Friday, April 28, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Govt hints at rollback
Call to downsize govts

NEW DELHI, April 27 (PTI) — Bowing to pressure from opposition parties, the government today gave indications in the Rajya Sabha on rollback in the prices of food and fertiliser saying the Cabinet would look into the matter.

“Concerns of the members will be faithfully conveyed and it is for Cabinet to consider it,” Leader of the House Jaswant Singh said replying to the motion of thanks on the President’s Address in the absence of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who is indisposed.

Dissatisfied with the minister’s reply, Left and RJD members staged a walkout saying, “We are not getting categorical assurance from the government on the issue”.

The House later passed the motion by a voice vote giving parliamentary approval to the President’s Address. The motion was passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.

The agitated opposition members said if Mr Jaswant Singh was not in a position to announce a rollback in the price hike, he should at least give an assurance that the matter would be reconsidered.

But this was not forthcoming, they said before walking out.

Mr Jaswant Singh said no individual, including the Prime Minister, could give an assurance without consulting the Cabinet. As he was bound by the system, he would convey it to the Cabinet which could look into the issue, he said.

Mr Jaswant Singh, who is also External Affairs Minister, said the issue of food subsidies was under government’s attention and Ministers “concerned will address these concerns” apparently hinting it would be dealt with by Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha when the finance Bill would be taken up.

He asserted the government was committed to ensure that public sectors assets were not sold “cheap” as part of privatisation.

The minister said the government would soon announce the constitution of a task force on agriculture to address falling investments in the sector, which is the backbone of Indian economy.

He defended the decision to remove quantitative restrictions on 714 items saying it was done as India had lost its appeal in the dispute settlement body of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Stating the size of the Central Government at 40 lakh employees and salary payout of Rs 40,000 crore was “unsustainable”, Mr Jaswant Singh sought the cooperation of all parties in efforts to downsize the government.

Some states were spending up to 70 per cent of their revenues to pay salaries to staff, he said, adding that all parties needed to collectively reflect on the finances of states.

The government proposes to appoint an expenditure commission to suggest the downsizing the governments at Centre and states The minister said there was a “sense of vibrancy and sense of growth” in the economy as the fundamentals were looking up like never before.

“Annual inflation at 4.6 per cent has been the lowest since 1991. The GDP growth rate at over 5.6 per cent is among the highest in Asia.

Currency has remained stable and reserves have gone up,” the said.

On food subsidies, he said the government was only implementing a decision taken by the United Front government in 1997.

Pointing out that food subsidies for population below poverty line has actually gone up from Rs 7,451 crore to Rs 9,200 crore, Mr Jaswant Singh said as per the government’s new proposal the “benefit of subsidy will shift from all in poor areas to poor in all areas”.

The Minister said more than half of the Rs 12,600 crore fertiliser subsidy was going to fertiliser factories than to farmers.

The DMK, a key constituent of the NDA government, today demanded that the hike in prices of foodgrain, fertilisers, kerosene and LPG be reviewed.

Seeking clarifications on the president’s address in the Rajya Sabha, DMK leader Viduthalai Virumbi said the price hike should be rolled back as it was agitating the people from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

On Pakistan Mr Jaswant Singh categorically stated that India would not reinitiate a dialogue unless Pakistan created a congenial atmosphere for negotiations.

In the Lok Sabha, BJP allies today joined the Opposition in launching a scathing attack on the government in for sharp cut in subsidies leading to hike in prices of PDS foodgrain and fertlisers with the Opposition demanding their immediate rollback.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan today said it was not inclined to hold "talks for talks" with India as indicated by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh in the Lok Sabha.

A Pakistan Foreign office statement here said his remarks "does not appear to reflect any change in India’s position prescribing conditions for dialogue with Pakistan."


BJP endorses govt decision

NEW DELHI, April 27 (UNI) — The parliamentary party meeting of the BJP today endorsed the government’s decision to hike prices of foodgrain sold through the public distribution system.

Briefing newsmen after the meeting, party spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu said the government “will go ahead with its decision”.

The meeting was presided by Home Minister L.K. Advani, in the absence of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who is indisposed.

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