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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More