Compiled By Zulfiqar Sheth
Monetary Policy, as the name suggests it is policy formulated by monetary authority i.e. central bank, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in case of India. It deals with monetary i.e. money matters i.e. affects money supply in the economy. RBI controls money flow, maintains price stability and regulates interest rates through variety of tools but most significant are Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR), Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR), Open Market Operations (OMO), REpurcahse Obligation rate (REPO rate) and Reverse REPO rate.
What is New Monetary Policy Committee?
- Monetary policy decisions by central banks can have far-reaching implications for the economy, investors, savers and borrowers. And if seen to be taken by an individual, these decisions can cause a lot of heartburn. Therefore, globally many governments have solved this problem by appointing a committee.
- On June 27, 2016, the Government amended the RBI Act to hand over the job of monetary policy-making in India to a newly constituted Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).
- The new MPC is to be a six-member panel that is expected to bring “value and transparency” to rate-setting decisions. It will feature three members from the RBI — the Governor, a Deputy Governor and another official — and three independent members to be selected by the Government.
- Government has appointed three external members, experts in the field of economics, banking or finance. They are
- Chetan Ghate, professor at Indian Statistical Institute
- Pami Dua, director at Delhi School of Economics
- Ravindra Dholakia, professor at IIM-Ahmedabad.
The government nominees will have a four-year term “or until further orders, whichever is earlier.
- The MPC will meet four times a year to decide on monetary policy by a majority vote. And if there’s a tie between the ‘Ayes’ and the ‘Nays’, the RBI governor gets the deciding vote.
- The committee will be guided by the consumer inflation target the government has set in discussion with the RBI — 4% with a margin of two percentage points for the five years ending March 2021.
- The new framework should see a lowering of friction that has at times arisen between finance ministry and the central bank, which is often regarded by the government as ignoring the need to nurture growth in the drive to quell inflation.
Why MPC is path breaking?
Until recently, India’s central bank used to take its monetary policy decisions based on the multiple indicator approach. Its rate decisions were expected to take into account inflation, growth, employment, banking stability and the need for a stable exchange rate.
As you can see, this is a tall order. Thus, RBI (with the Governor as the focal point) would be subject to hectic lobbying ahead of each policy review and trenchant criticism after it. The Government would clamour for lower rates while consumers bemoaned high inflation. Bank chiefs would want rate cuts, but pensioners would want high rates. RBI ended up juggling all these objectives and focussing on different indicators at different points in time.
To resolve this, RBI set up an Expert Committee under Urijit Patel to revise the monetary policy framework, and it came up with its report in January 2014. It suggested that RBI abandon the ‘multiple indicator’ approach and make inflation targeting the primary objective of its monetary policy. It also mooted having an MPC so that these decisions could be made through majority vote. Having both Government and RBI members on the MPC was suggested for accountability. The Government would have to keep its deficit under check and RBI would owe an explanation for runaway inflation.
Why should I care?
What happens to interest rates in the country matters to you as a saver, investor, consumer and borrower. High rates can help savers earn more on debt options. Loan-takers may prefer lower retes. The MPC will ensure that decisions on interest rates are made through debate by a panel of experts. The many-heads-are-better-than-one approach may also help ensure that the decision isn’t easily influenced by bias or lobbying.
India’s shift to an MPC, driven by a clear inflation-targeting framework, if it succeeds, may also ensure that consumers and investors can look forward to lower inflation rates over the long-term. The public disclosure of MPC deliberations will also tell you why its members batted for higher or lower rates.
The MPC may put a stop to the public skirmishes between the Government and the RBI. But with the RBI governor holding the casting vote, don’t expect controversies to die down.
Concerns with MPC
The setting up of the monetary policy committee last week creates a new framework from which to judge the independence of RBI from government pressure and interference. This is important because global rating agencies have always recognised central bank independence as one of the pillars holding up their favourable rating of the Indian economy.
