Taking his critics head-on, RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has challenged them to show how inflation is “very low” before accusing him of “being behind the curve” in his focus on containing price rise than on growth and debunked such criticism as mere ‘dialogues’.
Mr. Rajan, who has often been seen as being critical of the government and its policies, also said there is “lot of frustration” about the pace of economic recovery, but attributed it to the two successive droughts, weak global economy and external shocks like Brexit.
Given these constraints, performance of Indian economy has been “quite creditable” and prospects of good monsoon as well as structural reforms and macroeconomic stability will accelerate the growth going forward, he added.
On GDP growth figures, the outgoing Governor said he has refrained from “thumping on the table” to put a number on GDP growth, adding people sometimes get “overly fixated with a particular growth number”, though figures like 7.6 per cent and 8 per cent are within the same range.
Speaking to a select group of journalists in Mumbai on a wide range of issues, Mr. Rajan said regarding financial inclusion, it is not possible to have bank branches in every village because that would be too expensive, but the RBI is exploring other options like mobile branches and mini or micro branches.
Mr. Rajan, who has been pilloried by his critics for keeping interest rates high and has also been accused of stifling growth, cited consumer price index (CPI)-based inflation surging for the fourth straight month in June to 5.77 per cent to defend his record.
“This discussion (on being behind the curve) keeps going on without any economic basis. You saw the CPI numbers just last week — 5.8 per cent is the CPI inflation, our policy rate is 6.5 per cent,” he said.
Asserting that he does not “really pay attention to this kind of dialogues”, Mr. Rajan said those calling him behind the curve should explain how inflation is very low to warrant lower interest rates.
One of the biggest criticisms of Mr. Rajan’s monetary policy has been by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, who accused him of being “mentally not fully Indian” and had sought his dismissal.
Amid unrelenting personal attacks, Mr. Rajan last month announced that he would step down at the end of his three-year tenure on September 4 and return to academia.
Asked what message he would like to give to his successor, Mr. Rajan said, “Wait for monetary policy.”
RBI’s next bi-monthly monetary policy review meeting is due on August 9, which would be Mr. Rajan’s last.
“I am not sure where we are behind the curve. You have to tell me that somehow inflation is very low for us to be seen as behind the curve,” he said.
The consumer inflation is currently near its two-year high and close to the upper end of the central bank’s inflation target of 2 per cent to 6 per cent.
On challenges facing the economy, Mr. Rajan said, “I think the challenges have been relatively same for quite sometime, which is we are in the midst of a recovery.”
“There is a lot of frustration with the pace of the recovery but we should remember that it is in the face of two consecutive droughts and with a global economy which has been quite weak. And of course with number of shocks coming from the global economy such as what we saw most recently with Brexit,” he said.
The Governor said given these domestic and external factors, “the performance of the Indian economy has been quite creditable.”
“And I think that the hope is with the good monsoon which we are seeing just now, that sentiment gets elevated especially in rural areas, rural consumption picks up more strongly, the agricultural sector gains strength, the rural industry gains strength and overall demand starts picking up more strongly. I think that certainly is our expectation and we will see how that plays out,” he said.
Mr. Rajan said the challenge is to strengthen the process by undertaking all the reforms that are needed.
“There is a lot of talk nowadays about GST being done in monsoon session. That would be a good thing. I think from our perspective at the RBI, the number of issues that we are working on and trying to accelerate the structural reforms process, so let’s see what we can do,” he said.
Mr. Rajan said he has refrained from “thumping on the table” to put a number on GDP growth.
“Our last projection was 7.6 per cent and I think as the monsoon develops, as the global economy develops, clearly there will be changes in that. But I think we sometimes get overly fixated with a particular growth number — 7.6, 8, they are all within the same sort of range of numbers,” he said.