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ECONOMY

INDIA'S ECONOMIC REFORMS

The reform process in India was initiated with the aim of accelerating the pace of economic growth and eradication of poverty. The process of economic liberalization in India can be traced back to the late 1970s. However, the reform process began in earnest only in July 1991. It was only in 1991 that the Government signaled a systemic shift to a more open economy with greater reliance upon market forces, a larger role for the private sector including foreign investment, and a restructuring of the role of Government.

The reforms of the last decade and a half have gone a long way in freeing the domestic economy from the control regime. An important feature of India's reform programme is that it has emphasized gradualism and evolutionary transition rather than rapid restructuring or "shock therapy". This approach was adopted since the reforms were introduced in June 1991 in the wake a balance of payments crisis that was certainly severe. However, it was not a prolonged crisis with a long period of non-performance.

The economic reforms initiated in 1991 introduced far-reaching measures, which changed the working and machinery of the economy. These changes were pertinent to the following:

  • Dominance of the public sector in the industrial activity
  • Discretionary controls on industrial investment and capacity expansion
  • Trade and exchange controls
  • Limited access to foreign investment
  • Public ownership and regulation of the financial sector

The reforms have unlocked India's enormous growth potential and unleashed powerful entrepreneurial forces. Since 1991, successive governments, across political parties, have successfully carried forward the country's economic reform agenda.

Reforms in Industrial Policy

Industrial policy was restructured to a great extent and most of the central government industrial controls were dismantled. Massive deregulation of the industrial sector was done in order to bring in the element of competition and increase efficiency. Industrial licensing by the central government was almost abolished except for a few hazardous and environmentally sensitive industries. The list of industries reserved solely for the public sector -- which used to cover 18 industries, including iron and steel, heavy plant and machinery, telecommunications and telecom equipment, minerals, oil, mining, air transport services and electricity generation and distribution was drastically reduced to three: defense aircrafts and warships, atomic energy generation, and railway transport. Further, restrictions that existed on the import of foreign technology were withdrawn.

Reforms in Trade Policy

It was realized that the import substituting inward looking development policy was no longer suitable in the modern globalising world.

Before the reforms, trade policy was characterized by high tariffs and pervasive import restrictions. Imports of manufactured consumer goods were completely banned. For capital goods, raw materials and intermediates, certain lists of goods were freely importable, but for most items where domestic substitutes were being produced, imports were only possible with import licenses. The criteria for issue of licenses were non-transparent, delays were endemic and corruption unavoidable. The economic reforms sought to phase out import licensing and also to reduce import duties.

Import licensing was abolished relatively early for capital goods and intermediates which became freely importable in 1993, simultaneously with the switch to a flexible exchange rate regime. Quantitative restrictions on imports of manufactured consumer goods and agricultural products were finally removed on April 1, 2001, almost exactly ten years after the reforms began, and that in part because of a ruling by a World Trade Organization dispute panel on a complaint brought by the United States.

Financial sector reforms

Financial sector reforms have long been regarded as an integral part of the overall policy reforms in India. India has recognized that these reforms are imperative for increasing the efficiency of resource mobilization and allocation in the real economy and for the overall macroeconomic stability. The reforms have been driven by a thrust towards liberalization and several initiatives such as liberalization in the interest rate and reserve requirements have been taken on this front. At the same time, the government has emphasized on stronger regulation aimed at strengthening prudential norms, transparency and supervision to mitigate the prospects of systemic risks. Today the Indian financial structure is inherently strong, functionally diverse, efficient and globally competitive. During the last fifteen years, the Indian financial system has been incrementally deregulated and exposed to international financial markets along with the introduction of new instruments and products.


 
 
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