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NEW DELHI : Despite spending pressures and an expected growth slowdown, the Union government may stick to its fiscal glide path and target a fiscal deficit of 5.7-5.8% of gross domestic product for FY24, an official aware of the matter said. Lower subsidy outgo and ending the free foodgrain scheme may help the government in this respect, as it aims to cut the deficit to 4.5% by FY26. However, a final decision on the FY24 deficit target will be taken at the highest levels closer to the budget.

A fiscal deficit arises when a government spends more than its revenues. However, even though spending in FY23 is likely to be higher than initially expected, the government is confident of meeting the FY23 fiscal deficit target of 6.4% by cutting avoidable spending and high nominal GDP. Growth in nominal GDP—the denominator for the fiscal deficit ratio—is likely to be higher than the 11.1% estimated in the FY22 budget due to this year’s steep inflation. However, there may be some slippage in the absolute fiscal deficit number due to the rupee depreciation and reduction in excise duty.

The Centre is confident of meeting the FY23 fiscal deficit target of 6.4% by cutting avoidable spending and high nominal GDP.
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The Centre is confident of meeting the FY23 fiscal deficit target of 6.4% by cutting avoidable spending and high nominal GDP.

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“The government intends to try and stick to the glide path. We need to go from 6.4% to 4.5% of GDP in three years, so we could target a lower fiscal deficit by 0.6-0.7 percentage points in FY24. We may get some space as there may not be a free foodgrain scheme, and commodity prices for fertilizers may be lower. Overall, we remain committed to the fiscal glide path," the person cited above said on the condition of anonymity.

After the fiscal deficit shot up to 9.3% in FY21 amid the covid-19 pandemic, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed a glide path in the FY22 budget to trim it to 4.5% by FY26 to boost medium-term economic growth.

“We will have to curtail some revenue expenditure… the avoidable ones...but not capital expenditure. We will not cut anything from 7.5 trillion, as estimated in the budget. The execution, or the ability to absorb, is in the hands of various executing ministries," the person said.

In this year’s budget, the government sharply increased its capital expenditure target to 7.5 trillion from 5.5 trillion the previous year, betting it will crowd in private investment and create jobs. It has already sanctioned close to 55,000 crore of the 80,000 crore allocated to the states for various capital projects, of which 27,000 crore has already been disbursed. All states have taken the first instalment.

“We anticipate that a moderate fiscal correction would be attempted next year, with a fiscal deficit in the range of 5.5-6%, depending on factors such as the market-driven level of fertilizer subsidy and whether free foodgrain is provided in the coming first supplementary demand for grants," said Aditi Nayar, chief economist, ICRA Ltd.

The free foodgrain scheme started during the covid pandemic outbreak was extended recently at the cost of an additional 1.2 trillion. It will take the total food subsidy bill this year to 3.2 trillion as against 2.06 trillion estimated in the budget. The government also saw a higher fertilizer subsidy outgo and a lower excise duty collection.

Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at Bank of Baroda, said that as the government works on the glide path, one may not expect any big-bang capex announcements.

“There will be savings on subsidies as food and fertilizer will be lower. But tax revenue buoyancy will be low as both real GDP and inflation will be low," Sabnavis said.

Queries emailed to the finance ministry spokesperson remained unanswered until press time.

The government has decided to lower borrowing for the current fiscal by 10,000 crore than earlier projected for 2022-23 in the budget, suggesting that it was confident of meeting the fiscal deficit target set for the year.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dilasha Seth

" Dilasha Seth is a journalist reporting on macroeconomic policy for the last 11 years. She writes extensively on issues including international trade, macroeconomic data, fiscal policy, and taxation. At Mint, she reports on trade deals that India is signing besides key policy decisions of the Ministry of Finance. She closely tracked and covered the transition to the goods and services tax (GST) regime in 2017 and also writes on direct tax-related issues. In the past, she has worked with Business Standard and The Economic Times. She is based in Bangalore."
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