1991 Indian economic crisis

The 1991 Indian economic crisis was an economic crisis in India resulting from a balance of payments deficit due to excess reliance on imports and other external factors.[1] India's economic problems started worsening in 1985 as imports swelled, leaving the country in a twin deficit: the Indian trade balance was in deficit at a time when the government was running on a huge fiscal deficit (although the twin-deficit hypothesis is disputed).[2]

The fall of the Eastern Bloc, which had trade relations with India and allowed for rupee exchange, posed significant issues. Towards the end of 1990, leading up to the Gulf War, the situation became dire. India's foreign exchange reserves were not enough to finance three weeks' worth of imports. Additionally, the Iraq-Kuwait conflict caused a significant shift in the trade deficit as India relied on these nations for crude oil. The surge in crude oil prices further exacerbated the imbalance in India's balance of payments. Meanwhile, the government was on the brink of defaulting on its financial obligations. In July of that year, the rupee experienced a sharp depreciation/devaluation due to the low reserves, which further worsened the twin deficit problem.[3]

In February 1991, the Chandrasekhar government was unable to pass the budget after Moody's downgraded India's bond ratings.[4] The ratings declined further due to the unsuccessful passage of the budget, making it increasingly challenging and expensive for India to borrow money from international capital markets. This placed additional pressure on the country's economy.[5] The International Monetary Fund (IMF) suspended its loan program to India, and the World Bank also discontinued its assistance. These actions limited the government's options to address the crisis and forced it to take drastic measures to avoid defaulting on its payments.[6][7][8]

To address the economic crisis, the government implemented various measures, including the pledge of a significant portion of India's gold reserves to the Bank of England and the Union Bank of Switzerland as collateral. The aim of this move was to secure much-needed foreign exchange to meet India's debt obligations and stabilize the economy. However, this decision was not without controversy and was seen by some as a drastic and desperate move. Critics viewed the decision to mortgage the country's gold as a sign of the government's limited options and inability to manage the crisis effectively.[9]

The economic crisis created a situation where India had to accept the conditions imposed by the World Bank and IMF loan, which included structural reforms. As a result, the Indian economy was opened up to foreign participation in various sectors, including state-owned enterprises. This move towards liberalization was seen by some as necessary to secure much-needed funds and prevent default on loan payments. However, it also led to concerns about the impact of foreign entities on India's economy and the potential loss of control over vital industries.[10][11]

India's liberalization policies since 1991 have led to significant economic growth and integration into the global economy, but have also faced criticism for uneven distribution of benefits, austerity, unemployment and negative impacts on the environment.[12]

Causes and conscious edit

Context edit

During the 1970s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) began to increasingly criticise capital controls and shifted its perspective away from the belief that high unemployment was primarily due to insufficient demand. Instead, it started to emphasise the significance of 'inflexible' labor markets and other supply-side factors as the main causes of economic issues. These shifting views eventually laid the groundwork for what would be recognised as the 'Washington Consensus.' These set of economic liberalisation strategies were 'recommended' (or forced) upon developing nations like India by Washington, D.C based institutions, including the IMF, the World Bank, and the United States government's economic departments.[13]

The Volcker shock caused capital outflows from the developing world, causing external dollar denominated debt crises and economic slowdowns in Latin America and other developing countries, including India.[14] This along with Gulf War oil price spike and the dissolution of the USSR and Eastern Bloc leaving the U.S. as the sole superpower gave the previously stated institutions the perfect opportunity to force its policies upon developing countries.[13]

The crisis was caused by currency overvaluation;[3] the current account deficit, and investor confidence played significant role in the sharp exchange rate depreciation.[15][16][17]

During the mid-eighties, India started having the balance of payments problems. Precipitated by the Gulf War, India’s oil import bill swelled, exports slumped, credit dried up, and investors took their money out.[18] Large fiscal deficits combined with the fixed exchange rate had a spillover effect on the trade deficit culminating in an external payments crisis. By the end of the 1980s, India was in serious economic trouble.

External debt of India (1970-2020)

One of the main causes of the crisis was the accumulation of foreign debt. In the 1980s, India had borrowed heavily from international lenders, in part to finance infrastructure projects and industrialization. However, by 1991, the country was facing a severe balance of payments crisis, as it was unable to service its debt and was running out of foreign exchange reserves.[19] There were also structural problems in the Indian economy that contributed to the crisis, including low savings and investment rates, and inadequate export growth.

