Why the Price of Petrol is Racing Towards Rs 100 Per Litre

If there are two things that get people of this country interested in economics, they are the price of onion and the price of petrol racing towards Rs 100 per kg or litre, respectively.  Currently, the price of petrol is racing towards Rs 100 per litre in large parts of the country. In fact, in some parts, it has already crossed that level.

So, what’s happening here? Let’s take a look at this pointwise.

1) Take a look at the following chart, which plots the average price of the Indian basket of crude oil since January 2020.

Source: Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell.
*February price as of February 18, 2021.

What does the above chart tell us? It tells us that as the covid pandemic spread, the price of oil fell, falling to a low of $19.90 per barrel in April 2020. It has been rising since then. One simple reason for this lies in the fact that as the global economy recovers, its energy needs will go up accordingly and hence, the price of oil is going up as well.

The other reason has been the massive amount of money that Western central banks have printed through the beginning of 2020. Oil, as it had post 2008, has emerged as a hard asset of investment for many institutional and high-networth investors, leading to an increase in its price. As of February 18, the price of the Indian basket of crude oil stood at $63.65 per barrel, having risen by close to 220% during the current financial year.

2) Now let’s look at the average price of the Indian basket of crude oil over the years.

Source: Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell.
* Up to January 2021.

What does the above chart tell us? It tells us that the Narendra Modi government has been very lucky when it comes to the price of oil, with the oil price on the whole being much lower than it was between 2009 and 2014.

In May 2014, when Modi took over as the prime minister, the price of oil averaged at $106.85 per barrel. By January 2016, it had fallen to $28.08 per barrel.

Even after that, the price of oil hasn’t touched the high levels it did before 2014, in the post financial crisis years, which also happened to be the second term of the Manmohan Singh government.

A major reason for this lies in the discovery of shale oil in the United States. In fact, as Daniel Yergin writes in The New Map – Energy, Climate and the Clash of Nations: “In the autumn of 2018, though it was hardly noted at the time, something historic occurred: The United States overtook both Russia and Saudi Arabia to regain its rank as the world’s largest oil producer, a position it had lost more than four decades earlier.” This has been a major reason in the lower price of oil over a longer term.

The question that then crops up is why hasn’t petrol price in India seen low levels? The answer lies in the fact that between 2014 and 2021, the taxes on petrol, in particular central government taxes have gone up dramatically.

In short, the central government has captured a bulk of the fall in oil prices. Now when the oil price has gone up over the course of this financial year, the high-price of petrol has started to pinch.

3) Take a look at the following table. It plots the price of petrol in Delhi as of February 16, 2021 and in March 2014.

Source: https://iocl.com/uploads/priceBuildup/PriceBuildup_petrol_Delhi_as_on_16_Feb-2021.pdf
and https://www.ppac.gov.in/WriteReadData/Reports/201409231239065062686Snapshot_IOGD_MAR.pdf.

The above table makes for a very interesting reading. As of February 16, the price of petrol charged to dealers was Rs 32.1. Over and above this, the central government charged an excise duty of Rs 32.90 per litre on petrol. Add to this a dealer commission of Rs 3.68 per litre, and we are looking at a total of Rs 68.68 per litre.

On this the Delhi state government charged a value added tax of 30% or Rs 20.61 per litre. This leads to a retail price of petrol of Rs 89.29 per litre. Given that the state government charges a tax in percentage terms, the higher the price of petrol goes, the more tax the state government earns. The vice versa is also true.

Let’s compare this to how things were in March 2014. The price of petrol charged to dealers was Rs 47.13 per litre, much lower than it is today. On this, the central government’s tax amounted to Rs 10.38 per litre. The dealer commission was Rs 2 per litre.

Adding all of this up, we got a total of Rs 59.51 per litre. On this, the Delhi state government charged a value added tax of 20%, which amounted to Rs 11.9 per litre and a retail selling price of petrol of Rs 71.41 per litre. Interestingly, the state government’s tax was more than that of the central government at that point of time.

