Will the Budget nudge growth? - Hindustan Times
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Will the Budget nudge growth?

Feb 01, 2023 09:38 PM IST

The upside in India’s growth moderation story is that the country will continue to be the fastest-growing major economy in the world and will be performing in line with its medium-term potential growth rate (IMF estimate) of 6%.

The one line answer to this question is: protecting macroeconomic stability and focusing on quality of spending. The other way to put this is that the Budget is not obsessed with giving an immediate (and artificial) boost to economic growth.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented an annual budget that calls for ramping up capital spending by 33% to spur economic growth and create jobs (AP)
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented an annual budget that calls for ramping up capital spending by 33% to spur economic growth and create jobs (AP)

The context to this answer is that Indian economy is anyway expected to slow down in 2023-24 compared to 2022-23. Real GDP growth in 2022-23 is expected to be 7% and the Economic Survey has projected a baseline GDP growth of 6.5% for 2023-24. The upside in this growth moderation story is that India will continue to be the fastest-growing major economy in the world and it will be performing in line with its medium-term potential growth rate (IMF estimate) of 6%.

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Perhaps this is what convinced the government that the best way to boost Indian economy’s long-term prospects (its policymaking horizon is 2047 when India completes 100 years of independence) is to crowd in private investment by pump priming public investment. A research note by HSBC economists Pranjul Bhandari and Aayushi Chaudhary points that revenue-to-capex-expenditure ratio has fallen from 6.5 in the pre-pandemic years to a budgeted 3.5 in 2023-24. To be sure, the strategy, as of now, has not been as successful as the government expected it to be. The Economic Survey dropped a hint on this front when it emphasized that “private capex soon needs to take up the leadership role to put job creation on [the] fast track”.

Almost all economists agree that India cannot achieve a sustained high growth trajectory without a manufacturing revolution. The flagship Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme to promote manufacturing has seen a gradual expansion, both in terms of allocation and sectors included. And this year’s budget has tended to a common criticism by many economists about correcting the inverted duty structure to help the cause of manufacturing in India. It has brought down customs duties on key manufacturing inputs such as mobile phones and TV components. It is clear that the budgetary announcements and the government’s overall policy direction are geared towards its efforts to take over some part of China’s role in global supply chains.

Where does macroeconomic stability fit in the growth narrative of the budget? The global economy continues to face turbulent weather and it is bound to generate headwinds for the export engine of growth. India’s economic policy has been extremely cautious in this milieu. The Reserve Bank of India has aggressively hiked rates to boost its inflation targeting credentials and the budget has reiterated its commitment to fiscal consolidation. By doing this, the government expects domestic headwinds (to growth) of such actions to be compensated by tail winds from a more favourable outlook by foreign capital, both of the greenfield (foreign direct investment) and financial (foreign portfolio investment) variety. This, the government is perhaps hoping, will help in replenishing India’s foreign exchange reserves, maintaining the relative premium Indian equity markets enjoy vis-à-vis peers – the wealth effects of an adverse movement here can be significant now – and convince large investors that India’s long-term macroeconomic stability is intact under the current regime.

Is there a weak link in this growth strategy? One could emerge if the impact of schemes such as PLIs is not significant enough to compensate for the loss in economic momentum from the informal sector of the economy which will put a squeeze on earnings for a huge majority of workers in the Indian economy. Add to this the fact that some of the consumption demand in 2022-23 was exhaustion of pent-up demand and the growth narrative of this year’s budget could fall short of the required ballast from animal spirits of private capital which the government anticipates.

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