The Finance Sector Reforms In India Economics Essay

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In India, a decade old on-going financial reforms have transformed the operating environment of the finance sector from an “administrative regime to a competitive market base system”. [1] 

Since mid-1991, a number of reforms have been introduced in the financial sector in India. [2] Rangarajan once noted that domestic financial liberalisation has brought about “the deregulation of interest rates, dismantling of directed credit, reforming the banking system, improving the functioning of the capital market, including the government securities market”. [3] The main emphasis on the financial sector reform has been on the banking system so as to improve the performance of public sector banks. [4] The Narasimhan Committee constituted in 1991 laid the foundation for the revamping of the financial sector in India. The Committee had submitted two reports- in 1992 and 1998 which gave immense importance on enhancing the efficiency and viability of this sector. [5] 

Taking a cue from the developments in the finance sector taking place globally, India undertook structural changes by way of these reforms and successfully relaxed the external constraints in its operation i.e. reduction in Cash Reserve Ratio and Statutory Liquidity Ratio, capital adequacy reforms, restructuring and recapitulation of banks and enhancement in the competitive element in the market through the entry of new banks. [6] Banks in India had to give a go-by to their traditional operational methods of directed credit, fixed interest rates and directed investments, all of which, had the effect of deteriorating the quality of loan portfolios and inadequacy of capital and erosion of profitability. [7] 

Another prominent consequence of the reforms was the sprouting up of a number of banks due to the entry of new private and foreign banks, increased transparency in the banking system through the introduction of prudential norms and increase in the role of the market forces due to the deregulated interest rates. [8] All these measures lead to major changes in the operational environment of the finance sector.

The objective of this paper is to analyse the financial sector reforms that have been carried out in India since the 1990s. The first chapter analyses the objectives of the reforms in the financial sector. Chapter II goes on explain in detail the policy reforms undertaken in this sector and puts forth a four-pronged approach to understand the various elements within the financial sector which have undergone changes. This is followed by Chapter IV which essentially recognises the elements integral to the reformation process. It includes the suggestions made by Y.V. Reddy. Finally, the penultimate chapter concludes the submissions and the analysis made in this research paper.

Chapter 2 Objectives of Reforms in the Financial Sector

The primary objective of financial sector reforms in the 1990s was to “create an efficient, competitive and stable that could contribute in greater measure to stimulate growth”. [9] Economic reform process took place amidst two serious crises involving the financial sector: [10] 

The crisis involving the balance of payments that had threatened the international credibility of the country and dragged it towards the brink of default.

The crisis involving the grave threat of insolvency threatening the banking system which had concealed its problems for years with the aid of defective accounting policies.

Apart from the above two dilemmas, there were many deeply rooted problems of the Indian economy in the early 1990s which were strongly related to the finance sector. Prevalent amoung these were: [11] 

As mentioned by McKinnon and Shaw, till the early 1990s, the Indian financial sector could be described as an example of financial repression. [12] The sector was characterised by administered interest rates fixed at unrealistically low levels, [13] large pre-emption of resources by authorities and micro regulations which direct the major flow of funds back and forth from the financial intermediaries. [14] 

The act of the government involving large scale pre-emption of resources from the banking system to finance its fiscal deficit.

More than necessary structural and micro-regulation that inhibited financial innovation and increased transaction costs.

Relatively inadequate level of prudential regulation in the financial sector.

Inadequately developed debt and money markets.

Obsolete and out-dated technological and institutional structures that lead to the consequent inefficiency of the capital markets and the rest of the financial system.

Till the early 1990s, the Indian financial system was characterised by extensive regulations viz. administered interest rates, weak banking structure, directed credit programmes, lack of proper accounting, risk management systems and lack of transparency in operations of major financial market participants. [15] Furthermore, this period was characterised by the restrictive entry of foreign banks since after the nationalisation of banks in 1969 and 1980, almost 90 per cent of the banking assets were under the control of government owned banks and financial institutions. [16] The financial reforms initiated in this era attempted to overcome these weaknesses with the view of enhancing efficient allocation of resources in the Indian economy.

The Reserve Bank of India had been making efforts since 1986 to develop efficient and healthy financial markets which were accelerated after 1991. RBI focused on the development of financial markets especially the money market, government securities market and the forex markets. [17] Financial markets also benefited from close coordination between the Central Government and the RBI as also between the other regulators.