4) The above calculations explain almost everything. In March 2014, the price of petrol at the dealer level was higher than it is now, but the retail selling price was lower. Both the central government and the state government have raised taxes since then.

The total taxes as a percentage of dealer price now works out to 167% of the dealer price. In March 2014, they were at 47.3%. It is these high taxes which also explain why petrol prices in India are higher than in many other countries.

Of course, a bulk of this raise has come due to a rise in taxes charged by the central government. As mentioned earlier, the central government has captured a bulk of the fall in price of oil.

5) The calculation shown here will vary from state to state, depending on the value added tax or sales tax charged by the state government and the price at which petrol is sold to the dealers. States which charge a higher value added tax than Delhi will see the price of petrol reaching Rs 100 per litre faster than Delhi, if the price of oil continues to rise.

6) Of course, the governments can bring down the price of petrol by cutting taxes. In fact, four state governments have cut taxes providing some relief to oil consumers. But any substantial relief can be provided only by the central government. The trouble is that tax collections have fallen this year. Only the collection of excise duty has gone up by 54% to Rs 2.39 lakh crore, thanks to the higher excise duty charged on petrol and diesel.

The interesting thing is that the excise duty earned from the petroleum sector has jumped from Rs 99,068 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 2.23 lakh crore in 2019-20. The government has become addicted to easy revenue from taxing petrol and diesel. This year its earnings will be even higher than in 2019-20.

7) The central government also fears that if it cuts the excise duty on petrol and diesel, the state governments can step in and increase their value added tax, given that like the centre, they are also struggling to earn taxes this year.

Also, what needs to be kept in mind here is that the central government doesn’t share a good bit of what it earns through the excise duty on petrol and diesel with the states. This is because a bulk of the excise duty is charged in the form of a cess, which the central government does not need to share with the states.

Let’s take the overall excise duty of Rs 32.90 per litre of petrol currently. Of this, the basic excise duty is Rs 1.40 per litre and the special additional excise duty is at Rs 11 per litre. The road and infrastructure cess is at Rs 18 per litre (also referred to as additional excise duty) and the agriculture and infrastructure development cess is at Rs 2.50 litre. Clearly, the cess has a heavier weight in the overall excise duty.

8) One reason offered for the high price of petrol is low atmanirbharta or that as a country we have to import more and more oil than we did in the past. In 2011-12, the import dependency was 75.9%. This jumped to 77.6% in 2013-14 and has been rising since. In April to December 2020, this has jumped to 85%.

The explanation offered on this has been that oil companies haven’t carried out enough exploration activities in the past. Let’s take a look at the numbers of ONGC, the government’s biggest oil production company (or upstream oil company, as it is technically referred to).

The total amount of money spent by the company on digging exploratory wells in 2019-20 stood at Rs 4,330.6 crore. This had stood at Rs 11,687.2 crore in 2013-14. Over the years, the amount of money spent by ONGC on exploration has come down dramatically. This explains to some extent why the crude oil production in India has fallen from 37.8 million tonnes in 2013-14 to 30.5 million tonnes in 2019-20, leading to a higher import dependency.

Of course, not all exploration leads to discovery of oil, nevertheless, at the same time unless you explore, how do you find oil.

The reason why ONGC’s spending on exploration has fallen is primarily because the company has taken on a whole lot of debt over the past few years to finance the acquisition of HPCL and a majority stake in Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation’s (GSPC) KG Basin gas block. The money that ONGC borrowed to finance the purchase of HPCL from the government was used by the government to finance the fiscal deficit. Fiscal deficit is the difference between what a company earns and what it spends.

The borrowing has led to the finance costs of the company going up from Rs 0.4 crore in 2013-14 to Rs 2,823.7 crore in 2019-20. The cash reserves of the company are down to Rs 968.2 crore as of March 2020 from Rs 10,798.9 crore as of March 2014.

All this explains why the price of petrol is racing towards Rs 100 per litre. At the cost of sounding very very very cliched, there is no free lunch in economics. Somebody’s got to bear the cost.

It will be interesting to see if the central government continues to hold on to the high excise duty on petrol and diesel (whatever I have said for petrol applies for diesel as well, with a different set of numbers) leading to  a high petrol and diesel price and lets these high rates feed into inflation in the process.

