Reimagining Fiscal Priorities – Balancing Complexity and Imbalances

Reimagining Fiscal Priorities - Balancing Complexity and Imbalances

Reimagining Fiscal Priorities – Balancing Complexity and Imbalances

Context:

As the appointment of the Sixteenth Finance Commission looms ahead, it comes at a pivotal moment in our nation’s financial landscape. In the wake of critical changes, notably the onslaught of COVID-19 and subsequent geopolitical challenges, the economic dynamics have witnessed a significant shift since the constitution of the Fifteenth Finance Commission.

Prelims:

GS – 02 (Government Policies & Interventions)

GS – 03 (Growth & Development) (Planning) (Government Budgeting) (Fiscal Policy) (Inclusive Growth)

Mains Question:

Analyze the significance of maintaining fiscal discipline in the face of rising subsidies and fiscal deficits, and suggest innovative measures, such as the proposed loan council, to ensure fiscal prudence across both the central and State governments. (250 words)

Dimensions of the article:

  • Unraveling the Vertical and Horizontal Dimensions
  • Taming the Unpredictable Fiscal Seas
  • The Equalization Principle
  • The Roadmap for Fiscal Fortitude
  • Confronting Subsidies and Fiscal Prudence

Unraveling the Vertical and Horizontal Dimensions

  • The Fourteenth Finance Commission boldly elevated the States’ share in the divisible pool of central taxes from 32% to 42%. However, with the reduction in the number of states to 28 and the abolition of the Planning Commission’s grants, the Centre managed to maintain equilibrium.
  • Yet, the looming question is whether advocating for a further increase in the States’ share is prudent, given the existing fiscal imbalances!
  • It is imperative to reevaluate the role of non-shareable cesses and surcharges, which have exhibited disproportionate growth and raised concerns over fiscal sustainability.
  • The Sixteenth Finance Commission must exercise prudence by potentially capping the share of cesses and surcharges, thereby forging a nuanced approach in line with current economic data.

Taming the Unpredictable Fiscal Seas

  • The Goods and Services Tax (GST) has long been a subject of scrutiny, and rightly so. In recent years, its performance has faltered, causing a decline in the total divisible pool.
  • The silver lining, however, is the buoyancy displayed in GST collections over the last two years. While this is a reassuring sign, the GST demands restructuring to manifest itself as a truly efficient and straightforward tax system.
  • As we navigate the tumultuous fiscal waters, it is crucial to enhance the share of individual States in the Centre’s divisible pool judiciously, factoring in indicators such as population, per capita income, area, and incentive-related elements.
  • Careful attention must be paid to the needs of lower-income states, as they hold the potential to yield a significant demographic dividend if their educational and health requisites are adequately addressed.

The Equalization Principle

  • In the spirit of promoting equity and efficiency, the equalization principle emerges as a viable path forward. Rather than being besieged by a multitude of tax devolution criteria, the transfer of resources to individual States can be guided by a select set of indicators, including population, area, and distance.
  • The implementation of this principle, bolstered by a thoughtful scheme of grants, resonates with success stories from federations like Canada and Australia.
  • By factoring in the needs and costs of providing essential services, the equalization principle assumes the role of a true game-changer, one that warrants fine-tuning to create a harmonious balance.

The Roadmap for Fiscal Fortitude

  • The escalating debt-GDP ratio presents a sobering reality for both the central and state governments. While commendable progress has been made in reducing these ratios, they continue to surpass the stipulated Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) norms.
  • The 2018 amendment to the Centre’s FRBM demands careful reconsideration, especially in light of the Fifteenth Finance Commission’s recommendations. A judicious target, hinging on an underlying nominal GDP growth rate, must be set, and stringent oversight through a loan council can offer the much-needed vigilance over loan magnitudes and profiles.

Confronting Subsidies and Fiscal Prudence

  • A recurring concern centers around the unchecked proliferation of subsidies and the re-introduction of the old pension scheme in certain states without a clear financing blueprint.
  • As a corrective measure, the Sixteenth Finance Commission must meticulously examine non-merit subsidies, striking a delicate balance to avoid political turmoil. Simultaneously, the Commission must remain steadfast in enforcing fiscal discipline among states.
  • While incentivizing prudent fiscal behavior with rewards, it must implement consequences for those crossing fiscal deficit limits by curbing borrowing allowances.

Conclusion

The path forward necessitates a robust commitment to address fiscal complexities, guided by the equalization principle and a judicious allocation of resources.