Market can make govt pay for eroding RBI's independence: Viral Acharya

RBI Governor Urjit Patel (right) with Deputy Governor Viral Acharya (Photo: Kamlesh Pednekar)

Emphasising the need for independence in the central bank's functioning, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Deputy Governor Viral Acharya on Friday said the market can make the government pay for eroding the bank's independence.

Speaking at the A.D. Shroff Memorial Lecture in Mumbai, he said markets keenly watch government's activities which exert pressure on the central bank's independent functioning. His statement assumes significance as their have been instances in the past few years when the government has reportedly tried to undermine RBI's autonomy.

"The market can discipline the government not to erode central bank independence, and it can also make the government pay for its transgressions," Acharya said.

"Markets watch keenly, and if uncertainty grows and confidence in central bank independence and credibility erode, then markets rap bond yields and exchange rate on the knuckles," he added.

He also noted that the market also forces central banks to remain accountable and independent when it is under government pressure.

"The presence of this third player -- the market -- in the back and forth between a government and the central bank (more generally, regulatory institutions) is an important feedback mechanism," the Deputy Governor said.

Speaking of the current challenges to the RBI's autonomy, he mentioned limited powers with the central bank in taking actions against public sector banks (PSBs) as a major limitation.

"The Reserve Bank is statutorily limited in undertaking the full scope of actions against public sector banks -- such as asset divestiture, replacement of management and Board, license revocation, and resolution actions such as mergers or sales -- all of which it can and does deploy effectively in case of private banks," Acharya said.

He also said that having a strong balance sheet and adequate reserves is an important part of the central bank's independence from the government.

"A thorny ongoing issue on this front has been that of the rules for surplus transfer from the Reserve Bank to the government," he observed.

He also reiterated the RBI's dissent to the creation of separate payment's regulator for oversee payment and settlement systems.

"A final issue is one of regulatory scope, the most recent case in point being the recommendation to bypass the central bank's powers over payment and settlement systems by appointing a separate payments regulator."

The RBI on October 19, 2018 published a dissent note against the recommendation to appoint a separate payments regulator.

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