Keep watching this space.

To meet fiscal deficit, Chidu does an Enron, junking all accounting principles

The Mint newspaper has a very interesting article today on the finance minister’s P Chidambaram’s latest move to use the Reserve Bank of India(RBI) to help meet the fiscal deficit target of 4.8% of the GDP, set at the beginning of this financial year. Fiscal deficit is the difference between what a government earns and what it spends.
As per this plan the finance ministry is talking to the RBI for an interim payment or transfer of the central bank’s income. The RBI follows an accounting year of July to June. Given that, it usually transfers its income to the central government in August every year. Last year, the central bank had handed over Rs 33,100 crore to the government and the year before last, it had handed over Rs 16,100 crore.
But the government does not want to wait till August this year. It wants the central bank to pay up immediately, in order to contain the burgeoning fiscal deficit. The trouble is that the RBI Act does not h
ave a provision for transferring surplus before the accounting year ends.
The government is desperate for any revenue irrespective of where it comes from. The fiscal deficit for the nine month period between April and December 2013, stood at Rs 
5,16,390 crore or 95.2% of the annual target of Rs 5,42,499 crore (or 4.8% of the GDP as estimated in the budget presented in February 2013).
For the first nine months of the financial year, the government has run an average fiscal deficit of Rs 57,377 crore (Rs 5,16,390 crore/12). But for the remaining three months, it has very little room.If the government has to match the numbers projected in the budget presented in February 2013, over the next three months it can run a fiscal deficit of only around Rs 26,109 crore (Rs 5,42,499 crore – Rs 5,16,390 crore). This means an average fiscal deficit of Rs 8,703 crore per month, which is a whopping 85% lower than the average fiscal deficit per month that the government has run between April and December 2013.
One way of controlling the fiscal deficit is slashing expenditure. This is not very easy to do given that salaries need to be paid, employee provident fund needs to be deposited, interest on government debt needs to be paid and the government debt maturing needs to be repaid.
But one trick that the finance ministry has come up with on this front is to postpone a lot of payments to the next financial year. An article in the Business Standard estimates that subsidies of around Rs 1,23,000 crore will be postponed to the next financial year. These are subsidies on oil, food and fertilizer which should have been paid up by the government in this financial year, but will be postponed to the next financial year. The article points out that the government will need Rs 1,45,000 crore to pay up all the subsidies but is likely to sanction only around Rs 22,000 crore. This leaves a gap of Rs 1,23,000 crore which will be postponed to the next financial year, and will become a huge headache for the next government.
This essentially means that the government will not recognise expenditure when it incurs it, but only when it pays for that expenditure. This goes against the basic accounting principles, where an expenditure needs to be recognised during the period it is incurred. If a private company where to do such a thing it would be accused of fraud. Interestingly, even last year a lot of subsidy payments had been postponed. The American company Enron used this strategy for years to over- declare profits. It used to recognise revenue expected from the future years without recognising the expenditure expected against that revenue, and thus over-declare its profit.
That’s how things stack up for the government on the expenditure side. On the income side, the government is indulging in massive asset stripping. Since January 2014, public sector banks have announced interim dividends of Rs 27,474.4 crore. Now what is the logic here? Earlier this year, the government had put in Rs 14,000 crore of fresh capital in these banks. So, the government gives ‘x’ rupees to public sector banks and then takes away 2’x’ rupees from them.
Then there is the very interesting case of the Oil India Ltd and ONGC buying shares in Indian Oil Corporation worth Rs 5,000 crore, a company which is expected to lose around Rs 75,000 crore this year. Hence, no investor in his right mind would have bought stock in this company.
Given that all these companies are owned by the government, this is essentially a complicated manoeuvre of moving cash from the books of these companies to the books of the government. The next time any UPA politician talks about corporate governance, the example of IOC should be brought to his notice.
And then there is Coal India Ltd. The world’s largest coal producer declared a record dividend in January. This dividend aggregated to Rs 18,317.5 crore. Of this, the government will get Rs 16,485 crore, given that it owns 90% of the company. The government will also get Rs 3,100 crore, which Coal India will have to pay as dividend distribution tax. This money should actually have been used by Coal India to develop more coal mines so that India does not have to import coal, like it currently does, despite having massive coal reserves. But that of course, hasn’t happened.
Also, there is another basic issue here. The sale of assets from the balance sheet to meet current expenditure is not a great practice to follow, given that assets once sold cannot be re-sold, but the expenditure will have to be incurred every year. Asset sales cannot be a permanent source of revenue.
The UPA government has brought India to a brink of a financial disaster. The next government which will take over after the Lok Sabha elections later this year, will have a huge financial hole to fill. As the old Hindi film dialogue goes “
hum to doobenge sanam, tumko bhi le doobenge (I will drown for sure, but I will ensure that you drown as well).” The UPA clearly has worked along those lines.
The article originally appeared on www.FirstBiz.com on February 12, 2014
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek) 