The foreign exchange reserves by 1991 had dried up to the point that India could barely finance three weeks worth of imports.[20]

In mid-1991, India's exchange rate was subjected to a severe adjustment. This event began with a slide in the value of the Indian rupee leading up to mid-1991. The authorities at the Reserve Bank of India took partial action, defending the currency by expanding international reserves and slowing the decline in value. However, in mid-1991, with foreign reserves nearly depleted, the Indian government permitted a sharp devaluation that took place in two steps within three days (1 July and 3 July 1991) against major currencies.

Recovery edit

With India’s foreign exchange reserves at $1.2 billion in January 1991[21][22][23] and depleted by half by June,[23] barely enough to last for roughly 3 weeks of essential imports,[22][24] India was only weeks away from defaulting on its external balance of payment obligations.[22][23]

Government of India's immediate response was to secure an emergency loan of $2.2 billion[25][26][27] from the International Monetary Fund by pledging 67 tons of India's gold reserves as collateral security.[9][26] The Reserve Bank of India had to airlift 47 tons of gold to the Bank of England[18][21] and 20 tons of gold to the Union Bank of Switzerland to raise $600 million.[18][21][28]  During the transport of the gold reserves to the airport, the van experienced a tyre burst and caused panic.[29][30][9] The government, in the midst of the 1991 Indian General Elections, conducted the airlift with secrecy.[31] The news of the government pledging the entire gold reserves against the loan outraged national sentiments and caused a public outcry.[18][24] The gold was transported to London via a chartered plane from May 21 to May 31, 1991.[18] The Chandra Shekhar government, which authorised the airlift, had collapsed a few months later.[18] This move was seen as prioritising the balance of payment crisis over the welfare of the Indian people and kick-started P.V. Narasimha Rao's economic reform process.[21]

Under the Narasimha Rao government edit

P. V. Narasimha Rao took over as Prime Minister in June, and appointed Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister.[18] The Narasimha Rao government ushered in several reforms that are collectively referred to as liberalisation in the Indian media.

The reforms formally began on 1 July 1991 when RBI devalued the rupee by 9% and by a further 11% on 3 July. It was done in two doses to test the reaction of the market first by making a smaller depreciation of 9%.[32] The economic reforms pushed by Prime Minister Rao were met with significant opposition from those who believed that they were an interference with India's autonomy. The speech made by then Prime Minister Rao, a week after taking office, emphasized the need for these reforms. As reported by the New York Times, "Mr. Rao, who was sworn in as Prime Minister last week, has already sent a signal to the nation—as well as the I.M.F.—that India faced no "soft options" and must open the door to foreign investment, reduce the bureaucratic red tape that stifles initiative, and streamline industrial policy."[33]

Aftermath edit

Since the implementation of economic reforms in 1991, India has experienced substantial economic growth and has emerged as a prominent participant in the global economy. The liberalization policies of the Indian government have facilitated this growth by attracting foreign investments, increasing trade relations, and promoting domestic economic reforms.

However, while some argue that these policies have benefited India, there are criticisms that suggest otherwise. Some experts argue that the growth has been uneven, and the benefits of liberalization policies have not been equally distributed across the country. Inequality has increased as the divide between the rich and poor has widened, and marginalized communities have been left behind. Additionally, some have argued that liberalization policies have had negative impacts on the environment and have not addressed issues related to sustainability and social justice.[34]

Despite these criticisms, the Indian government continues to promote liberalization policies and seeks to further integrate into the global economy. The success of these policies remains a subject of debate and continues to be a significant point of discussion among policymakers, economists, and civil society groups.

India's gross domestic product (GDP), adjusted for inflation, increased from $266 billion in 1991 to $3.7 trillion in 2023, while its purchasing power parity increased from $1 trillion in 1991 to $13 trillion in 2023.

Poverty has declined steeply from 55.1% in 2005-06 to 16.4% in 2019-20.[35] In addition to the economic growth and development, access to basic necessities such as food, shelter, and healthcare have drastically improved for people in India. Additionally, life expectancy has consistently improved from an average of 58.7 years in 1990 to an average of 67.2 in 2021.[36] However, it is to be noted that life expectancy increased at roughly the same rate even before liberalisation.

These challenges while not unique to developing countries, are being addressed considerably well by India over the last few decades. The Indian government has implemented various policies to address these issues, such as poverty alleviation programs, healthcare initiatives, and education reforms. While progress has been significant, there is room for more to promote sustainable development in India.[37]

Continued current account deficit edit

Despite implementing liberal reforms in 1991, India has been unable to eliminate its current account deficit. In contrast to countries like China and Vietnam, which have managed to achieve a surplus, India continues to face this imbalance. Consequently, India relies on foreign capital inflows in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign portfolio investment (FPI) to meet its balance of payments requirements. However, this dependence on foreign investment makes India more susceptible to external shocks.

