Modi’s first fiscal challenge

narendra_modi

 

Vivek Kaul

N Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister of new Andhra Pradesh (what remains of the state after the creation of Telangana), wants to waive off bank loans to farmers and women’s self-help groups amounting to a whopping Rs 54,000 crore. Naidu promised this freebie during the course of the election campaign and now wants to fulfil it.
The trouble of course is that the banks which made these loans will have to be adequately compensated. And for that the newly elected state government will need money, which it does not have. It is estimated that the revenue deficit of Andhra Pradesh will amount to Rs 13,579 crore during the course of this financial year(April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015). Revenue deficit is the difference between the revenue expenditure and the revenue income of a government.
Hence, the question is where will the government get this money from? Naidu is hoping that the Narendra Modi led government at the centre (BJP fought elections along with Naidu’s Telgu Desam Party both at the state and the national level) will help him fulfil his electoral promises.
But the central government is already stretched on the finance front. In the interim budget presented in February 2014, the fiscal deficit for this financial year was projected to be at Rs 5,28,631 crore or 4.1% of GDP. Even this projection was primarily achieved by cutting down on the asset creating planned expenditure and by not recognising’certain’expenses which in total amounted to more than Rs 1,00,000 crore. Hence, the actual fiscal deficit would have been significantly higher. Fiscal deficit is the difference between what a government spends and what it earns.
If the central government chooses to assist the new Andhra Pradesh government with the entire Rs 54,000 crore that is needed, then it will end up adding to its already high fiscal deficit. In fact, the amount that the new Andhra Pradesh government needs to waive off loans is more or less equal to the assistance that the old Andhra Pradesh received from the central government over the last 10 years(between 2004-2005 and 2013-2014). This assistance amounted to a total of Rs 54,613.4 crore. This comparison clearly tells us the astonishing amount of money that is needed to write off these loans.
One reason that the Modi government might choose to entertain Naidu is the fact that it does not have enough numbers in the Rajya Sabha. But if it entertains Naidu, then it will also have to entertain the likes of Naveen Patnaik and J Jayalalitha, who have been demanding special packages for their states, in return for their support in the Rajya Sabha. And where is all that money going to come from?
Also, it will go against the Modi’s entire electoral pitch of the government creating an enabling environment that allows people to progress, instead of giving out doles to them. It is worth remembering here that the new Andhra Pradesh has around 5% of India’s population. Given that, the question is that whether the central government should be spending such a huge amount of money in a single year on one single state? And the answer is no.
The other option for the new Andhra Pradesh government is to borrow this money by issuing bonds. The trouble is that a state cannot borrow an unlimited amount of money. The borrowing limit for old Andhra Pradesh had been set at Rs 29,000 crore, at the beginning of this financial year. Hence, the borrowing limit for the new Andhra Pradesh will clearly be less than that. Also, as pointed out earlier the state is already expected to run a revenue deficit of Rs 13,579 crore during this financial year.
The moral of the story is that the math for waiving off loans made to farmers and self help groups, does not really work out. News reports suggest that the bankers have requested the ministry of finance to try and convince the new Andhra Pradesh government, not to go ahead with this plan. Other than the math not working out, there are other reasons why the new Andhra Pradesh government shouldn’t be going ahead trying to waive off loans.
First and foremost, it is not fair on the people who have honestly repaid their loans in the past. Also, it will reward those who have defaulted on their loans.
Second, it brings the issue of moral hazard to the core. Economist Alan Blinder in his book After the Music Stopped writes that the “central idea behind moral hazard is that people who are well insured against some risk are less likely to take pains(and incur costs) to avoid it.”
What it means in this context is that after the loans are waived off this time around, people of the state of new Andhra Pradesh, will think twice before repaying their loans, in the days to come. If the government can waive off loans once, why can’t it do it all over again, is a question that the people of Andhra Pradesh will be asking themselves?
Third, in the next election the Telgu Desam and the other parties, will compete to promise even bigger freebies.
Fourth, loans being waived off benefits those people who are in a position to take a bank loan, in the first place. Typically, farmers with large landholdings tend to fall in this category. The small farmer is not in a position to fulfil the requirements that need to fulfilled in order to take a bank loan. Hence, the question is do the large farmers really need to be subsidised?
Fifth, the government of Andhra Pradesh needs to build a new capital over the next years. It will need a lot of money in order to do that. Hence, it makes sense for it to be fiscally responsible during its initial years.
All these reasons suggest that Chandrababu Naidu should reconsider his decision of waiving loans to farmers and self help groups of the New Andhra Pradesh.

The article originally appeared in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle dated June 11, 2014.

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He can be reached at vivek.kaul@gmail.com

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About vivekkaul
Vivek Kaul is a writer who has worked at senior positions with the Daily News and Analysis(DNA) and The Economic Times, in the past. He is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. Easy Money: The Greatest Ponzi Scheme Ever and How It Is Set to Destroy the Global Financial System , the latest book in the trilogy has just been published. The first two books in the trilogy were published in November 2013 and July 2014 respectively. Both the books were bestsellers on Amazon.com and Amazon.in. Currently he works as an economic commentator and writes regular columns for www.firstpost.com. He is also the India editor of The Daily Reckoning newsletter published by www.equitymaster.com. His writing has appeared across various other publications in India. These include The Times of India, Business Standard,Business Today, Business World, The Hindu, The Hindu Business Line, Indian Management, The Asian Age, Deccan Chronicle, Forbes India, Mutual Fund Insight, The Free Press Journal, Quartz.com, DailyO.in, Business World, Huffington Post and Wealth Insight. In the past he has also been a regular columnist for www.rediff.com. He has lectured at IIM Bangalore, IIM Indore, TA PAI Institute of Management and the Alliance University (Bangalore). He has also taught a course titled Indian Economy to the PGPMX batch of IIM Indore. His areas of interest are the intersection between politics and economics, the international financial crisis, personal finance, marketing and branding, and anything to do with cinema and music. He can be reached at vivek.kaul@gmail.com

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