Why the disinvestment process is getting messier

market fall
Vivek Kaul

This song from the 1968 Hindi movie Teen Bahuraniyan best explains the state of the Congress party led United Progressive Alliance government. As the lines from the song go “aamdani atthani kharcha rupaiya, bhaiya, na poocho na poocho haal, nateeja than than gopal”. Loosely translated this means that when you keep spending more than what you earn, you are bound to end up in a mess sooner rather than later.
One area where the mess is getting more obvious by the day is the area of disinvestment of shares held by the government in public sector companies. The idea was that by selling these shares the government would be able to reduce a part of its fiscal deficit. Fiscal deficit is the difference between what a government earns and what it spends.
During the course of this financial year (i.e. the period between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2013) the government had expected to earn Rs 30,000 crore by selling shares of public sector companies to the public. This number has since been revised to Rs 24,000 crore.
This has been a tad better than the last financial year (i.e. the period between April 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012) when the government had targeted to raise Rs 40,000 crore through the disinvestment of shares but finally managed to raise only
Rs 13,894 crore.
What is interesting is that even the amount that will be raised by selling shares of the PSUs during the course of this financial year, wouldn’t have been raised if the government hadn’t forced the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC)of India to come to its rescue.
The insurance major is supposed to have bought 46% of the 69 million shares of RCF that were disinvested last week. LIC as expected denied that it had rescued the government. “We have not bailed out anyone. We have examined this (RCF) issue by its own strength and then taken a decision to participate. We will examine the future issues in a similar manner and then take a call,” D K Mehrotra, chairman of LIC, told Business Standard on March 13, 2013. In November 2012, LIC had come to the rescue of the government by picking up 43.6% of the nearly 52 million shares of Hindustan Copper that were being sold.
In March 2012, LIC had picked up 88.3% of the 427 million shares of ONGC that were being sold. When a government owned insurance company has to pick up 88% of the shares being sold, what it clearly tells you is that there was no real demand for the share in the stock market. The government thus raised around Rs 11,275 crore from LIC. 
The government was also expected to sell shares in Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation(MMTC) of India, but that has been postponed. The government and the merchant bankers of the issue could not agree on the price at which the shares of MMTC would be sold. The merchant bankers seem to have told the government that Rs 75 per share was a fair price of an MMTC share. The trouble though is that currently one MMTC share is worth around Rs 302 (as I write this) in the stock market.
But there is a simple explanation for this huge difference. As an editorial in Business Standard points out “However, rather than getting carried away with the wide gap between the market price and the fair value assigned to the company’s shares by merchant bankers, the government should note that the current stock price of MMTC Ltd is produced by market dynamics – but with constrained supply. Only 0.6 per cent of the stock is freely floating.”
The point is that the government is being greedy here. But that ‘greed’ of course comes with the confidence that LIC can always be made to buy these shares. The MMTC situation is similar to that of ONGC, where the shares were priced so high that the investors were simply not interested in buying it. As the Business Standard points out “ The government may have deferred the proposed stake sale in the state-owned mineral trading company MMTC Ltd over valuation differences with merchant bankers, but it would do well to recall the debacle associated with the share sale of the state-controlled oil company ONGC last March. On that occasion, the government priced ONGC’s shares at Rs 290 each; institutional investors saw little value in bidding for them at that price – higher than the market price that was prevailing then. The government had to ask the Life Insurance Corporation of India to bail out the issue.”
