India unveils $4bn economic fillip plan

New Delhi, December 7:

India today announced an extra four billion dollars in spending to help shield the country’s economy from the impact of the global financial crisis. The government said it would also ensure a substantial increase in expenditure for next year’s budget, without giving a specific figure.

The new measures follow a cut in interest rates by India’s central bank yesterday to stimulate

the economy which has been hit by the global recession. Confidence has been undermined further by attacks in the financial capital Mumbai that killed 163 people, including more than two dozen foreigners.

“The government has decided to seek authorisation for additional planned expenditure of up to $4 billion in the current financial year,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office said in a statement. “The government is keeping a close watch on the evolving economic situation and will not hesitate to take any additional steps that may be needed to counter recessionary trends and maintain the pace of economic activity.”

Under the package, the government said that various categories of value-added tax would be cut by four per cent to increase spending. To boost exports, the government announced extra allocation of $70 million for a host of incentive schemes. Exports fell by 12 per cent in October and the government has cut its export target for the year to $175 billion from $200 billion.

The stimulus package also includes measures to boost infrastructure spending, small and medium businesses, and labour-intensive export sectors such as textiles and handicrafts. The additional expenditure will further expand India’s fiscal deficit, which widened 60 percent to $73 billion between April and October from the same period a year earlier.

“The fiscal deficit will be worse. We don’t have a number on what that it will be,” Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the government’s planning commission told reporters after the announcement.

Yesterday, the Reserve Bank of India reduced its repo rate — the rate at which it lends to commercial banks — to 6.5 percent, and its reverse repo rate — the rate at which it borrows overnight — to 5.0 percent.

Singh, who recently took control of the finance ministry, last week forecast growth of 7.5 per cent for the year to March 2009. Economists say growth could be as low as 6.8 per cent this year.