2.1 Major contours of the financial sector reforms in India

On a general understanding, there are three groups of reform measures that are used to handle the problems faced by the financial sector. These are that of removal of financial repression, rehabilitation of the banking system and lastly, deepening and development of capital markets. [18] 

The focal issues addressed by financial sector reforms in India have primarily aimed to include the following: [19] 

Removal of the problem of financial repression.

Creation of an efficient, profitable and healthy financial sector.

Enabling the process of price discovery by market determination of interest rates which leads to an improvement in the efficiency in the allocation of resources.

Providing institutions with greater operational and functional autonomy.

Prepping up the financial system for international exposure and competition.

Introduction of private equity in public sector banks and their listing.

Opening up of the external sector in a regulated manner.

Promoting financial stability in the back-drop of domestic and external shocks.

2.2 The Two Phases of Financial Reform

To overcome the economic crisis that plagued the Indian economy in May 1991, the government undertook extensive economic reform policies that brought along with them an era of privitisation, deregulation, globalisation and most importantly, liberalisation. [20] 

The financial reforms since the 1990s can be classified into two phases. The first phase, also known as the first generation reforms, was aimed at the creation of an efficient, productive, profitable and healthy financial sector which would function in an environment of functional autonomy and operational flexibility. [21] The first phase was initiated in 1992 based on the recommendations of the Committee on Financial System. [22] While the early phase of reforms was being implemented, the global economy was also witnessing prominent changes coinciding with the movement towards global integration of financial services. [23] Narasimhan Committee I noted that the objective of Financial Sector Reforms in India should not focus on correcting the present financial weaknesses but should strive to eliminate the roots of the cause of the present challenges being faced by the Indian market economy. [24] 

The second generation reforms or the second phase commenced in the mid-1990s and laid greater emphasis on strengthening the financial system and on the introduction of structural improvements. [25] Narasimhan Committee II was to look into the extent of the effectiveness of the implementation of reforms suggested by Narasimhan Committee I and was entrusted with the responsibility to lay down a course of future reforms for the growth and integration of the Indian banking sector with international standards. [26] 

2.3 Principles of Financial Sector Reforms in India

Dr. Y.V. Reddy has stated that the financial sector reforms in India are based on Punch-sutra or five principles which are explained as follows: [27] 

Introduction of various measures by cautious and gradual phasing thus giving time to various agents to carry out the necessary norms. For instance, the gradual introduction of prudential norms.

Mutually reinforcing measures, that would serve as enabling reforms which would not in anyway disrupt the confidence in the system. E.g. Improvement in the profitability of banks by the combined reduction in refinance and Cash Reserve Ratio.

Complementary nature of the reforms in the banking sector with other commensurate changes in fiscal, external and monetary policies.

Development of the financial infrastructure in terms of technology, changing legal framework, setting up of a supervisory body, and laying down of audit standards.

Introducing initiatives to nurture, integrate and develop money, forex and debt market so as to give an equal opportunity to all major banks to develop skills and to participate.

Chapter 3 Policy Reforms in the Financial Sector

Indian financial reforms can be explained by way of a four-pronged approach viz. (a) banking reforms, (b) debt market, (c) forex market reforms, and (d) reforms in other segments of the financial sector. These are explained in detail in the subsequent sub-headings.

3.1 Banking Reforms

Despite the general approach of the financial sector reform process, many of the regulatory and supervisory norms were started out first for commercial banks and thereafter were expanded to other financial intermediaries. [28] Banking reforms consisted of a two-fold process. Firstly, the process involved recapitalisation of banks from government resources to bring them at par with appropriate capitalisation standards. [29] On a second level, an approach was adopted replacing privatisation. Under this, increase in capitalisation has been brought about through diversification of ownership to private investors up to a cap of 49 per cent and thus keeping majority ownership and control with the government. [30] 

The main idea was to increase the competition in the banking system by a gradual process and unlike other countries, banking reform in India, did not involve large-scale privatisation. [31] Due to such widening of ownership, majority of these banks have been publicly listed which in turn has brought about greater transparency through enhanced disclosure norms. [32] The phased introduction of new banks in the private sector and expansion in the number of foreign banks provided for a new level of competition. [33] Furthermore, increasingly tight capital adequacy norms, prudential and supervision norms were to apply equally across all banks, regardless of their ownership. [34] 