These are the main concerns with MPC
- Three members appointed by the Government may work under the influence of Government. However Official cleared that “Although appointed by the government, the three will function as independent members, a top finance ministry official said.”Nominated MPC members enjoy arm’s-length distance from the government,”
- Experts are split on their views on how the MPC would impact the RBI’s mandate in setting interest rates with some arguing that it would not only take away autonomy but also downgrade powers of the central bank.
- Contending that the new monetary policy framework agreement puts the onus on the RBI to control inflation, former RBI Governor C Rangarajan said, “Under these circumstances, if at all an MPC is required, the majority of its members must come from RBI. This will avoid the question of veto powers for the RBI Governor while making it more accountable for maintaining the inflation rate within a specified zone.”
- Internationally, MPCs function in different ways but decisions are taken largely through a consensus. For instance, the nine-member MPC of the Bank of England meets every month to set the interest rates. Its decisions are made on the basis of one-person, one vote and is not based on a consensus of opinion. On the other hand, the US Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) consists of twelve members and holds eight regularly scheduled meetings per year. Each of the FOMC members discusses their policy preferences and then vote. But it is expected to reach a consensus on the appropriate course for policy. Similarly, for the European Central Bank, the governor council is the main decision making body. It consists of the six members of the Executive Board, plus the governors of the national central banks of the 19 Euro area countries.
- “RBI tends to take a long-term view to maintain price stability which is a necessary condition for growth whereas government typically has a shorter-term horizon because they have to show results for the purposes of electoral politics. Therefore, there is some tension between the central banks and government everywhere. Having a MPC need not necessarily reduce the friction. It depends on how the institution of MPC gets established. If there is healthy convention, healthy protocol and healthy practices of the MPC reaching at an independent decision, then the friction between the government on one side and MPC and RBI on the other side will continue. If on the other hand, the members of the MPC, appointed by the government, continue to show their allegiance to the government and canvass the government’s point of view compromising their own judgment, it will undermine MPC”. – Subbarao , Former RBI Governor
- “There possibility of government members in the MPC canvassing the government point of view” – Subbarao , Former RBI Governor
Challenges to make MPC work
A lot now depends on how the MPC operates. There are several issues that need to be sorted out to ensure that the shift to the new system of deciding monetary policy is indeed worth it. First, all members of the MPC should have access to the same amount of information. What this means in practice is that the external members should have open access to the research done by central bank economists. Members of the old technical advisory committee have often in private complained about the lack of adequate data before meetings. An MPC secretariat may need to be set up for this.
Second, the group dynamics will matter. Experiments conducted by economist Alan Blinder show that committees take better monetary policy decisions than individuals. Yet, we must not ignore the risks from groupthink. There is little use of a committee if everybody thinks alike, or at least toes the official line. Governor Urjit Patel will have a big role to play in ensuring that discussions are open. Mervyn King at the Bank of England often allowed himself to be outvoted in the MPC. It would be especially welcome if the RBI members do not habitually vote as a block in the meetings. And the governor should try not to use his casting vote at least in the initial years
Third, there should be a robust communications policy so that other participants in the economy have a clear sense of how MPC members are thinking about the economy. The US Federal Reserve provides dot plots on how various members of its rate-setting committee assess the trajectory of interest rates. The Indian central bank is not structured like its US counterpart. But there can be no doubt that the two major components of MPC meetings—the assessments of the state of the economy followed by the actual voting on interest rates—need to be communicated well.
Points for Discussions
- How monetary policy affects us? How it affects trade and market?
- How MPC is different than earlier framework? Do you think it will boost our market and attract more investors?
- The independence of RBI compromised? How?
- Challenges to make MPC work.
- What are the solutions to minimize Central bank and Government frictions?
- Who would be responsible in case of failure of monetary policy? RBI or Government? Why?
- Similarities and differences between other countries MPC and India’s MPC?
- Any other you think relevant and significant.
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(Zulfiqar Sheth is a PhD Research Scholar at department of Economics, Aligarh Muslim University. Can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )