NITI’s Kumar bats for fiscal stimulus

In the right bucket:“It depends on how you raise spending. If you give out doles, then it will give [the] wrong signal.”

In the right bucket:“It depends on how you raise spending. If you give out doles, then it will give [the] wrong signal.”  

But additional expenditure should be used only for raising productivity and capex, he says

NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar has pitched for fiscal stimulus to boost growth, with a rider that additional expenditure should be used only for increasing productivity and capital expenditure.

Faced with slowing economic growth, the industry has been clamouring for a stimulus package from the government. “I do see a case for stimulus,” Mr. Kumar told PTI in an interview. He added, however, that additional expenditure should be used judiciously. Mr. Kumar’s comments come a day after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley saying that he had not promised any fiscal stimulus, but would respond to the emerging situation.

Mr. Jaitley’s remarks followed increased speculation over a possible fiscal stimulus that can go above Rs 40,000 crore after six successive quarters of dip in the economic growth, which slid to 3—year low of 5.7 per cent in the April—June quarter.

The finance ministry has pegged the fiscal deficit target for 2017-18 at 3.2% of the GDP and at 3% for the following year. Any fiscal stimulus to boost sagging growth would push up fiscal deficit.

‘More roads, airports’

Various experts have argued against fiscal stimulus as it would jeopardise the fiscal consolidation programme.

On apprehensions about the stimulus, Mr. Kumar said: “It depends on how you increase government spending. If you... throw money away and give doles then, yes, of course it will give [the] wrong signal. But if you are doing that by increasing productivity and capital investment by making, for example, more roads, more airports, more railways, nobody can argue that this will give a bad signal.”

Mr. Kumar further noted that the only issue, then, was whether stimulus could be productively absorbed. “Stimulus money should be used on increasing investment, increasing demand and improving physical and rural infrastructure.”

The newly constituted Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister wants the government to stick to its fiscal consolidation road map and has suggested that stimulus to the industry should not be at the cost of fiscal prudence. The RBI had cautioned the Centre against a stimulus package to revive sagging growth, arguing that breaching the fiscal deficit target will fire up inflation and hurt long-term macroeconomic stability.

As at August end, the government has already run up 96.1% of its fiscal deficit targets for the year 2017—18 as it has advanced spending on core infra sectors like roads, ports and railways.

Brokerage firm Nomura has warned that the present macro problems are due to higher spending, not a lack of that. It has also argued that they are not due to low revenue receipts either, hence a pump priming may be counterproductive this time around.

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