3.2 Government Debt Market Reforms

A myriad of reforms have been introduced in the government securities debt market. [35] Only in the 1990s a proper G-Sec debt market had been initiated which had progress from strategy of pre-emption of resources from banks at administered rates of interest to a system that is more market oriented. [36] The main instrument of pre-emption of bank resources in the pre-reform period was through the prescription of a Statutory Liquidity Ratio i.e. the ratio at which banks are required to invest in approved securities. [37] It was initially introduced as a prudential measure. [38] The high SLR reserve requirements lead to the creation of a captive market for government securities which were issued at low administered interest rates. [39] After the introduction of reforms, the SLR ratio has been brought down to a statutory minimum level of 25 per cent. Numerous measure have been taken to broaden the G-Sec market and to increase the transparency. Automatic monetisation of the government’s deficit has been given a go-by. At present, the market borrowings of the central government are undertaken through a system of auctions at market-related rates.

3.3 Forex Market Reforms

The foreign exchange market in India had been characterised by heavy control since the 1950s commensurate with increasing trade controls designed to foster import substitution. [40] As a result of these practises, the current and capital accounts were shut and forex was made available through a complex licensing system undertaken by the RBI. [41] Thus, the major task before the government was to move away from a system of total control to a market-based exchange rate system. This transformation in 1993 and the subsequent adoption of current account convertibility were the highlights of the forex reforms introduced in the Indian market. Under these reforms, authorised dealers of foreign exchange as well as banks have been given greater autonomy to carry out a wide range of activities and operations. [42] Furthermore, the entry of new players has been allowed in the market. The capital account has become effectively convertible for non-residents but still has some reservations fore residents. [43] 

3.4 Reforms in other segments of the Finance Sector

Several measures have been introduced for non-banking financial intermediaries as well. No-banking financial companies (NBFCs) including those involved in public deposit taking activities, have been brought under the supervision of the RBI. [44] As for development finance institutions (DFIs), NBFCs, urban cooperative banks, specialised term-lending institutions and primary dealers- all of these have been brought under the regulation of the Board for Financial Supervision. Reforms were introduced in phases for this segment as well.

Till the 1990s, insurance business was under the public ownership. After the passage of the Insurance Regulation and Development Act in 1999, many changes have been introduced. The most prominent amounst these was the setting up of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Agency as well as the setting up of joint ventures to handle insurance business on a risk sharing or commission basis. [45] 

Another important step has been the setting of the Securities and Exchange Board of India as a regulator for equity markets and to improve market efficiency and integration of national markets and to prevent unfair practices regarding trading. [46] The reform measures in the equity market since 1992 have laid emphasis mainly on regulatory effectiveness, enhancement of competitive conditions, reduction of information asymmetries, development of modern technological infrastructure, mitigation of transaction costs and lastly, controlling of speculation in the securities market. [47] Furthermore, the reform process had the effect of putting an end to the monopoly of the United Trust of India by opening up of mutual funds to the private sector in 1992. [48] Mutual funds have been permitted to open offshore funds for the purpose of investing in equities in other jurisdictions. Another development which took place in 1992 was the opening up of the Indian capital market for foreign institutional investors. [49] The Indian corporate sector has been granted permission to tap international capital markets through American Depository Receipts, Foreign Currency Convertible Bonds, Global Depository Receipts and External Commercial Borrowings. [50] Moreover, now Overseas Corporate Bodies and non-resident are allowed to invest in Indian companies. [51] 

Chapter 4 Integral aspects of future reform policies

Though it is quite impossible to prioritize the various aspects which are relevant for reform, the author has mentioned a few critical elements which have been highlighted by Y.V. Reddy in a lecture delivered by him. [52] 

4.1 Need for greater legislative measures

It is mandatory that financial reforms are accompanied by legislative measure commensurate with these reforms to enable further progress. These are required mainly with regard to ownership, development of financial markets, regulatory focus, and bankruptcy procedures. [53] Shortcomings in benefits of reforms such as in credit delivery require changes in the legal framework. Furthermore, it is required to concentrate in reduction of transaction costs in economic activity and to enhance economic incentives. [54] Increased enforceability cannot be substituted by the increase in the severity of penalties in criminal proceedings. Lastly, in the institutional element, there is an increasing need to clearly demarcate the roles and functions of the owner, financial intermediary and market participant so as to “replace the joint-family approach that is a legacy of the pre-reform framework”. [55] 

4.2 Fiscal Empowerment

Notwithstanding the existing level of fiscal deficit, which appears to be manageable, the cushion available for meeting unforeseen circumstances is limited. [56] This problem is acute especially in regard to finances of states which have major structural problems and are in constant need of fiscal support from the Central Government. Y.V. Reddy remarks that the nature of fiscal dominance constrains the effectiveness of the monetary policy to meet unforeseen contingencies as well as to main price stability and contain inflationary expectations.

