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(Article) CSM - May 2013: Economic Survey 2012-13: Expecting Turnaround

Economic Survey 2012-13: Expecting Turnaround

Economic Survey is presented every year, just before the Union Budget. It is a flagship annual document of the Ministry of Finance, Government of India. Economic Survey reviews the developments in the Indian economy over the previous 12 months. It summarizes the performance on major development programmes, and highlights the policy initiatives of the government and the prospects of the economy in the short to medium term. The economic survey 2012-13 was prepared by a team of economists led by Chief Economic Advisor Raghuram Rajan, and pitches for speeding up economic reforms to activate a sluggish economy. It serves as an indicator of what is likely to be contained in the General Budget proposals.

According to Economic Survey 2012-13 Indian economy likely to grow between 6.1% to 6.7%. The survey points out that the priority for the Government will be to fight high inflation by reducing the fiscal impetus to demand as well as by focusing on incentivizing food production through measures other than price supports. Following the slowdown induced by the global financial crisis in 2008-09, the Indian economy responded strongly to fiscal and monetary stimulus and achieved a growth rate of 8.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively in 2009-10 and 2010-11, but due to a combination of both external and domestic factors, the economy decelerated growing at 6.2% and an estimated 5% in 2011-12 and 2012- 13 respectively. The Economic Survey 2012-13, presented by the Finance Minister Shri P. Chidambaram in the Lok Sabha predicts that the global economy is also likely to recover in 2013 and various government measures will help in improving the Indian economy’s outlook for 2013-14. While India’s recent slowdown is partly rooted in external causes, domestic causes are also important. The slowdown in the rate of growth of services in 2011-12 at 8.2%, and particularly in 2012-13 to 6.6 percent from the double-digit growth of the previous six years, contributed significantly to slowdown in the overall growth of the economy, while some slowdown could also be attributed to the lower growth in agriculture and industrial activities. But despite the slowdown, the services sector has shown more resilience to worsening external conditions than agriculture and industry. For improved agricultural growth, the survey underlines the need for stable and consistent policies where markets play an appropriate role, private investment in infrastructure is stepped up, food price, food stock management and food distribution improves, and a predictable trade policy is adopted for agriculture. FDI in retail allowed by the government can pave the way for investment in new technology and marketing of agricultural produce in India. Fast agricultural growth remains vital for jobs, incomes and food security.

The survey points out that the priority for the Government will be to fight high inflation by reducing the fiscal impetus to demand as well as by focusing on incentivizing food production through measures other than price supports. But unlike the previous year, when food inflation was mainly driven by higher protein food prices, this year the pressure has been coming mainly from cereals. On the Balance of Payments and External Position, the survey highlights that with net exports declining, India’s balance of payments has come under pressure. Moreover, in the current fiscal, foreign exchange reserves have fluctuated between US$ 286 billion and US$ 295.6 billion, while the rupee remained volatile in the range of Rs 53.02 to Rs 54.78 per US dollar during October 2012 to January 2013.

The survey had a special chapter focusing on jobs. The future holds promise for India provided we can seize the “demographic dividend” as nearly half the additions to the Indian labour force over the period 2011-30 will be in the age group 30-49. India is creating jobs in industry but mainly in low productivity construction and not enough formal jobs in manufacturing, which typically are higher productivity. The high productivity service sector is also not creating enough jobs. As the number of people looking for jobs rises, both because of the population dividend and because share of agriculture shrinks, these vulnerabilities will become important. Because good jobs are both the pathway to growth as well as the best form of inclusion, India has to think of ways of enabling their creation.

