M A I N   N E W S

Govt in damage control mode
Sonia writes to all Cong CMs to cut ST on petrol
Anita Katyal/Bhagyashree Pande
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 5
Under attack for the massive hike in fuel prices, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi have gone into a damage control mode.

Clearly worried about the adverse political fallout of this decision, Sonia asked all Congress state governments to reduce sales tax on petroleum products, while the Centre unfolded a string of austerity measures for ministries with the Prime Minister writing individually to all ministers to cut down wasteful expenditure, especially on foreign travel.

Pointing out to the tremendous pressure on the government resources due to continuing rise in global crude oil, the Prime Minister urged all UPA ministers and senior officials to reduce expenditure on their travels, unless it was absolutely necessary.

The Cabinet secretariat has been asked to scrutinise all proposals for foreign travel very carefully. Even before such a formal letter was despatched, yesterday itself finance minister P.Chidambaram and panchayati raj minister Mani Shankar Aiyar were asked to pull out of their proposed trips abroad.

At the same time, a two-page note has been circulated to all ministries detailing the guidelines on austerity measures. Stating that every ministry must effect a 10 per cent in its non-plan expenditure, the note has said these be effected in the following heads: overtime allowance, domestic and foreign travel expenses, publications, professional services, advertising and office expenses.

A 5 per cent cut has been imposed on remaining portions of the non-plan expenditure.

Similarly, ministers and babus will have to think carefully before hosting meetings and seminars at five-star hotels. The economy measures prescribed for them include a 10 per cent cut for all seminars and conferences, stating “the practice of holding meetings and conferences at five-star hotels be discontinued.”

In addition, ministries have also been asked to avail discounts being offered by different airlines in order to contain expenditure on air travel. The guidelines also specify that advance payments being made to an implementing agency for any scheme or project should be limited to 10 per cent of the total expenditure.

The Finance Ministry’s instructions have also put a brake on all new schemes and programmes unless included in the Budget announcements, while additional expenditure on existing schemes has not been permitted.

There is to be strict monitoring of the implementation of schemes and accountability is to be fixed in case of delays, which result in major cost overruns.

Secretaries of ministries have been asked to carry out monthly review to see if these austerity measures are actually being followed. To ensure effective monitoring of these instructions, the Cabinet secretary has been asked to meet the secretary of the defaulting ministry every quarter.

Although such instructions are sent out periodically, the Congress-led government is under tremendous pressure after yesterday’s oil price hike.

These renewed efforts are meant to cushion the impact of this increase and send out a message that the government’s concern for the “aam admi” remains undiminished.

Known for his austere lifestyle, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh writes to his ministers virtually every year about cutting down on their foreign travels. It is a different matter that his appeal invariably goes unheeded.

Similarly, the Congress president periodically reminds partymen to shun any show of ostentation and avoid conspicuous consumption but, again, to little avail.




Punjab not to cut ST on petro products
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 5
The Punjab government will not reduce sales tax on either petrol or diesel. It claims its tax on diesel is already the lowest in the country. SAD General Secretary and government spokesman Dr Daljit Cheema said the state government was only levying a sales tax amount of 8.8 per cent on diesel that ensured the price of the fuel was the lowest in the country, including the Union Territory of Chandigarh.

Cheema said this concession given to the farmers of the state had ensured them a relief of nearly Rs three per litre of diesel. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had said that the state had limited resources at its command while explaining why the government could not give any further relief to consumers.

When asked whether the state government would take another look at its taxation structure, following a directive given in this regard by Congress President Sonia Gandhi to chief ministers of Congress-ruled states, Cheema claimed the Congress president was only passing on the buck. “If she is so concerned she should direct the UPA to take remedial action rather than playing politics on the issue”, he added.

Meanwhile, when questioned, the minister for cooperation Capt Kanwaljit Singh said the Centre should have levied a massive cut on duties and taxes on petroleum products rather than passing the burden on to the consumer.

He said duties and taxes on petroleum amounted to nearly 50 per cent of the end price paid by the consumer. “The Centre can easily give some relief to the consumers by somewhat reducing these levies”, Kanwaljit Singh added.



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