4.3 Reforms in the real sector

Reforms in the real sector would be necessary to bring about structural changes in the Indian economy, particularly in domestic trade. [57] Further growth can be successfully achieved by liberalisation of the financial and external sector. [58] 

4.4 Social obligations distribution amoung banks and financial institutions

It is necessary to distinguish between the contributions of a financial sector and fiscal actions in matters relating to poverty alleviation. [59] Social obligations should be distributed equitably amoung banks and other financial intermediaries but would be difficult to achieve in the context of emerging capital markets and an economy which is relatively open. [60] Intermediation may have to be multi-institutional rather than being wholly bank-centered. [61] Often banks, which are the foundational stones of payment systems, face problems if they are subjected to disproportionate burdens. This needs to be looked into. Y.V. Reddy mentioned in his speech that monetary and fiscal policies in India should be focussed on what Dreze and Sen termed as “growth mediated security” while “support lead security”. This primarily consists of direct anti-poverty interventions tackled by fiscal and other governmental activities.

4.5 Overhang problems in the financial sector

The presence of ‘overhang’ problems is another element which needs to be addressed. To exemplify the meaning of this phrase, problems such as non-performing assets of banks and financial institutions would come within the meaning of this phrase. However, overhang issue are contrasting in nature from flow issues. There is merit in insulating the overhang problem from the flow issues and thereby solve the flow problem. [62] Taking the example of the power sector, any addition to capacities to generate without taking into account cost recovery would add to the problem of accumulated losses. [63] Overhang problems, apart from the financial sector, are prevalent in public enterprises, provident fund and pension liabilities and the cooperative sector. They have a cumulative effect on the finance sector.

4.6 Financial Inclusion

Apart from the above, several suggestions have been made in the domain of financial inclusion. Financial inclusion is the key priority for a country like India. Below mentioned are some initiatives taken recently for achieving this objective: [64] 

The establishment of off-site ATMs has been de-licensed.

List of banking correspondents has now been expanded to include individual petty, medical as well as fair price shop owners and also agents of small savings schemes offered by the Government, insurance companies, and retired teachers.

At present, the Reserve Bank is reviewing the guidelines of the priority sector lending and the feasibility of trading in priority sector lending certificates.

A working group set up under the Reserve Bank has recommended the removal of interest rate ceiling on loans upto Rs. 2 lakhs.

Another proposal under consideration is that of granting a few more licenses to local area banks for a fixed period of time. Past strategies for financial inclusion have primarily focussed on expansion of branches, setting up of special special-purpose government-sponsored institutions. [65] It needs to be noted that a new strategy for financial inclusion is the need of the hour which is focussed not only on credit, but also involves the provision of a variety of financial services such as saving accounts, insurance, and remittance products. [66] 

Chapter 5 Conclusion

Finance and growth are interlinked; with increasing developments all around the world, the Indian banking and financial system has to develop in pari passu in manner that stimulates growth and competition. [67] India has undergone more than decade of financial sector reforms which has lead to substantial transformation and liberalisation of the entire financial sector. [68] 

Over a period of time, the Indian Government gradually liberalised the financial sector, mainly after the recommendations of the Narasimham Committee were carried out which, in turn formed the foundation of reforms that took place in the 1990s and early 2000s. [69] Most of the changes or amendments recommended in the legislative framework by both of the Narasimhan Committees (I & II) have been carried out [70] although much still needs to be done.

In this regard, it becomes relevant to quantify the performance of the financial sector after such reforms in an objective manner. It is important to do so since the policies of reforms undertaken in India have been contrasting from majority of the other market economies. It has been a measured, cautious, gradual and steady process which is lacking of various flourishes that are observed in other countries. [71] 

Reforms are still continuing and the recent amendments in the State Bank of Indi Act, 1955 by way of the State Bank of India (Amendment) Act of 2007 made on the recommendations of the Narasimhan Committee-II on Banking Sector reforms is evidence to this fact. [72] The time has come for a second wave of financial reforms which will strive to ensure that the savings are utilised in an optimum manner. [73] 

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