The survey calls for a widening of the tax base, and prioritization of expenditure as key ingredients of a credible medium term fiscal consolidation plan. This along with demand compression and augmented agricultural production should lead to lower inflation, giving the RBI the requisite flexibility to reduce policy rates. Lower interest rates could provide an additional fillip to investment activity for the industry and services sectors, especially if some of the regulatory, bureaucratic, and financial impediments to investment are eased. On financial sector reform, it takes note of the high level of gross NPAs (non-performing assets) of the banking sector which increased from 2.36 percent of the total credit advanced in March 2011 to 3.57 percent of total credit advanced in September 2012. The survey suggests that revival of growth will help contain NPAs, but more attention will have to be paid to whether projects are adequately capitalized up front given the risks. Expenditure on social services also increased considerably in the 12th Plan, with the education sector accounting for the largest share, followed by health. In the 11th Plan period nearly 7 lakh crore rupees has been spent on the 15 major flagshipprogrammes. A number of legislative steps have also been taken to secure the rights of people, like the RTI, MGNREGA, the Forest Rights Act, AND THE Right to Education. However, the survey notes that there are pressing governance issues like programme leakages and funds not reaching the targeted beneficiaries that need to be addressed. Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) with the help of the Unique Identification Number (Aadhaar) can help plug some of these leakages. With the 12thPlan’s focus on ‘environmental sustainability’, India is on the right track. However, the challenge for India is to make the key drivers and enablers of growth-be it infrastructure, the transportation sector, housing, or sustainable agriculture-grow sustainably.

Dr. Raghuram G. Rajan, Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance writes in an introduction to the Survey that these are difficult times, but India has navigated such times before, and with good policies it will come through stronger. Slowdown is a wake-up call for increasing the pace of actions and reforms. The way out lies in shifting national spending from consumption to investment, removing the bottlenecks to investment, growth, and job creation, in part through structural reforms, combating inflation both through monetary and supply side measures, reducing the costs for borrowers of raising finances and increasing the opportunities for savers to get strong real investment returns.

The slowdown in Indian economy was attributed largely to weakening industrial growth. The industrial sector has performed poorly, retreating to a 27% share of the GDP.

The services sector however continued to be a star performer as its share in GDP climbed from 58% in 2010-11 to 59% in 2011-12 with a growth rate of 9.4%. Agriculture and allied sectors were estimated to achieve a growth rate of 2.5% in 2011-12. Agriculture & allied sectors were are estimated to achieve a growth rate of 2.5% in 2011-12 with foodgrains production likely to cross 250.42 million tones as a result of increase in the production of rice in a number of states. Overall growth during April- December 2011 reached 3.6% compared to 8.3% in the corresponding period of the previous year.

The fiscal 2011-12 was marked by a sharp depreciation of the Indian rupee. In the current fiscal 2011-12, on month-to-month basis the rupee depreciated by 12.4 per cent from 44.97 per US dollar in.

March 2011 to 51.34 per US dollar in January 2012. Rupee reached a peak of 43.94 on 27 July 27 2011 and lowest at 54.23 per US dollar on 15 December 2011 indicating a depreciation of 19 per cent. The RBI was required to sell dollars twice in the fiscal to help raise the value of the rupee.

Also in 2011-12 India’s external debt stock increased by US $ 20.2 billion (6.6 per cent) to US $ 326.6 billion at end-September 2011 vis-à-vis US $ 306.4 billion at end-March 2011, primarily due to higher commercial borrowings and short-term debt.

Inflation as measured by the wholesale price index (WPI) remained high during greater part of 2011-12 fiscal, though by year end a noticeable slowdown in price rise was registered. Food inflation, in particular came down significantly. RBI adopted stringent monetary policies to control inflation as well as curb inflationary pressures. The high rate of interest established by the central bank lowered growth rate of investment in the economy as the sharp increase in interest rates resulted in higher costs of borrowings and other rising costs affecting profitability.

Economic Survey 2011-12 stated that India’s foreign trade performance will remain a key driver of growth in the coming fiscal 2012-13. During the first half of 2011- 12, India’s export growth was 40.5%, but it failed to remain high for the entire fiscal. Imports grew rapidly, by 30.4% during 2011-12 (April- December). India’s Balance of Payments widened to $ 32.8 billion in the first half of 2011-12, compared to $29.6 billion during the corresponding period of the earlier fiscal 2010-11. The foreign exchange reserves increased from US $ 279 billion at end March 2010 to US $ 305 billion at end March 2011. Reserves were found to vary from an all-time peak of US$ 322.2 billion at end August 2011 and a low of US $ 292.8 billion at end-January 2012.

Wholesale Price Index (WPI) which remained persistently high throughout 2011 due to increasing global commodity prices and high crude prices began to moderate and it is expected to touch 6.5 to 7 percent by March 2012. Economic Survey 2011-12 observed that in 2011-12 the gap between WPI and CPI inflation narrowed due to sharp fall in food inflation. CPI-IW inflation, after remaining in single digit from August 2010 to August 2011, briefly touched double digits at 10.1 percent in September 2011. It however came down to 6.5 percent in December 2011.

