GDP growth could hit decade-low: FM

Chidambaram

India's economic growth could slow to as little as 5.5 percent this fiscal year, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told Reuters, signalling the possibility that Asia's third largest economy will expand at its slowest pace in a decade.

"I'm looking forward to this year ending with 5.5 to 6 percent growth, barring any unexpected shocks, and next year getting back to 7 percent growth, and in 2014-15 getting back to 8 percent growth", he said in an interview on Sunday at a G20 meeting in Mexico.

The last time full-year growth fell below 6 percent was in 2002-03 when the economy expanded 4 percent. A slump in industrial activity because of slow policy-making and the global slowdown, combined with a drought, have dragged on India's performance this fiscal year, which ends in March 2013.

Until now, the government had estimated growth this year at around 6 percent. The International Monetary Fund last month slashed its 2012 calendar year economic growth forecast for India to 4.9 percent from 6.1 percent.

Chidambaram said India had the wherewithal to again reach its economic potential.

"In 2004-2008 we had 9 percent plus growth. It's not as though we have not done it before", he said. "We have slowed down thanks to the world and some domestic factors, but we are absolutely confident that we will get back to the higher-growth path."

Chidambaram said he was concerned about inflation, which  hit a 10-month high of 7.8 percent in September.

"We must learn to live with some inflation, but inflation cannot be at an unacceptable level. Today it is at an unacceptable level", he said.

MORE BORROWING

India's central bank left interest rates unchanged at 8 percent last week, defying government pressure to lower rates for the first time since April.

Rate cut expectations had grown after Chidambaram outlined a recent plan to cut the country's hefty fiscal deficit and boost growth. The bank's announcement failed to calm markets, pushing bond yields and swap rates higher.

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