India was a latecomer to economic reforms, embarking on the process in earnest only in 1991, in the wake of an exceptionally severe balance of payments crisis. The need for a policy shift had become evident much earlier, as many countries in East Asia achieved high growth and poverty reduction through policies which emphasized greater export orientation and encouragement of the private sector. India took some steps in this direction in the 1980s, but it was not until 1991 that the government signaled a systemic shift to a more open economy with greater reliance upon market forces, a larger role for the private sector including foreign investment, and a restructuring of the role of government. In 1980s growth was unsustainable, fuelled by a buildup of external debt which culminated in the crisis of 1991. In sharp contrast, growth in the 1990s was accompanied by remarkable external stability despite the East Asian crisis. Poverty also declined significantly in the post-reform period, and at a faster rate than in the 1980s according to some studies. In the following paper, five major areas are covered by the reform program: fiscal deficit reduction, industrial and trade policy, agricultural policy, infrastructure development and social sector development. Savings, Investment and Fiscal Discipline
Fiscal profligacy was seen to have caused the balance of payments crisis in 1991 and a reduction in the fiscal deficit was therefore an urgent priority at the start of the reforms. The combined fiscal deficit of the central and state governments was successfully reduced from 9.4 percent of GDP in 1990-91 to 7 percent in both 1991-92 and 1992-93 and the balance of payments crisis was over by 1993. The fiscal failures of both the central and the state governments have squeezed the capacity of both the center and the states to undertake essential public investment. High levels of government borrowing have also crowded out private investment. Unless this problem is addressed, the potential benefits from reforms in other areas will be eroded and it may be difficult even to maintain the average growth rate of 6 percent experienced in the first ten years after the reforms, let alone accelerate to 8 percent. Reforms in Industrial and Trade Policy
Reforms in industrial and trade policy were a central focus of much of India’s reform effort in the early stages. Industrial policy prior to the reforms was characterized by multiple controls over private investment which limited the areas in which private investors were allowed to operate, and often also determined the scale of operations, the location of new investment, and even the technology to be used. The industrial structure that evolved under this regime was highly inefficient and needed to be supported by a highly protective trade policy, often providing tailor-made protection to each sector of industry. The costs imposed by these policies had been extensively studied (for example, Bhagwati and Desai, 1965; Bhagwati and Srinivasan, 1971; Ahluwalia, 1985) and by 1991 a broad consensus had emerged on the need for greater liberalization and openness. A great deal has been achieved at the end of ten years of gradualist reforms. Industrial Policy
Industrial policy has seen the greatest change, with most central government industrial controls being dismantled. The list of industries reserved solely for the public sector -- which used to cover 18 industries has been drastically reduced to three: defense aircrafts and warships, atomic energy generation, and railway transport. Industrial licensing by the central government has been almost abolished except for a few hazardous and environmentally sensitive industries. The requirement that investments by large industrial houses needed a separate clearance under the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act to discourage the concentration of economic power was abolished and the act itself is to be...