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Economic Reforms in india

Economic Reforms in india

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10/22/2010

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Economic Reforms in India:Where are We and Where do We Go?Rakesh Mohan
We have now had a decade and a half of economic reforms. It isperhaps appropriate at this point to stand back and take stock of what wehave done as we venture further. Today I shall, therefore, make an effort to(a) review what has been done; (b) evaluate where we are; and (c) suggestwhere we need to go.Let me give you the backdrop as to what motivated me to choose thistopic. I recently came across,
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference
, by Malcolm Gladwell. He observes that many large changessometimes happen in a hurry. Whereas there is usually a step by step,gradual process of little changes taking place, an epidemic suddenly acquiresa tipping point and spreads suddenly. I believe that at the present juncture weare in need of such an epidemic of change and growth; we are perhaps at thetipping point. The macro-foundations of a healthy environment have been laidand now we need lots of little things to make a big difference.
I.What Has Been Done
What has been the main objective of the overall economic reformprocess in India, or for that matter, anywhere? The primary objective has tobe the overall acceleration of economic growth along with rapid elimination of poverty. The means to achieve these objectives would be the injection of competition in the economy in order to induce greater efficiency andproductivity gains; and dedicated efforts are needed to build capacity throughhuman resource development.Let me begin with a broad brush of history. Around 50 to 100 yearsbefore our independence in 1947, there was hardly any discernible economicgrowth in the whole Indian sub-continent. Per capita income was stagnant,perhaps declining over that whole long period. After independence, annualper capita growth broke out of this long period of slumber and was in therange of 1 to 1.5 per cent for about 30 years or so until around 1980. After 1980 it increased to about 3-4 per cent, which was a major departure in our recorded history. Along with this change, a good deal of new thinking alsotook place in terms of the strategy for future economic policy. As it happened,there was a full blown economic crisis at the end of the 1980s: the balance of payments came under severe pressure, and a realistic threat of sovereigndefault loomed over us; fiscal deficits had increased significantly over the1980s; and inflation began to creep up to the late teens. These unfortunatedevelopments focussed our minds like never before: India has a proud historyof never ever having defaulted on our international objections; our fiscal
 
Lecture by Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India at a Public Seminar organized by Institute of South Asia Studies in Singapore on November 10, 2006. Views expressed are personal.
 
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management has historically been conservative; and inflation seldomexceeded 10 per cent.Consequently, a whole reform process got unleashed in 1991.I will first give a brief run-down of the various reforms that have takenplace in the last 15 years before providing some evidence of their effectiveness. For expository convenience I shall make a conceptualdifference between (a) macroeconomic reforms and (b) microeconomicreforms.
Macroeconomic Reforms and Fiscal Stabilisation
Over a period of time through the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s theeconomy had become over controlled and rigid; consequentlyentrepreneurship was heavily constrained. The import substituting inwardlooking development strategy that could have been relevant in the 1950s and1960s was no longer suitable in the modern globalising world. Hence overallreform had to be undertaken to lay down a new framework. Wide rangingmacro reforms were undertaken along with corresponding microeconomic andsectoral reforms. The macro reforms can be divided into (a) fiscal policy
,
(b)monetary policy, (c) trade policy, and (d) exchange rate management. Withoutany claim of exhaustiveness, the exposition aims at setting the context.
Fiscal System
The tax system, both for direct and indirect taxes, had become verycomplex in India. Maximum marginal personal income tax rates were high,along with a number of rates for different income ranges. The corporate taxrate was high too. Accordingly, the tax code had to be riddled with a number of special provisions for exemption of different kinds of income, and thecorporate tax code was full of exceptions and incentives. Because of highrates and complexity, avoidance and evasion was naturally high. As aconsequence, over the whole reform period, both the personal income tax andcorporate tax rates have gradually been brought down to 30 per cent, alongwith considerable simplification.Similarly, in the case of indirect taxes, there were high levels of bothdomestic excise duties and customs tariffs, with a myriad of rates for differentcommodities. Again, this necessitated a whole range of specific provisionsand exemptions for different kinds of producers and end uses, leading to greatadministrative complexity. A major programme of comprehensive andcontinuous reform has had to be undertaken over the last 15 years. The ratesin case of customs duties have been brought down from an average of 110per cent in 1991 (with highs over 400 percent) to a non agricultural peak of 12.5 per cent in 2006. There has been massive simplification of the excisetax structure to achieve a “central” rate (CENVAT) of 16 per cent (apart from afew exceptions like food products, textiles and some optical fibres that attractlower tax rates). Excise, which is levied at the manufacturing stage, is nowessentially levied as a VAT (Value Added Tax) so that cascading is avoided.In addition, the service tax has been introduced in order to tax the whole
 
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economy more fairly and to reduce the excessive burden on one sector, themanufacturing sector. Such tax reforms typically take a long time.The latest most significant measure taken is the introduction of theFiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act (FRBM) in 2004, whichenjoins the government to eliminate its revenue deficit and reduce its fiscaldeficit to 3 per cent of GDP by 2009. Similar acts have been passed by moststate governments (23 states so far). So fiscal responsibility has now becomepart of our legislative commitments. The other most noteworthy developmentat the federal level is the transformation of state level sales taxes to the ValueAdded Tax (VAT), which has introduced a large measure of rationality anduniformity in the state tax system. The state sales tax system had alsosuffered from great complexity in terms of multiplicity of rates and specialprovisions. A vital feature of this tax reform has been the consultative processamong all the states as mediated by the central government, which thenresulted in this consensus for massive reform.Overall, the fiscal reform process spanning both the central and stategovernments over the last 15 years has been truly wide ranging.
Monetary Policy 
Over the 1970s and 1980s, monetary policy, as we know it, hadbecome almost non-existent: with a system of credit allocation, administeredand different interest rates for different purposes; automatic monetization of fiscal deficits; and financial repression through pre-emption of banks’resources.Hence a number of measures had to be taken. These include:elimination of automatic monetization, reduction of statutory pre-emption of the lendable resource of banks, and interest rate deregulation. As a result of these measures independence of monetary policy and the central bank hasbeen restored. There was a consequent movement from direct to indirectinstruments of monetary policy. These changes in the practice of monetarypolicy are manifest in its effectiveness in the significant reduction of inflation.In fact, if one bifurcates the period since independence into two, one from theearly 1950s to late 1990s, and the other since the late-1990s to present day,then there is marked difference in the average inflation rates between the twoperiods. While it was around 7-8 per cent during the first forty five years, it hasfallen to around five per cent in the recent period since the late 1990s.
External Sector Reforms
It was the balance of payment crisis in 1991 that was the key trigger for reforms. Consequently, actions on the external sector have been of thegreatest importance. Despite the existence of comprehensive quantitativetrade restrictions along with high levels of tariffs, the balance of payments wasunder continuous pressure through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.Consequently, exogenous shocks such as oil price rises, or monsoon failures,invariably led to large crises necessitating recourse to IMF resources. Withthe existence of these trade restrictions, the exchange rate was typically

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