Pranab Mukherjee justifies austerity steps

 
“At necessary times, austerity measures need to be adhered to,” he said addressing the members of the Indian Women Press Corps here.

“There is nothing new in the austerity measures we have announced. These measures have already existed in the standing instructions of the finance ministry for quite sometime. But because of the revenue buoyancy and the comfort factor in the past few years, these were not strictly adhered to,” he said.

But given the current fiscal situation, it was necessary to adopt austerity measures, Mukherjee said replying to a  query over the divergent views within the Cabinet on the austerity measures unveiled by the government recently.

Faced with the growing prospect of a further rise in expenditure on account of an impending drought, the government has unveiled a series of austerity measures asking all its ministries and departments to effect a mandatory 10 per cent cut in non-Plan expenditure, popularly known as wasteful spending. The measures include drastic slashing of foreign and domestic travel and a complete ban on holding conferences in five-star hotels.

The controversy over the austerity measures arose when Mukherjee “requested” the external affairs minister S M Krishna and his deputy Shashi Tharoor to vacate their accommodation in star hotels. Though Krishna and Tharoor maintained that they were footing the hotel bills on their own, the “directive” to them to dispense with their stay in star hotels was part of a public exercise to show solidarity with the drought-affected people, he said.

The issue of austerity measures was learnt to have cropped up at the Thursday’s Cabinet meeting with some ministers seeking clarification on the government’s economy drive.

Significantly, Mukherjee sought to clarify certain “misunderstanding” on austerity measures saying: “It is only suggested that the ministers and a certain category of officers entitled to fly business class on domestic flights should travel only in economy class as the distance within the domestic sector is not that long. “But we have approved of travel by business class in international flights,” he said.

Mukherjee also clarified that while official dinners in honour of foreign dignitaries could be organised appropriately, conferences by government departments and ministries should not be held in five-star hotels.

“We have created so many conference facilities at the state level; there is no need to hold them in five-star hotels,” he said.

Mukherjee said salary cuts had been proposed for the Congress MPs. “As far as other parties are concerned, it is for them to decide and take up the matter with the Lok Sabha speaker and the chairman of the Rajya Sabha,” he said.

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