In a historic monetary policy overhaul, the finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) have agreed to put in place a monetary policy framework to focus on flexible inflation targeting, something the central bank has been pressing for.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI)-based inflation targets — below six per cent by January 2016 and four per cent from 2016-17, with a band of plus/minus two per cent — are in line with the recommendations of a panel headed by RBI Deputy Governor Urjit Patel. The panel was set up to suggest ways to reform India’s monetary policy.
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CPI-based inflation for January 2015 stood at 5.1 per cent.
The new framework makes RBI more accountable as now it will have to explain to the government if it fails to meet the inflation targets. Economists say the targets will restrain RBI from taking any aggressive or accommodating monetary policy stance. This will put India on a par with other nations in terms of flexible inflation targeting.
D K Joshi, senior director and chief economist, CRISIL, said, “This will make monetary policy more transparent. Coordination between the government and RBI will be strengthened further. But this also means we will have to see how food inflation moves. Without food inflation under control, keeping inflation in the band prescribed beyond 2016 will be difficult. With the new monetary policy framework being formed, there will be broader monetary policy participation by the committee.”
While a part of the framework has come into effect from February 20, when RBI and the finance ministry inked an agreement in this regard, the government will have to amend the RBI Act to constitute a monetary policy committee, which will decide on the central bank’s stance. Though it is yet to be seen who the committee will comprise, the agreement hints it might be headed by the RBI governor and the deputy governor in charge of monetary policy will be the vice-chairman (as recommended by the Patel panel).
“The RBI governor and, in his absence the deputy governor in charge of monetary policy, will determine the policy rate, as well as any other monetary measures to achieve the inflation target,” the agreement says.
The pact, inked by Finance Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi and RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, says the primary target of monetary policy will be achieving price stability, while keeping in mind the objective of growth. RBI will be considered to have failed in controlling inflation if the rate of price rise, as shown by the CPI, exceeds six per cent for the three consecutive quarters beginning 2015-16. This will also hold true if inflation falls below two per cent for three consecutive quarters beginning 2016-17, the agreement says.
The Patel panel had suggested the monetary policy committee be made accountable for failure to achieve the inflation target.
If the central bank fails to meet the target, it will have to state the reasons for this in a report to the Union government, the agreement says. The report has to propose remedial actions, too, and RBI will have to give an estimate of the time within which the target will be achieved, the agreement adds.
“The Reserve Bank shall publish the operating targets and establish an operating procedure of monetary policy through which the operating target will be achieved. Any change in the operating target(s) and the operating procedure in response to evolving macro-financial conditions shall also be published,” the agreement says. RBI has to publish a document once every six months, detailing the sources of inflation and forecasts for the period between six and 18 months from the date of the publication of the document.
Asked whether RBI would now be compelled to take decisions on rate cuts out of fear of penalty, Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian said, “Decisions on whether to cut (interest rate) or not should be taken based on inflationary pressures and forecast going forward...A good central bank will take its decision based on data and outlook.”
On whether controlling inflation was the sole responsibility of RBI, Finance Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said: “It is not a pass or fail test. It is just that you have to explain why you have been unable to do it.”
“This will make RBI more accountable. This is good for accountability, transparency and credibility of monetary policy,” said Rupa Rege Nitsure, group chief economist at L&T Financial Services and part of the Ujit Patel committee.
After the constitution of the monetary policy committee, it will be clear whether or not the government has agreed to the other recommendations of the Patel panel. Besides recommending the RBI governor and deputy governor for the posts of the committee’s chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, the panel had also suggested the RBI executive director in charge of monetary policy be made a member. Two other members will be external, to be decided by the chairman and vice-chairman, on the basis of demonstrated expertise and experience in monetary economics, macroeconomics, central banking, financial markets, public finance and related areas. Both will be full-time members.
Sonal Verma, executive director and India economist, Nomura, said with this agreement, the government had formally mandated RBI to move towards flexible inflation targeting, in line with the recommendations of the Patel committee.
“We see this as a big positive for the economy, as it institutionalises the monetary policy framework and ensures RBI follows a prudent monetary policy henceforth,” Verma said.
ALL EYES ON TARGET
Portion of monetary policy framework came into effect on February 20, 8 months after it was proposed by the FM
CPI inflation target for January 2016 has been set at less than 6%; 2-6% from 2016-17
RBI will be considered to have failed if inflation exceeds 6% for 3 consecutive quarters from 2015-16 and if it falls below 2% for 3 consecutive quarters from 2016-17
If RBI fails to meet targets, it will have to state the reasons for this and propose remedial action
- Monetary policy committee will decide on RBI’s stance