The disinvestment of other companies like Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) and National Aluminium Company Ltd (NALCO) also seems to be in trouble. The share price of both these companies is currently at more or less their one year low levels. The same stands true for MMTC as well.
What the ONGC experience hopefully must have taught the government is that while selling shares of a company which is already listed on the stock exchange it cannot demand a price that is higher than the price the share is selling at, in the stock market. So if a share is selling at a price of Rs 100, the government cannot demand Rs 120, simply because the investor has the option of buying the share from the stock market.
Given this, it means that if the government wants to sell the shares of SAIL, MMTC and NALCO, it will have to sell them at a price which is lower than their market price to make it an attractive proposition for investors. And since the market price is at around the one year low level, the government will be unable to raise as much money from these stake sales as it had expected to. Of course the government can always dump these shares on LIC , which would be more than happy to buy it. The disinvestment of NALCO which is located primarily in Orissa is being opposed by the ruling party in the state, the Biju Janta Dal.
There are several points that stand out here. If the government is having so much trouble achieving a scaled down disinvestment target of Rs 24,000 crore for this year, how will it achieve the target of Rs 54,000 crore which it has set for itself in the next financial year? It also raises the question that was a high figure of Rs 54,000 crore just assumed to project a lower fiscal deficit for the next year?
The second point is that at Rs 54,000 crore, disinvestment receipts are expected to bring in 6% of the total revenues of the government during the next financial year. This a rather huge number to be left to the vagaries of something as moody as the stock market. The government is only doing this because it is confident that it can get LIC to pick up the tab if the stock market is not interested.
In fact that is why it has passed a special regulation allowing LIC to own upto 30% of shares in a company against the earlier 10%. This in a scenario where the other insurance companies can own only upto 10% of a listed company. How can there be two separate rules for companies in the same line of business?
Also what happens in a situation when LIC ends up investing in a company which turns out to be a dud? Imagine what would happen when LIC decides to get out of the shares of such a company. The stock price of the company will fall, impacting returns of investors who have bought insurance plans from LIC. As the old saying goes, “putting all eggs in one basket” is a pretty risky proposition and goes against the basic principles of investing. What makes the situation even more dangerous is the fact that it is public money that is at stake.
Also when LIC has to anyway pick up these shares why go through this entire charade of disinvestment in the first place? The government can simply sell these shares directly to LIC and get done with it.
There is another basic issue here. Amay Hattangadi and Swanand Kelkar of Morgan Stanley Investment Management point this out in a report titled Connecting the Dots: “As trained Accountants, we have learnt that sale of Assets from the Balance Sheet are one-off or non-recurring items.”
In simple English what this means is that shares once sold cannot be resold. By selling shares the government is raising a one time revenue. On the other hand, using this revenue it is committing to expenditure which is more or less permanent. And that really can’t be a good thing in the long run.
But politicians really don’t live for the long run. They survive election by election. And there is one due next year.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on March 14, 2013. 

(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek) 

