India’s Budget under strain on Day One of the new fiscal year

Bloomberg April 1 | Updated on April 01, 2020 Published on April 01, 2020

India kicks off its fiscal year with revenues under severe strain. A prolonged slowdown in the economy depressed tax collections in the financial year that ended on Tuesday, latest official data show. As India now conducts the world’s biggest lockdown, budget pressures are set to worsen.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has already outlined a coronavirus relief package of ₹1.7 lakh crore ($22.5 billion) and may be planning more support. That could push up the government’s fiscal deficit target to as high as 6.2 per cent of gross domestic product in the current year, according to Fitch Solutions, compared with the government’s target of 3.5 per cent. Others, like DBS Group and Nirmal Bang Institutional Equities Pvt, see a deficit of 4.5 per cent.

“All the budget maths will go haywire,” said Kunal Kundu, economist with Societe Generale GSC Pvt in Bengaluru. “There will surely have to be some restructuring in expenditure profile and the fiscal deficit would indeed have to rise, not just because of higher expenditure but also because of weaker growth.”

Even before the virus, Asia’s third-largest economy was on track for its weakest expansion in more than a decade of 5 per cent in the fiscal year that just ended.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposing a three-week lockdown on India’s 1.3 billion people from March 25 to contain the spread of the virus, non-essential consumption and production in the economy is now at a standstill.

Revenue sources

The government had expected to fund its ₹30,00,000 crore spending plan in the new fiscal year from the following sources: ₹20,00,000 from taxes, fees and dividends; ₹2,10,000 crore from asset sales; and the remaining from market borrowings.

But official data released on Tuesday show its falling far behind on its tax targets. Net tax revenue in the 11 months of the last fiscal year was 74.1 per cent of the budgeted estimate, according to figures from the Controller General of Accounts. To meet its full-year target, the government would need to have collected ₹3,90,000 crore in taxes in March.

Revenue from asset sales also look unlikely. The government had hoped to raise a record amount by selling national icons such as flag carrier Air India Ltd, refiner Bharat Petroleum Corp and listing Life Insurance Corp on the stock exchange.

Its now facing record losses in aviation, plunging oil prices, and the worst quarterly drop in local stocks since 1992, making an IPO difficult.

“Don’t even think of putting anything on the table for the next six months,” Madan Sabnavis, chief economist with Care Ratings Ltd, said by phone from Mumbai. “Aviation has come to a standstill. The oil industry is in deep trouble. Air India and BPCL dont look attractive.”

Borrowing plans

The government on Tuesday kept its borrowing target for the year at Rs 7.8 trillion, while proposing to raise 63 per cent of that amount in the first six months of the year.

“The government is committed to meet its requirements for fighting Covid-19, whether on account of health issues or on account of protecting the economy, and also providing the necessary stimulus at any point of time,” said Economic Affairs Secretary Atanu Chakraborty. The entire borrowing plan has been designed in that fashion.

On the monetary policy side, the Reserve bank of India has cut interest rates and injected $50 billion liquidity into banks to expand credit to soften the virus’ blow. The government also draws some of its revenue from the Reserve Bank of India in the form of dividends.

“The government will inevitably have to come out with additional packages,” said Teresa John, an economist at Nirmal Bang Institutional Equities Pvt. in Mumbai. “It may have to resort to higher borrowing and take out higher dividends from RBI, if possible.”

Published on April 01, 2020

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