News / Asia

India to Stick with Austerity Despite Looming Election

India's Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram speaks during an interview with Reuters in New Delhi, Oct. 7, 2013.
India's Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram speaks during an interview with Reuters in New Delhi, Oct. 7, 2013.
Reuters
The Indian government will have to rein in spending and cut subsidies to meet its fiscal deficit target, the country's finance minister said on Monday, underlining that an austerity drive will not be blown off course by an election due next year.
 
P. Chidambaram told Reuters ahead of a trip to the United States - where one stop will be to woo investors on the West Coast - that he will not allow the deficit to cross a “red line” set at 4.8 percent of gross domestic product this fiscal year.
 
“We've issued austerity instructions, it will bring us some savings,” he said.
 
The finance minister's vow to contain the deficit means there will be little room ahead of a tough election to spur growth, which has slumped from a double-digit pace in early 2010 to below 5.0 percent, its lowest in a decade.
 
The government recently introduced a plan to distribute cheap food for two-thirds of the population, a step widely seen as wooing voters ahead of the election. But - without giving details - Chidambaram pointed to food subsidies as one area where spending would need to be addressed in coming months.
 
Along with pallid growth, Asia's third-largest economy is facing stubborn inflation, companies are struggling and bank asset quality is worsening. But Chidambaram shrugged off the risk of a cut in India's sovereign credit rating, which is one precarious notch above junk status.
 
“There is no case for a downgrade,” he said in an interview at North Block, the sandstone colonial building that houses the finance ministry in New Delhi. “If any rating agency is looking for candidates to downgrade there are half a dozen other countries.”
 
The Indian rupee was one of the hardest-hit emerging-market currencies recently amid alarm in financial markets about an imminent “tapering” of the U.S. Federal Reserve's monetary stimulus, falling by about 20 percent at one point from May.
 
It has recovered somewhat recently, and Chidambaram said the central bank may now be able to consider reversing some of the liquidity tightening steps it took to shore the currency up.
 
“If the volatility of the rupee has been contained and speculation has come to an end, the central bank may want to unwind some of the measures it took earlier, he said.
 
On Monday the Reserve Bank of India cut a key overnight interest rate, further dialing back an emergency measure it had imposed in mid-July in order to defend the rupee that had tightened market liquidity and pushed up borrowing costs.
 
Chidambaram said there would be some impact when the Fed's tapering - which was put on hold - does eventually come, but it was now mostly factored into the market and he was confident that speculators had been put in their place.
 
“We think we have sent a message to everyone - don't speculate on the rupee,” he said.
 
“Don't write us off”
 
Chidambaram said the economic downturn was no reason to think that his Congress party, which has been weakened by years of fractious coalition rule and a string of corruption scandals, would be ousted in a national election that must be held by May.
 
“Don't write us off so easily,” he said, adding that the next leader of the Congress party would be Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India for most of its 66 years since independence.
 
“I am glad you acknowledge prime minister Rahul Gandhi, but that is a question you should put to him,” Chidambaram said, when asked if he would serve again in a government led by the party's heir apparent if Congress wins a third straight term in office. “The time has come for the torch to be passed on to a new and younger generation.”
 
Chidambaram dismissed the dazzling emergence of opposition figurehead and candidate for prime minister Narendra Modi on the national political stage as “largely media created”.
 
He conceded that the Hindu nationalist leader had united the rank and file of the Bharatiya Janata Party and “gained some traction among urban youths”, but said his party's challenger was someone with a “very, very checkered track record”.
 
Modi was chief minister of the state of Gujarat when deadly communal riots raged there in 2002. He has always vehemently denied charges that he turned a blind eye to the violence, and a Supreme Court inquiry found no evidence to prosecute him.

Tackling subsidies
 
An urbane Harvard-educated lawyer now in his third stint as finance minister, Chidambaram is widely seen as a business-friendly reformer.
 
However, the weak coalition government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has struggled to push through reforms that might correct underlying economic imbalances, such as loosening strict labor laws and implementing a goods and services tax.
 
Chidambaram said a jump in spending on fuel and food subsidies must be tackled sooner rather than later as part of a series of steps to stabilize the economy. India imports nearly 80 percent of its oil needs and the rupee's drop has made government fuel subsidies more costly.
 
“On the government side, sooner [rather] than later we will have to address the issue of higher subsidies than budgeted, on both fuel and food,” he said.
 
Last month, the government shied away from raising diesel prices by close to 10 percent to offset the financial damage Of the weaker rupee. Oil subsidies are now estimated at more than 900 billion rupees ($14.5 billion) - nearly 40 percent more than budgeted - for the current fiscal year.
 
The finance minister is unlikely to announce sweeping spending cuts, but he said he may rein in spending by some large government departments and would rigidly enforce rules that make it hard for ministries to fully utilize designated funds. ($1 = 61.8450 Indian rupees)

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid