RBI-Government Tussle

The tussle between RBI and government officials came in public limelight when government sought to transfer the surplus 3.6 lakh crore reserves of central bank. Finance Ministry alleged that existing economic capital framework- which governs the RBI’s capital requirements and terms for transfer of its reserves to the government - is based on a very conservative assessment of risk by the central bank.

In wake of government’s threat to impose Section 7 of RBI Act which states- “The Central Government may from time to time give such directions to the Bank as it may, after consultation with the Governor of the Bank, consider necessary in the public interest”, RBI setup an expert committee under Bimal Jalan to examine the central banks Economic Capital Framework (ECF).

Aim of Keeping Reserves

Reserve Bank of India Act 1934 conveys main aim of RBI is - “to regulate the issue of bank notes as well as keeping of reserves with a view to secure monetary stability”.

  • The current debate of RBI revolves around two reserves, namely- “Currency & Gold Re-evaluation Account (CGRA) and Contingency Fund”. CGRA represents value of gold and foreign currency that RBI holds on behalf of India. Variations in CGRA simply represent the changing market value of these assets). The Contingency Fund of India however is meant to meet the unexpected contingencies that arise from RBI’s monetary policy and exchange rate operations. In both cases, RBI intervenes in the relevant markets to adjust liquidity or prevent large fluctuations in currency value.

The objective of these reserves are to cover an economic situation when:

  • The rupee appreciates or depreciates against one or more currencies.
  • RBI’s holdings of government bonds depreciates, that is when yield rise and their prices fall
  • Extraordinary events like demonetisation, money market operations and currency printing expenses in a year.
  • It has to act as the lender of last resort and also cover for deposit insurance fund.

Prior Cases of Conflict between RBI and Government

  • Easing norms of Prompt Corrective action
  • Public Debt Management Agency
  • Non-Banking Finance Company Liquidity
  • Punjab National bank fraud
  • Regulatory powers over the banks
  • Norms for payment Systems
  • FRDI (Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance) Bill 2017

Effect of Transfer of Reserves by RBI to Government

  • Hurt Government’s commitment to fiscal prudence
  • Affect confidence of the financial market
  • High Inflation on backdrop of higher government spending
  • Delegitimize monetary policy commitment of RBI
  • Erodes trust reposed in RBI as public debt office

Way Forward

  • Seeking a balance between institutional autonomy and public interest. Example, the recent shift to inflation targeting model which limits government’s directive over monetary policy but increases RBI’s public accountability in case of higher inflation
  • Heed the recommendations of Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission (FSLRC) which mentions revamping legislative framework governing financial sector, a policy shift from arbitrariness to accountability.
  • Shift in government’s economic stance from short term political considerations to robust functioning of the economy.