundits were sitting. In the first flush, one economist simply said he was overwhelmed, and didn't know how the numbers would work after so much goodies were handed out by the finance minister. "I am overwhelmed', is what he kept saying. The impatient TV anchor, obviously looking for a one liner, kept pressing, 'Is it good or bad?'. The only reply was,' I am overwhelmed.' It didn't take long for everyone to realise that it is not necessary for numbers to strictly add up in politics. In certain situations, sentiment and psychology can subsume numbers that don't add up. Which is why politics is often described as the art of the possible. While economics parades as an exact science, there are times when economists get lost in their linear frameworks and miss the wood for the trees. Further, what really stunned the chattering classes was someone like Dr Manmohan Singh or P Chidambaram could come up with such a massive loan waiver package. They associated such acts with politicians like the late Devi Lal, Charan Singh or among contemporaries, Prakash Singh Badal and M Karunanidhi. How could Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram do this, was the main question on their lips. However, at the end of the day the budget seemed to have got overwhelming support, if one went by how the vernacular press treated the finance minister's announcements. Politically, it is one of the sharpest statements one has come across in the past decade and a half. Chidambaram's dream budget in 1997 too had a mesmeric impact on the people but this one covers a much wider terrain in its inclusiveness, whatever critics may carp about. It took a while for the immensity of the political statement to sink into the BJP leaders. Initially some leaders tried to attack the Rs 60,000 loan waiver as irresponsible. Later, possibly after deeper consultations within the BJP leadership, it was decided to tone down the attack. The politics of it was visible even in Parliament when Chidambaram said only kulak landlords will oppose loan waivers for small farmers holding up to two hectares of land. The invocation of kulak landlords has an interesting dimension. Politically, it is significant that the Congress is attempting to wean the poorest among the backward caste, scheduled castes and minorities away from regional parties that have established themselves over the years. This would easily rank as among the most audacious attempts by the Congress to upset the present political arithmetic of various strong regional parties. If viewed in this perspective, it becomes easy to understand why considerations such as fiscal profligacy and misplaced budget assumptions do not stand a chance. In any case, of late, a feeling had developed in non-urban India that the country was reaping the riches of globalisation, in terms of mounting forex reserves, high corporate profits, and government revenues doubling in three years. IN SUCH a situation it becomes difficult to convince the other India that fiscal belt tightening is the way to go. Besides, this would be most hypocritical as even anecdotal evidence would suggest that the bulk of the growing government subsidies today are consumed by the urban middle class. Just take the Rs 71,000-crore energy subsidy. Over 80% of it must be going to the urban middle class. The finance minister has also been careful in not going overboard while opening the purse strings. He has kept enough head-room in his fiscal deficit target to ensure that some discipline remains. For instance, he has budgeted fiscal deficit at 2.5% of GDP, when he could have kept a target of 3% as per the FRBM timeline. He can technically spend extra about 0.5% of GDP or Rs 20,000 crore, without violating the FRBM Act. In fact, the expenditure on loan waiver in the first year could be no more than Rs 20,000 crore. Operationally, the waiver of Rs 60,000 crore will occur over three years. More interestingly, much of the write-offs will happen among loans which are already sitting as non-performing assets (NPAs) in banks. So the bank books will get cleaned up to that extent. In lieu of the write-offs, the banks could receive government bonds which they could liquidate in the market or sell to the Reserve Bank of India. True, this may constitute another offbalance sheet borrowing by the government. Even after taking some of the off-balance sheet items, heavens won't fall if the fiscal deficit moves up to 4% of GDP. What is the great sanctity to the 3% figure, one fails to understand. Both oil and food subsidies today are being enjoyed across the board by urban and rural India, and these subsidies have helped to keep food prices under control. It is difficult to imagine the political class surviving if the price of wheat in India were to track international trend. Global wheat prices have doubled in the past year. The price of other mass consumption items such as edible oil too has been maintained at lower than international price. Bad economics, but good for collective survival. So current circumstances in the global economy are exceptional and the budget has done well to admit that there are off-balance sheet subsidies whose value is growing by the day on account of rising global prices. Finally, support for further economic reforms in the context of India's globalisation will be mustered more easily if the deprived sections are assured of some safety net. The benefit of all this will eventually accrue to the growing aspirational middle class. This perspective must not be lost sight of. After all, it is in the interest of the emerging bourgeoisie to keep the present system alive and ticking.

  • Countering global economic crisis

    A GLOBAL economic slowdown is underway. What began as a problem in a single sector in a single economy

  • Govt. to strive for growth with low inflation

    Even as there were no easy ways of balancing high economic growth with low inflation, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram on Tuesday said the Government would strive to peg the overall growth rate at near nine per cent while containing the inflation rate at close to four per cent. In his post-Budget interaction with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) here, Mr. Chidambaram said: "The goal is to have a growth close to nine [per cent] and inflation close to four [per cent]. That is why we assume 13 per cent [nominal] GDP growth.' Pointing out that in this exercise, while the Government sometimes succeeded and also missed the target at other times, he said: "In a country where economy is growing close by over eight per cent, close to nine per cent, there is bound to be some inflation.' Inflation in India, he said, was caused by supply-demand mismatch between food items and the oligopolistic tendencies in some industries. Besides, the growth in money supply was yet another reason which, in a sense, was a reflection of the high growth the country was experiencing. However, to keep the India growth story intact, Mr. Chidambaram pointed to the numerous measures announced in the budget for 2008-09. "I think we have announced a number of measures that are intended to ensure that the growth story is intact... I am betting on your [corporates] growth. I am bullish on your growth. I hope you are as bullish as I am about the growth story,' he said. Projecting that India Inc. would provide Rs. 5,50,000 crore next year by way of taxes, excluding personal income-tax, Mr. Chidambaram noted that while steps had been taken to provide more money to the consumer for spending, the fiscal stimulus to the economy would come from the cuts in excise and customs duties and the Central Sales Tax. "Unless my friend Shubhashis Gangopadhyay [Adviser to Finance Minister] and other economists are hopelessly wrong about their economics, all these make up for the text-book prescription for higher growth,' he said. These measures together, including the across-the-board excise cut from 16 per cent to 14 per cent, were a powerful combination to keep the growth story intact. "I have taken the first step to signal the whole country, especially States, that I prepare to look forward in order to accommodate my financial interests with the final number [for goods and services tax], and you can prepare to accommodate your financial interests with the final number,' Mr Chidambaram said.

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