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EC seeks explanation on Finance briefing
Major embarrassment to govt
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 22
In a major embarrassment to the government, which could dampen the robust economic figures put out by it, the Election Commission today took exception to the Finance Ministry holding a press conference at the time of elections and releasing revenue figures to paint a rosy picture of the economy.

The ministry is being asked to provide an ''explanation'' for its April 20 media briefing held in ''total violation'' of the Model Code of Conduct, official sources said.

Though the letter is not officially described as a showcause notice, the contents therein virtually amount to it as the Centre has been asked to explain its move.

Finance Secretary D C Gupta had addressed a press conference on April 20, stating that tax collections had gone up by 18 per cent, raising the tax to GDP ratio to 9 per cent.

Revenue collection had shown the highest tax growth rate since 1999-2000. The tax to GDP ratio had exceeded 9 per cent for the first time in the past five years.

Mr Gupta said fiscal deficit was likely to be lower than the estimated 4.8 per cent of the GDP as a result of buoyant revenue collections and strict expenditure control during 2003-04.

The press conference was also addressed by Chief Economic Adviser Ashok Lahiri and Revenue Secretary Vineeta Rai.

Mr Lahiri said inflation would be less than 5 per cent in the current fiscal after being curtailed at an average of 5.5 per cent during 2003-04.

''India is a very inflation-averse country. Whichever party comes to power, I will be surprised if the inflation is above 5 per cent,'' he said.

Taking a serious view of the Congress' complaint about "biased reporting" of Opposition parties by the Prasar Bharati, the Election Commission has sought an explanation from the public broadcaster.

Chief Executive Officer of Prasar Bharati K S Sarma today met the full Commission and explained the position in the wake of the complaint filed by the Congress.

"We have received a complaint of biased reporting by Prasar Bharati particularly by DD News channel. The CEO of Prasar Bharati met the Commission", EC spokesman A N Jha told reporters.

Jha said the Prasar Bharati would give a detailed explanation to the Commission as well as to the press tomorrow.

On the issue of social security forms allegedly distributed by the BJP in Mumbai ahead of the elections, Jha said the Ministry of Labour had sent a detailed reply and the Commission was likely to take a decision in a couple of days after verifying the reply with the report sent by the Chief Electoral Officer of Maharashtra.


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