IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

India does need a Fiscal Council

25th August, 2020 Editorial


  • The fiscal situation in India has been under severe stress even before COVID-19 and the novel corona virus pandemic has only worsened it. The fiscal deficit of the Centre in 2019-20 as estimated by the Controller General of Accounts (CGA) was 4.6%, 0.8 percentage point higher than the revised estimate.
  • For the current year, even without any additional fiscal stimulus, the deficit is estimated at about 7% of GDP as against 3.5% estimated in the Budget due to a sharp decline in revenues.
  • The consolidated deficit of the Union and States could be as high as 12% of GDP and the overall debt could go up to 85%. When off Budget liabilities are considered, the situation looks even more alarming.

Need for transparency

  • Besides large deficits and debt, there are questions of comprehensiveness, transparency and accountability in the Budgets. The practice of repeated postponement of targets, timely non-settlement of bill payments and off Budget financing to show lower deficits has been common.
  • The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India in 2018 on the compliance of the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act for 2016-17, highlights various obfuscations done to keep the liabilities hidden.
  • In order to make the Budgets comprehensive, transparent and accountable, the 13th Finance Commission recommended that a committee be appointed by the Ministry of Finance, which should eventually transform itself into a Fiscal Council to conduct an annual independent public review of FRBM compliance, including a review of the fiscal impact of policy decisions on the FRBM roadmap.
  • The problem is that a Council created by the Finance Ministry and reporting to it can hardly be expected to be independent. Therefore, the 14th Finance Commission recommended the establishment of an independent Fiscal Council, which should be appointed by, and reporting to Parliament by inserting a new section in the FRBM Act.

The mandate

  • A Fiscal Council is an independent fiscal institution (IFI) with a mandate to promote stable and sustainable public finances.
  • First, an unbiased report to Parliament helps to raise the level of debate and brings in greater transparency and accountability.
  • Second, costing of various policies and programmes can help to promote transparency over the political cycle to discourage populist shifts in fiscal policy and improve accountability.
  • Third, scientific estimates of the cost of programmes and assessment of forecasts could help in raising public awareness about their fiscal implications and make people understand the nature of budgetary constraint.
  • Finally, the Council will work as a conscience keeper in monitoring rule-based policies, and in raising awareness and the level of debate within and outside Parliament.

Diverse role, more acceptances

  • According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there were 36 countries with IFIs in 2014 and more have been established since. While most of the IFIs are in advanced countries, emerging economies too have also shown growing interest in them.
  • The OECD (2013) has documented the important principles needed for successful fiscal councils under nine broad heads and these are local ownership; independence and non-partisanship; mandate; resources; relationship with legislature; access to information; transparency; communication and external evaluation.


  • Fiscal Council is an important institution needed to complement the rule-based fiscal policy.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/india-does-need-a-fiscal-council/article32432565.ece#:~:text=A%20Fiscal%20Council%20is%20an,stable%20and%20sustainable%20public%20finances.&text=Second%2C%20costing%20of%20various%20policies,fiscal%20policy%20and%20improve%20accountability.