India's government announced a multi-billion dollar package of farm and infrastructure support in its budget for 2020/21 as it blew past its fiscal deficit target for the year, but the stimulus fell short of market expectations and battered stocks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is grappling with the country’s worst slowdown in a decade, with falling employment, consumption and investment ratcheting up the pressure to revive growth.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, presenting the budget for the financial year beginning April 1, said 2.83 trillion rupees ($39.8 billion) will be allocated toward agriculture and allied activities, up 5.6 percent on the previous year.
The funds will be deployed to help farmers set up solar power generation units as well as establish a national cold storage system to transport perishables.
Sitharaman also vowed to spend $50.7 billion in coming years on a federal water scheme to address challenges facing one of the world’s most water-stressed nations.
Agriculture accounts for near 15% of India’s $2.8 trillion economy and is a source of livelihood for more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion population.
Sitharaman announced a new personal tax system including cuts for those ready to give up a myriad of tax breaks. She also abolished payment of dividend distribution tax by companies to spur investment.
“People have reposed faith in our economic policy,” Sitharaman said to the thumping of desks in parliament. “This is a budget to boost their income and enhance their purchasing power.”
Opposition parties slammed the budget, saying it had failed to address the slowdown in consumer demand and investment. “The government is in complete denial that the economy faces a grave macro economic challenge,” said former finance minister P. Chidambaram.
But higher government spending has put pressure on public finances, prompting caution from rating agencies. Sitharaman said the fiscal deficit for the current year would widen to 3.8% of GDP, up from 3.3% targeted for the current year.
Gene Fang, associate managing director, sovereign risk at Moody’s, said: “India’s 2020/21 budget highlights the challenges to fiscal consolidation from slower real and nominal growth, which may continue for longer than the government forecasts.”