Food and fertilizer subsidies alone account for about one-eighth of India’s total budget spending of Rs 39.45 lakh crore this fiscal year, but reductions in food subsidies in particular may prove politically sensitive with elections looming on the horizon.
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The government expects to budget around Rs 2.3 lakh crore for food subsidies in the coming fiscal year, compared with Rs 2.7 lakh crore for the current year to March 31, the two officials said.
Spending on fertilizer subsidies will likely fall to about Rs 1.4 lakh crore, according to one of the officials and a third government official. That compares with nearly Rs 2.3 lakh crore this year, the third official added.
The officials declined to be named because the information was not public.
The finance ministry declined to comment, while the food and fertilizer ministries did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
A large part of the savings will come from the end of a COVID 19-era free food scheme, which will be replaced with a lower-spending programme, the first two officials said. That will effectively halve the free rations available to the poor in a year with a series of state elections, while general elections loom in 2024.
The government is eager to tame its fiscal deficit, which is targeted at 6.4% of GDP for the current fiscal year.
That is far above the average of 4% to 4.5% over the past decade, excluding the pandemic years when spending surged and the ratio peaked at 9.3%.
The government plans to shave at least half a percentage point from the ratio in 2023/24, the first two officials said.
The subsidy numbers will be announced on Feb. 1, when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presents the Union Budget for FY24 in Parliament.
The three officials said the latest subsidies estimates for 2023/24 may be adjusted when a final round of discussions takes place, by mid-January.
The reduction in fertilizer subsidies is also driven by expectations of lower crude oil prices and the government’s revised gas procurement policy for fertilizer companies, which came into effect earlier this month, two of the officials said.
($1 = 82.8775 Indian rupees)