An example of such vulnerability is the potential impact of the U.S. Federal Reserve raising interest rates. In the event of a rate hike, foreign investors in "risky" emerging markets like India may redirect their investments towards "safe" markets such as Europe and the U.S. As a result, these investors would sell their assets denominated in Indian rupees in exchange for foreign currency assets. Consequently, India's foreign exchange reserves would diminish, and the value of the rupee would weaken and imports would become more expensive.[38]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "What Caused the 1991 Currency Crisis in India?" (PDF). VALERIE CERRA and SWETA CHAMAN SAXENA. International Monetary Fund. Retrieved 7 May 2023.
  2. ^ "India - Structural Adjustment Credit Project (English) - Presidents report". documents.worldbank.org. World bank. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  3. ^ a b "What Caused the 1991 Currency Crisis in India?" (PDF). International Monetary Fund. VALERIE CERRA and SWETA CHAMAN SAXENA.
  4. ^ Yashwant Sinha (29 July 2016). "1991, the untold story". The Hindu. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  5. ^ "Two months that changed India". Business Standard. 20 January 2013. Retrieved 3 August 2021.
  6. ^ Deepak Nayar (18 October 2016). "How the economy found its feet". The Hindu. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
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  8. ^ Stuart Corbridge; John Harriss (2013). Reinventing India: Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism and Popular Democracy. Wiley. p. 144. ISBN 978-0-7456-6604-4.
  9. ^ a b c "I think a stimulus package is necessary, yes. Bailouts, no". Rediff News. Retrieved 20 October 2009.
  10. ^ "Structural adjustments in India - a reportof the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG)". lnweb90.worldbank.org. World bank. Archived from the original on 9 May 2019. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
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  12. ^ "World Inequality Database - India". World Inequality Database. Archived from the original on 9 January 2017.
  13. ^ a b Chomsky, Noam (1999). Profit over People. ISBN 9781888363821.
  14. ^ Ghosh, Jayati (15 November 2022). "The Monetary Tightening Trap | by Jayati Ghosh". Project Syndicate. Retrieved 7 February 2024.
  15. ^ Pathways [https://web.archive.org/web/20131025042847/http://www.globaleconomicgovernance.org/wp-content/uploads/ghosh-pathways_india.pdf Archived 25 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Arunabha Ghosh, Global Governance 12 (2006), 413–429.
  16. ^ India's Pathway through Financial Crisis Archived 12 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Arunabha Ghosh. Global Economic Governance Programme. Retrieved on 2 March 2007.
  17. ^ "findebookee.com". findebookee.com. Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
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  23. ^ a b c "RBI to buy 200 tonnes of IMF gold". LiveMint. Archived from the original on 3 November 2009. Retrieved 20 October 2009.
  24. ^ a b "RBI's gold buying has its own sentimental value: FM". PTI. Archived from the original on 6 November 2009. Retrieved 20 October 2009.
  25. ^ Meredith, Robyn (2007). The Elephant and the Dragon. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-06236-6.
  26. ^ a b "RBI buys 200 tonnes of gold from MF". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 6 November 2009. Retrieved 20 October 2009.
  27. ^ "1991 Country Economic Memorandum" (PDF). World Bank. India Country Department.
  28. ^ "Only Indians, not foreigners, are exercised over swadeshi: FM". Rediff News. Retrieved 20 October 2009.
  29. ^ Gayatri Nayak (5 July 2017). "When 47 tonnes of gold was in the middle of road". The Economic Times. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  30. ^ Dr. Tejinder Singh Rawal (20 December 2018). Loads of Money: Guide to Intelligent Stock Market Investing: Common Sense Strategies for Wealth Creation. Partridge Publishing India. p. 239. ISBN 978-1-5437-0457-0.
  31. ^ Shaji Vikraman (5 April 2017). "In fact: How govts pledged gold to pull economy back from the brink". The Indian Express. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
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  33. ^ Economic Crisis Forcing Once Self-Reliant India to Seek Aid, New York Times, 29 June 1991
  34. ^ "Gini of wealth in India in 2017 is at 0.83, which puts India among countries with high inequality –". Counterview.org. 4 April 2018. Retrieved 14 April 2022.
  35. ^ Jain, Tejas (31 December 2022). "Poverty to happiness: How India was rated by various global indices in 2022". The Indian Express.
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  37. ^ Pioneer, The. "India's life expectancy rate less than world's average". The Pioneer. Retrieved 3 January 2023.
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