Fiscal Policy of India from 1991 to 2011

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Fiscal Policy in India (An overview 1991-2011)

Abstract

This essay examines the trajectory of India’s fiscal policy with a focus on historical trends, fiscal discipline frameworks, and fiscal responses to the global financial crisis and subsequent return to a fiscal consolidation path. The initial years of India’s planned development strategy were characterized by a conservative fiscal policy whereby deficits were kept under control. The tax system was geared to transfer resources from the private sector to fund the large public sector driven industrialization process and also cover social welfare schemes. However, growth was anemic and the system was prone to inefficiencies. In the 1980s some attempts were made to reform particular sectors. But the public debt increased, as did the fiscal deficit. India’s balance of payments crisis of 1991 led to economic liberalization. The reform of the tax system commenced. The fiscal deficit was brought under control. When the deficit and debt situation again threatened to go out of control in the early 2000s, fiscal discipline legalizations were instituted. The deficit was brought under control and by 2007-08 a benign macro-fiscal situation with high growth and moderate inflation prevailed. During the global financial crisis fiscal policy responded with counter-cyclical measures including tax cuts and increases in expenditures. The post-crisis recovery of the Indian economy is witnessing a correction of the fiscal policy path towards a regime of prudence. In the future, the focus would probably be on bringing in new tax reforms and better targeting of social expenditures.

Introduction

Fiscal policy deals with the taxation and expenditure decisions of the government. Monetary policy, deals with the supply of money in the economy and the rate of interest. These are the main policy approaches used by economic managers to steer the broad aspects of the economy. In most modern economies, the government deals with fiscal policy while the central bank is responsible for monetary policy. Fiscal policy is composed of several parts. These include, tax policy, expenditure policy, investment or disinvestment strategies and debt or surplus management. Fiscal policy is an important constituent of the overall economic framework of a country and is therefore intimately linked with its general economic policy strategy.

Fiscal policy also feeds into economic trends and influences monetary policy. When the government receives more than it spends, it has a surplus. If the government spends more than it receives it runs a deficit. To meet the additional expenditures, it needs to borrow from domestic or foreign sources, draw upon its foreign exchange reserves or print an equivalent amount of money.1 This tends to influence other economic variables. On a Broad generalization, excessive printing of money leads to inflation. If the government borrows too much from abroad it leads to a debt crisis. If it draws down on its foreign exchange reserves, a balance of payments crisis may arise. Excessive domestic borrowing by the government may lead to higher real interest rates and the domestic private sector being unable to access funds resulting in the „crowding out‟ of private investment. Sometimes a combination of these can occur. In any case, the impact of a large deficit on long run growth and economic well-being is negative. Therefore, there is broad agreement that it is not prudent for a government to run an unduly large deficit. However, in case of developing countries, where the need for infrastructure and social investments may be substantial, it sometimes argued that running surpluses at the cost of long-term growth might also not be wise (Fischer and Easterly, 1990). The challenge then for most...
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