Even with the diesel price hike, India is staring at a 7% fiscal deficit

Vivek Kaul
The Congress party led United Progressive Alliance(UPA) has been in the habit of shooting messengers who come with bad news. So here is some more bad news.
Almost half way through the financial year 2012-2013 (i.e. the period between April  1, 2012 and March 31, 2013), the fiscal deficit of the government is looking awful to say the least. Fiscal deficit is the difference between what the government earns and what it spends.
When the finance minister presents the annual budget there are a lot of assumptions that go into the projection of the fiscal deficit.
The overall fiscal deficit was projected to be at Rs 5,13,590 crore. The expenditure of the government for the year was expected to be at Rs 14,90,925 crore. In comparison the government expected to earn Rs 9,77,335 crore during the course of the year. The difference between the earnings of the government and its expenditure came to Rs 5,13,590 crore  and this is the projected fiscal deficit. Hence, the government was spending 55% (Rs 5,13,590 crore expressed as a percentage of Rs 9,77,335 crore) more than it earned.
The expenditure part of the calculation includes subsidies on oil, fertiliser and food. The subsidy on oil was assumed to be at Rs 43,580 crore.  This subsidy was to be used by the government to compensate oil marketing companies like Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum for selling diesel, kerosene and cooking gas, at a loss.
The government has more or less run out of the budgeted oil subsidies. It has already paid Rs 38,500 crore to OMCs, for selling diesel, kerosene and LPG at a loss during the last financial year. This amount was reimbursed only in the current financial year and hence has had to be adjusted against the oil subsidies budgeted for this year. This leaves only around Rs 5,080 crore with the government for compensating the OMCs for the losses this year.
And that’s just small change in comparison to the losses that OMCs are expected to face for selling diesel, kerosene and LPG. The oil minister Jaipal Reddy recently said that if the current situation continues the OMCs will end up with losses amounting to Rs 2,00,000 crore during the course of the year.
As economist Shankar Acharya wrote in the Business Standard on September 13“The real fiscal spoilsport is, of course, subsidies, especially those for diesel, LPG and kerosene, though those on fertiliser and foodgrain are also large. Data circulated by the petroleum ministry indicate under-recoveries by oil marketing companies (OMCs) of Rs 17/litre on diesel, Rs 33/litre on kerosene and Rs 347/cylinder on LPG.”
The OMCs need to be compensated for these losses by the government because if they are not compensated then they will go bankrupt. And if they go bankrupt then you, I and everybody else, won’t be able to buy petrol, diesel, kerosene and LPG, which would basically mean going back to the age of tongas and bullock carts. Clearly no one would want that.
So to deal with expected losses of Rs 2,00,000 crore the government has around Rs 5,080 crore of the budgeted amount remaining. This means that the government would have to come up with around Rs 1,95,000 crore from somewhere.
This is a large amount of money. The government has tried to curtail these losses by increasing the price of diesel by Rs 5 per litre and thus bringing down the loss on sale of diesel to Rs 12 per litre. This move is expected to save the government Rs 19,000 crore which means losses will now amount to Rs 1,76,000crore (Rs 1,95,000crore – Rs 19,000 crore)  in total.
Since 2003-2004, the government has had a formula for sharing these losses. The upstream oil companies like ONGC and Oil India Ltd, which produce oil, are forced to share one third of the losses. But there have been instances when the formula has not been followed and the upstream companies have been forced to chip in with more than their fair share. In 2011-2012, the last financial year the government forced the upstream companies to compensate around 40% of the total losses.
If the government follows the same formula this year as well, it would mean that the upstream companies would have to compensate the OMCs to the tune of Rs 70,400crore (40% of Rs 1,76,000 crore). Now that is a huge amount, whether the upstream companies have the capacity to come up with that kind of money remains to be seen. But assuming that they do, it still means that the government would have to come up with Rs 1,05,600 crore (60% of Rs 1,76,000 crore) from somewhere. This would mean that the fiscal deficit would be pushed up to Rs 6,19,190 crore (Rs 5,13,590 crore + Rs 1,05,600 crore). If the upstream companies cannot bear 40% of the total loses the government will have to bear a greater proportion of the total losses, pushing the fiscal deficit up further.
