Sunday, December 07, 2008

India unveils $4bn stimulus plan

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Growth is slowing in India as the economic slowdown spreads

India has announced $4bn (£2.72bn) in extra spending to boost its economy as the global financial crisis unfolds.

The government said it was also planning a substantial spending increase in next year's budget.

The move came as the Reserve Bank of India cut its key interest rate by one percentage point, from 7.5% to 6.5%, on Saturday to encourage spending.

It is the third time since October the central bank has cut rates, which are now at their lowest since June 2006.

As well as the global financial situation, business confidence in India has also fallen in the wake of the Mumbai attacks that left at least 170 dead.

Growth stimulus

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's office said in a statement: "The government has decided to seek authorisation for additional planned expenditure of up to 200bn rupees ($4bn) in the current year."

The prime minister's office said the government was keeping a close watch on the economic situation and would take any additional needed to "maintain the pace of economic activity".

Under the plan, various categories of value-added tax will be cut by up to 4 percentage points to encourage consumer spending.

The package also includes measures to boost infrastructure spending, help businesses, and aid labour-intensive export sectors such as textiles and handicrafts.

Mr Singh, who recently took control of the finance ministry, last week forecast that India's economy would grow by 7.5% in the year to March 2009.

However, economists say growth could be as low as 6.8% this financial year, and 5.5% the following year.

Business leaders had hoped the government would do more.

Amit Mitra, secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said the package was pointing in the right direction, but "could have done even more" to help boost growth.

India's rising budget deficit means it can do far less than a country like China - which last month announced a $586bn stimulus package - to spend its way out of economic problems.

Until now, India has focused on using monetary policy to counter the effects of the global slowdown.

Since mid-September, the Reserve Bank of India has injected $60.2bn into the financial system to boost liquidity.

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