The banking sector- public and private showed impressive increase in priority sector lending. The Economic Survey 2011-12 underlined the fact that flow of agricultural credit was highly impressive. The Indian banking system disbursed credit of Rs 446779 crore to the agricultural sector as against a target of Rs 375000 crore in-2010-11.

The Labour Bureau conducted twelve quarterly quick employment surveys to assess the impact of the economic slowdown on the employment sector. The surveys indicated an upward trend in employment since July 2009 was maintained. Overall employment in September 2011 over September 2010 increased by 9.11 lakh, with the highest increase recorded in IT/BPO (7.96 lakh) sector.

The coverage under t h e MGNREGA consistently increased from 4.51 crore households during 2008-09 to 5.49 crore households during 2010-11 with averaged employment of 47 persondays per household. Average wage increased from Rs 65 in 2006- 07 to Rs. 100 in 2010-11. The Survey stated that to strengthen transparency and accountability in the implementation of the MGNREGA, the Government initiated a service delivery project for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and biometrics related works of the MGNREGA on PPP basis.

The performance of broad sectors and sub sectors in key infrastructure areas in 2011-12 was both good and bad. Whereas there was improvement in growth in power, petroleum refinery, cement, railway freight traffic, passenger handled at domestic terminals and upgradation of NHAI, coal, natural gas, fertilizers, handling of export cargo at airports and number of cell phone connections show negative growth. Steel sector witnessed moderation in growth.

Survey Suggestions

Sustainable development and climate change were recognized by the survey as central areas of global concern. The Survey suggested need to examine the linkages and trade-offs between policy rate changes and inflation in the Indian context, for better calibration of monetary policy. The Economic Survey 2011-12 stated that it was essential to make lower carbon sustainable growth a central element of our Twelfth Five Year Plan commencing in April 2012.

  • Cushion for lowering trade deficit to be limited
  • Controlling subsidy expenditure remains crucial
  • Core inflation down on rbi action, fall in global prices
  • Future shift in RBI policy stance would be desirable
  • Concerns that food security bill may push up subsidy
  • Lower industrial growth due to sluggish investments
  • Impact of policy easing may not lead to inflation surge
  • Tax mop-up slippage can be lowered with additional efforts
  • Inflation expectation anchored around current inflation targets

The latest Survey, fortunately, neither exaggerates nor downplays the causes and consequences of the current economic problems. The slowdown, characterised by low growth and high inflation, is rooted in domestic as well as external causes. During the two years 2009- 10 and 2010-11, the post-crisis stimulus led to strong growth and boosted consumption. That, along with supply side constraints, led to higher inflation which, in turn, produced monetary tightening and sharply lower growth. The two obvious policy measures to regain a higher growth trajectory are, therefore, a softening of monetary policy and the easing of supply bottlenecks, especially relating to infrastructure. Positing a “bottoming out” of the economy, the Survey optimistically predicts a growth rate of between 6.1 and 6.7 per cent during 2013-14, sharply higher than the 5 per cent during this year. It says headline inflation will fall to between 6.2 and 6.6 per cent by the end of next month. There are, however, good reasons why we may not meet those targets.

Since growth is strongly correlated with investment, it is necessary to bridge the savingsinvestment gap which rose to minus 4.2 per cent of GDP at the end of last year. With savings by the government and private sector shrinking, the current account deficit — i.e. the investment that cannot be financed by domestic savings and has to be financed from abroad — widened. Together, the CAD and fiscal deficit threaten macroeconomic stability and are sure to figure high up in the budget’s list of prime concerns. The Survey’s suggestions for reining in subsidies are not new. It has emphasised the need for better targeting and reduced leakages in their delivery. These are areas which the Finance Minister will most likely address. Also certain are allocations to support the National Food Security legislation, a major socio-economic — and indeed political — initiative of the government in the run up to the next general election. Although the subsidy outgo might go up, the Survey is absolutely right when it calls for this important scheme to be supported.

The Economic Survey in conclusion mentioned that India is more closely integrated with the world economy as its share of trade to GDP of goods and services tripled between 1990-2010. The extent of financial integration, measured by flows of capital as a share of GDP also increased leading to an expansion of India’s role in the world economy.

Srishti Sinha