Oil subsidies are not the only subsidies going around. The government is expected to overshoot its food subsidy target of Rs75,000 crore as well. The Economic Times had quoted a food ministry official on June 15, 2012, confirming that the food subsidy target will be overshot, after the government had approved the minimum support price (MSP) of rice to be increased by 16 per cent to Rs 1,250 per quintal to. “The under-provisioning of food subsidy in the current year is at Rs 31,750 crore. Now with increased MSP on paddy(i.e. rice), the total food subsidy deficit at the end of the current year will be about Rs 40,000 crore putting immense pressure on the food subsidy burden of the government,” said a food ministry official,” the Economic Times had reported.
If we add this Rs 40,000 crore to Rs 6,19,190 crore the deficit shoots up to Rs 6,59,190 crore. This is something that Acharya confirms in his column. “A few days back the Controller General of Accounts (CGA, not CAG!) informed us that the central government’s fiscal deficit for the first four months of 2012-13 had already exceeded half of the Budget’s target for the full year,” he writes.
What does this mean is that for the first four months of the year, the government’s fiscal deficit was greater than half of the fiscal deficit for the year. The targeted fiscal deficit for the year was Rs 5,13,590crore. Half of it would equal to Rs 2,56,795 crore. The government has already crossed this in the first four months. At the same rate it would end up with a fiscal deficit of Rs 7,70,385 crore (Rs 2,56,795 crore x 3) by the end of the year. This would work out to 50% more than the projected fiscal deficit of Rs 5,13,590 crore.
It would be preposterous on my part to project a fiscal deficit which is 50% more than the projected deficit. But as I had shown a little earlier a deficit of around Rs 6,60,000 crore is pretty much on the cards.
What does not help is the fact that things aren’t looking too good on the revenue side for the government. As Acharya puts it “More recently, there are ominous, if unsurprising, indications of a significant deceleration in direct tax collections up through August, especially from companies, with gross corporate tax revenues stagnant compared to April-August of the previous financial year. Despite finance ministry reassurances, tax collections for the year could fall significantly below Budget targets because of sluggish economic activity.”
So the government is not going to earn as much as it had expected to through taxes. The government also has set a disinvestment target of Rs30,000 crore. It hopes to earn this money by selling shares of public sector companies. But six months into the financial year there has been no activity on this front.
Taking these factors into account a fiscal deficit of Rs 7,00,000 crore can be expected. Fiscal deficit as we all know is expressed as a proportion of the gross domestic product (GDP). The projected fiscal deficit of Rs 5,13,590 crore works out to 5.1% of the GDP. The GDP in this case is assumed to be at Rs 101,59,884 crore.
With a fiscal deficit of Rs 7,00,000 crore, fiscal deficit as a proportion of GDP works out to 6.9% (Rs 7,00,000 crore expressed as a % of Rs 101,59,884 crore).
The GDP number of Rs 101,59,884 crore is also a projection. The assumption is that the GDP will grow by a nominal rate of 14% over the last financial year’s advance estimate of GDP at Rs 89,121,79 crore.  The trouble is that the economy is slowing down and it is highly unlikely to grow at a nominal rate of 14%. The current whole sale price inflation is around 7%. The real rate of growth for the first six months of the calendar year (i.e. the period between January 1, 2012 and June 30, 2012) has been around 5.4%. If we add that to the inflation we are talking of a nominal growth of around 12.5%. At that rate the expected GDP for the year is likely to be around Rs 100,26,201crore (1.125 x Rs 89,121,79 crore).
Hence the fiscal deficit as a percentage of GDP will be around 7% (Rs 700,000 crore expressed as a percentage of Rs 100,26,201crore). A 7% fiscal deficit would give the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a sense of déjà vu. In his speech as the Finance Minister of India in 1991 he had said “The crisis of the fiscal system is a cause for serious concern. The fiscal deficit of the Central Government…is estimated at more than 8 per cent of GDP in 1990-91, as compared with 6 per cent at the beginning of the 1980s and 4 per cent in the mid-1970s.”
One way out of this mess is to cut the losses due to the sales diesel, kerosene and on LPG. But that would mean a price increase of Rs 12/litre on diesel, Rs 33/litre on kerosene and Rs 347/cylinder on LPG. That of course is not going to happen. Also with the government having to borrow more to meet the increased fiscal deficit, the interest rates will continue to remain high.
India is staring at a huge economic problem. The question is whether the government is ready to recognise it. As Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes in The Indian Express “The central driver of good economics is recognising the problem.” The trouble is that the Congress led UPA government doesn’t want to recognise the problem, let alone tackle it.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on September 14,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/economy/why-the-diesel-hike-will-not-even-dent-the-fiscal-deficit-455249.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])