According to news reports, the Prime Minister recently chaired a meeting with ministers to discuss an alternative plan (“Plan B”) for the National Food Security Bill, 2011 (hereinafter “Bill”). The Bill is currently pending with the Standing Committee of Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution. It seeks to deliver food and nutritional security by providing specific entitlements to certain groups. The alternative proposal aims to give greater flexibility to states and may bind the centre to a higher food subsidy burden than estimates provided in the Bill. It suggests changes to the classification of beneficiaries and the percentage of the national population to be covered by the Bill, among others. Classification of beneficiaries The Bill classifies the population into three groups: priority, general and excluded. Individuals in the priority and general groups would receive 7 kg and 3 kg of foodgrain per person per month respectively at subsidized prices. Plan B suggests doing away with the priority-general distinction. It classifies the population on the basis of 2 categories: included and excluded. Those entitled to benefits under the included category will receive a uniform entitlement of 5 kg per person per month. Coverage of population Experts have suggested that the Bill will extend entitlements to roughly 64% of the total population. Under the Bill, the central government is responsible for determining the percentage of people in each state who will be entitled to benefits under priority and general groups. Plan B suggests extending benefits to 67% of the total population (33% excluded), up from 64% in the Bill. The Ministry has outlined two options to figure out the number of people in each state that should be included within this 67%. The first option envisages a uniform exclusion of 33% in each state irrespective of their poverty level. The second option envisages exclusion of 33% of the national population, which would imply a different proportion excluded in each state depending on their level of prosperity. The Ministry has worked out a criterion to determine the proportion of the population to be included in each state. The criterion is pegged to a monthly per capita expenditure of Rs 1,215 in rural areas and Rs 1,502 in urban areas based on the 2009-10 NSSO survey. Thus, persons spending less than Rs 40 in rural areas and Rs 50 in urban areas per day will be entitled to foodgrains under the alternative being considered now. Financial estimates Newspaper reports have indicated that the revised proposal will add Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000 crore per year to the current food subsidy estimate of Rs 1.1 lakh crore. According to some experts, the total cost of the Bill could range anywhere between Rs 2 lakh crore to Rs 3.5 lakh crore (see here and here).
The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has decided to conduct an off-cycle meeting today to discuss the failure to meet the inflation target under Section 45ZN of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934. As per the Reserve Bank of India Act (RBI), 1934, MPC is required to meet at least four times each year, to discuss the macroeconomic issues in the country, and take policy decisions to address those. This is the second time MPC has conducted an off-cycle meeting in 2022-23. The meeting is scheduled in light of inflation being consistently high for nine consecutive months.
In this blog, we discuss what the inflation targeting framework is, examine retail and wholesale prices, and the divergence between them.
What is the inflation targeting framework, and what happens if inflation is persistently high?
In 2016, Parliament amended the RBI Act, 1934 to change the monetary policy, and introduce an inflation targeting framework. This framework prioritises price stability to achieve sustainable GDP growth. Price stability allows investors to confidently invest their money for productive activities, without worrying about it losing value. Price stability also maintains the purchasing power of consumers, i.e., the ability to purchase a good (or service) with a given amount of money.
As per the new framework, the central government, in consultation with RBI sets: (i) an inflation target, and (ii) an upper and lower tolerance level for retail inflation. The target has been set at 4%, with an upper tolerance limit of 6% and a lower tolerance limit of 2%. The upper and lower limits indicate that although it is desirable for inflation to be close to 4%, deviation between these limits is acceptable. The target and bands are revised every five years. In March 2021, the existing targets were carried forward.
Retail inflation has been above 6% for the past nine months, and it has been above 4% from October 2019 onwards (See Figure 1).
Figure 1: Consumer price index (year-on-year; in percentage)
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India; PRS.
If inflation is above or below the prescribed limits for three quarters, RBI must submit a report to the central government explaining why prices have been rising (or falling) persistently, what will be done to correct that, and an estimate as to when the target will be achieved.
The MPC uses tools such as interest rates to control the level of inflation in the economy. One such rate is the policy repo rate, which is the rate at which RBI lends money to banks. An increase in the policy repo rate makes borrowing money more costly, and hence is expected to control inflation by reducing the money supply. MPC increased this rate from 4% in April 2022 to 4.4% in May 2022, to 4.9% in June 2022, to 5.4% in August 2022, and to 5.9% in September 2022.
Breaking down the Consumer Price Index and the Wholesale Price Index
Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures the general prices of goods and services such as food, clothing, and fuel over time. Retail inflation is calculated as the change in the CPI over a period of time. Goods and services such as petrol, food products, health, and education are considered for its calculation, which are assigned different weights (See Table 1). Between February 2022 and August 2022, the average annual inflation was 6.9%. The rise in prices of subcomponents of the CPI during this period is indicated in Table 2.
Table 1: Assigned weights for the calculation of CPI
Sources: MOSPI; PRS.
Table 2: Average inflation of some CPI components
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, RBI; PRS.
CPI is not the only index that measures inflation in an economy. The Wholesale Price Index (WPI) measures the wholesale prices of goods. A change in wholesale prices reflects wholesale inflation. Table 3 indicates the weights assigned to goods for calculating the WPI. Manufactured goods include metals, chemicals, food products, and textiles.
Primary articles (23%) include food articles, and crude petroleum and natural gas. Fuel and power (12%) include mineral oils, electricity, and coal. WPI has remained above 10% from April 2021 onwards. It reached an all-time high of 17% in May 2022. This was driven by the inflation in metals, kerosene and petroleum coke, fruits and vegetables, and palm oil.
Table 3:Assigned weights for the
Sources: Ministry of Commerce and Industry; PRS.
Why has WPI inflation been consistently above CPI inflation?
Movements in the WPI have an impact on the CPI. For almost a year and half, CPI inflation has remained below WPI inflation. However, as per the design of the indices, it is expected that CPI would remain above WPI, and that any increase in WPI would reflect in the CPI after a time lag. This is because retail prices include taxes (as a percentage of price), while wholesale prices do not. Additionally, some of the goods in WPI act as inputs in the goods considered in CPI. An increase in input prices would lead to higher retail prices after a time lag.
We discuss possible reasons for why CPI has remained below WPI for a year and a half.
Figure 2: Consumer Price Index and Wholesale Price Index
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India; PRS.
Composition of indices
As indicated in Table 2 and 3, the composition of the two indices varies. For instance, prices of manufacture of basic metals, chemicals, and machinery grew at an average rate of 13% between February 2021 and September 2022. They contribute 7% to the WPI. These are input goods for producing final goods and services such as automobiles, which are included in the CPI. The rise in prices of transport vehicles, communication devices, fuel for transport, and housing (CPI components) rose by 6% during this period.
The Ministry of Finance has observed that wholesale prices did not feed into retail prices (from March 2021 onwards) as wholesalers absorbed the rising input costs and did not pass them on to retailers. In August 2022, it noted that as retail prices are rising now, the pass-through may occur.