Economic Survey calls for slashing subsidy

Economic Survey calls for slashing subsidy New Delhi: Claiming that the "downturn is more or less over", the pre-Budget Economic Survey on Wednesday projected an optimistic 6.1 to 6.7 percent growth in the next fiscal and made a strong call for cutting subsidises.

While pegging the GDP growth at an estimated 5 percent for the current fiscal, the Survey tabled in Parliament by Finance Minister P Chidambaram said "...The overall economy is expected to grow in the range of 6.1 to 6.7 percent in 2013-14" as the economy is looking up.

"Controlling the expenditure on subsidies will be crucial. The domestic prices of petroleum products, particularly diesel and LPG need to be raised in line with their prices prevailing in the international market," the Survey said.

It noted that a beginning has already been made with the decision in September last to raise the price of diesel and again in January to allow oil marketing companies to increase prices in small increments at regular intervals. The number of subsidised gas cylinders has also been capped at 9 per household.

Predicting that the headline inflation will decline to between 6.2 and 6.6 percent by next month, the Survey said that elevated food inflation would continue to remain an area of concern as it inched towards double digit in December 2012.

The Survey emphasised that efforts will have to be made to contain subsidies through better targeting and for reducing leakages involved in their delivery. One such initiative is direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme.

It said the government has been calibrating pricing policies to addressing the issue of burgeoning fertiliser subsidy and underlined the need for according priority to food subsidy in view of the under consumption of basic food by the poor and the extant of malnutrition.

The government has sought to correct this through National Food Security Act though concerns have been expressed that this would lead to a higher subsidy outgo.

"However, it is a part of the challenge of prioritisation to provide for this basic need even as other items of expenditure are minimised," the Survey said.

The Survey said while India's recent slowdown is partially rooted in external causes, domestic causes are also important.

The strong post-financial-crisis stimulus led to stronger growth in 2009-10 and 2010-11. However, the boost to consumption, coupled with supply side constraints, led to higher inflation. Monetary policy was tightened even as external headwinds to growth increased.

The consequent slowdown, especially in 2012-13, has been across the board, with no sector of the economy unaffected. Falling savings without a commensurate fall in aggregate investment have led to a widening current account deficit.

Wholesale price indexed inflation (WPI) has been coming down in recent month. However, food inflation, after a brief slowdown, continues to be higher than overall inflation. Given the higher weightage to food in consumer price indices, CPI inflation has remained close to double digits.
Another consequence of slowdown has been lower than targeted tax and non-tax revenues. With the subsidies bill, particularly that of petroleum products, increasing, the danger that fiscal targets would be breached substantially became very real in the current year, the Survey said.

"The situation warranted urgent steps to reduce government spending so as to contain inflation. Also required were steps to facilitate corporate and infrastructure investment so as to ease supply.

"Several measures announced in recent months are aimed at restoring the fiscal health of the government and shrinking the CAD as also improving the growth rate. With the global economy also likely to recover somewhat in 2013, these measures should help in improving the Indian economy's outlook for 2013-14," it said.

PTI