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India GDP growth to edge up to 7% for 2019: survey

New Delhi

INDIA'S government forecast on Thursday that economic growth could get back up to 7 per cent this year, but cautioned it will face challenges keeping its fiscal deficit in check.

The views were expressed in an annual economic survey presented to parliament one day before Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presents the budget for the fiscal year that ends in March 2020.

India's growth cooled to 6.8 per cent in the year that ended on March 31, its slowest rate of expansion in five years.

"Growth in the economy is expected to pick up in 2019/20 as macroeconomic conditions continue to be stable," said the finance ministry's chief economic adviser, Krishnamurthy Subramanian, the report's main author.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is widely expected to push up spending in Friday's budget to spur activity by offering tax incentives to boost consumer demand and investment, officials of his political party said.

A shortfall in monsoon rains, pivotal for the farm sector that constitutes about 15 per cent of the economy, employing nearly half of India's workers, has increased concern about rural distress and strengthened the case for government intervention.

But the report said India faces a challenge on the fiscal front - the economic slowdown has impacted tax collection, while state spending on the farm sector is rising.

In an interim budget unveiled in February, ahead of a general election, the government set 3.4 per cent of gross domestic product as a target for 2019/20's fiscal deficit.

"We are sticking to the fiscal consolidation path for the last five years. We anticipate that path will continue," Mr Krishnamurthy told reporters after the release of the report.

To allow higher spending, the fiscal deficit target might be lifted to 3.6 per cent on Friday, a senior government official told Reuters.

Otherwise, to meet the initial target of 3.4 per cent, the government will have cut expenditure by 700 billion Indian rupees to 800 billion Indian rupees, the official said.

In 2018/19, the government resorted to spending cuts of nearly 1.5 trillion rupees to meet the upwardly revised fiscal deficit target of 3.4 per cent after a fall in tax collections.

The annual survey gave no projection for the deficit.

Economists believe the real figure has to exceed 3.4 per cent, because already in the first two months of the current year, the deficit equalled 52 per cent of the total targeted for 12 months.

The report urged the removal of hurdles to private investment and a further opening of the economy to foreign investors to boost growth to over 8 per cent annually, which would make India a US$5 trillion economy in five years.

In January-March, annual growth slumped to 5.8 per cent, the slowest pace in 20 quarters, and more recent indicators such as plummeting industrial output and automobile sales have stoked fears of a deeper slowdown.

The Reserve Bank of India has cut benchmark repo rate by 75 basis points (bps) since February, but commercial banks have reduced lending rates by only 10-15 bps as they are saddled with huge distressed assets amounting to nearly US$150 billion. REUTERS

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