India's government releases budget aimed at reviving growth

Structural reforms needed to shore up India's slowing growth may prove politically difficult, analyst says.

    India needs to carry out land and labour reforms, and invest in infrastructure and the digital economy, recently appointed Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said as she unveiled the 2019/2020 budget [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]
    India needs to carry out land and labour reforms, and invest in infrastructure and the digital economy, recently appointed Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said as she unveiled the 2019/2020 budget [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government unveiled its budget proposal for 2019/2020 on Friday, seeking to reverse weakening growth and investment that threaten to take the shine off a recent landslide election victory.

    Recently appointed Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, presenting the annual budget statement to parliament in the Indian capital, New Delhi, said the government planned structural reforms to kick-start foreign and domestic investment.

    Modi has set a target of growing India into a $5 trillion economy by 2024/2025, up from $2.7 trillion. The government's annual economic report published on Thursday said it will try to achieve that through higher investments, savings and exports in the way China's growth was propelled.

    "We need to invest heavily in infrastructure, digital economy, job creation," Sitharaman said, adding India is set to become a $3 trillion economy in the current fiscal year.

    But economists say scaling up Asia's third-largest economy in rapid fashion will need bold reforms including freeing up land and labour markets, which Modi shied away from in his first term for fear of political backlash.

    Capital Economics said in a note on Friday that reaching that target "is dependent in large part on achieving real GDP (gross domestic product) growth of eight percent a year, which we think is unlikely.

    "Land and labour reforms are difficult in a democracy like India and it seems unlikely Modi will risk drawing the ire of his Bharatiya Janata Party voters that re-elected him with a huge mandate. India's economy is also running into global headwinds with growth weighed down by trade wars and protectionism."

    Asia's third-largest economy grew at a much slower-than-expected 5.8 percent in the last quarter, the weakest growth rate in five years and far below the pace needed to generate jobs for the millions of young Indians entering the labour market each month.

    And the unemployment rate rose to a multi-year-high of 6.1 percent in the 2017/18 fiscal year. New investment proposals in 2018/19 fell to 9.5 trillion rupees ($138.5bn), the lowest investment proposals recorded in 14 years, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a Mumbai based think-tank.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency