Economic Reforms of 1991 and Their Impact on Economy

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Economic Reforms in India since 1991: Has Gradualism Worked? by Montek S. Ahluwalia*

India was a latecomer to economic reforms, embarking on the process in earnest only in 1991, in the wake of an exceptionally severe balance of payments crisis. The need for a policy shift had become evident much earlier, as many countries in east Asia achieved high growth and poverty reduction through policies which emphasized greater export orientation and encouragement of the private sector. India took some steps in this direction in the 1980s, but it was not until 1991 that the government signaled a systemic shift to a more open economy with greater reliance upon market forces, a larger role for the private sector including foreign investment, and a restructuring of the role of government.

India’s economic performance in the post-reforms period has many positive features. The average growth rate in the ten year period from 1992-93 to 2001-02 was around 6.0 percent, as shown in Table 1, which puts India among the fastest growing developing countries in the 1990s. This growth record is only slightly better than the annual average of 5.7 percent in the 1980s, but it can be argued that the 1980s growth was unsustainable, fuelled by a buildup of external debt which culminated in the crisis of 1991. In sharp contrast, growth in the 1990s was accompanied by remarkable external stability despite the east Asian crisis. Poverty also declined significantly in the post-reform period, and at a faster rate than in the 1980s according to some studies (as Ravallion and Datt discuss in this issue).

However, the ten-year average growth performance hides the fact that while the economy grew at an impressive 6.7 percent in the first five years after the reforms, it slowed down to 5.4 percent in the next five years. India remained among the fastest growing developing countries in the…...

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