Diesel Pricing Reforms in India – a Perspective on Demand
In January 2013, the Government of India began deregulating the retail price of diesel by permitting Oil Marketing Companies to progressively raise retail prices over a period of several months, until their losses from the subsidization of diesel were completely offset. This policy decision represents one of the final stages of the ‘decontrol’ of prices for diesel and gasoline. Two key questions which arise from these recent measures are (a) whether they will play a role in slowing the pace of growth in India’s oil consumption, and (b) whether they have impacted the structure of India’s demand for petroleum products, and whether these reforms could make a difference to the economic situation in relation to fuel subsidies. This Comment therefore focuses on the potential impacts of these important reforms on Indian diesel demand.
The argument in this Comment can be viewed as being in three parts. The first looks at the Indian reforms in the context of wider literature on the response of demand to the progressive elimination of subsidies – arguing that, contrary to the expectation that higher prices lead to a reduction in demand, for a developing economy like India, the demand for diesel is likely to continue growing as income effects are stronger than price effects. However, the second argues that the price effects by themselves are quite complex; the lag between reforming the prices of different petroleum products, and the relative price changes which have prompted substitution between them, complicates the dynamics of demand. And third, it argues that India’s system of differential taxation at the state level could lead to outcomes completely different to those intended by reform at the federal level, particularly in relation to subsidy removal.