M A I N   N E W S

Growth to be hit, but banks safe: PM
Asks Oman to invest in Indian infrastructure sector
Girja Shankar Kaura wrties from Muscat

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today indicated that there might “somewhat” be a slowdown in the economic growth next year but asserted that fundamentals of the Indian economy were strong with the banking system safe.

However, the Prime Minister was confident that despite the shadow of a slight fall in the growth rate, there would be no slowdown in investments and India would continue to invest $500 billion in the economic and social sectors over the next five years. He was addressing the Indian diaspora and the business community here on the second day of his two-nation tour of the Gulf States of Sultanate of Oman and Emirate of Qatar.

“Due to the current international financial situation, our growth rate may come down somewhat next year. However, we still hope to achieve a growth rate of seven to seven and a half per cent next year,” he said.

“Our banking system and financial institutions are well capitalised and secure,” he pointed out. He further said the high-level committee appointed by him to monitor the situation would suggest short-term and long-term measures to accelerate growth.

Reflecting on macro-economic fundamentals, he said the domestic savings rate had remained at a healthy 35 per cent, he further expressed hope that the country would retain its “young demographic profile”, leading to a further increase in the rates of savings and investment over the coming years.

However, the Prime Minister’s observation would mean that there would be a dip in the economic growth rate for the first time in four years after averaging nine per cent growth.

In his address to the Indian diaspora in Oman, estimated at about five lakh, Singh said the annual remittance of over $780 million by the Indian community was a “reflection of their ties with the motherland and their confidence in India”.

“The India-Oman memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed on Saturday for setting up a joint investment fund was “only the beginning” and would open the door for greater investment and bilateral economic cooperation,” the Prime Minister said.

During his meeting with the industrialists, he called upon them to invest surplus liquidity into key infrastructure sectors in India.

“We are determined to create a hospitable climate for investment from friendly countries like Oman,” he said.

The Prime Minister was hopeful of an increase in cooperation in the fields of energy, fertilizers, IT, tourism and education. He exhorted the business community here to explore possibilities of joint ventures in third countries.

Against the backdrop of the current global financial meltdown, there was an “even greater need” to join hands to shape counter-cyclical growth strategies by focusing on the real economy, he said while pointing out that India and Oman were well-placed to convert this challenge into an opportunity.

“We count on you to be the architects of this magnificent change,” he said. He said the large Indian community in Oman served as a bridge with India and gave an assurance that his government was “constantly alive” to the welfare of the non-resident Indian community.

In both his interactions, the Prime Minister emphasised on the importance that the gulf region held for India. “It is part of our extended neighbourhood, and home to five million Indians. It is the largest source of our energy supplies. We have active trade and investment interests. Piracy, criminal activities and terrorism on our seas and land threaten the Gulf countries and India as well,” he pointed out.




Muscat Diary
Omani Halwa

One of the first things that mediapersons accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a day’s visit to this Gulf state were told about was the etiquette which must be observed when being served the Omani Halwa, which is very important part of the traditional cuisine.

The paper distributed said Omani halwa was served in bowls carried in a cloth by two attendants or in small bowls carried on a tray. The halwa was taken from the bowl using tips of the two fingers of the right hand without lifting the bowl from the tray or from the cloth.

After eating the halwa, the fingers are washed with water poured from a silverware by an attendant and the hand is dried with a towel or napkin that is provided. If not done the traditional way, it is considered to be an insult to the host. So the next time you are in Oman, you better follow these instructions while having the Omani Halwa.

No Indian taxi drivers

Traditionally, around the world, Indians have been known to be driving taxis as a profession. Whether it is America, Australia, or the Gulf, Indians are a must behind the wheels of taxis. But it is not so in Oman.

As a rule, the taxis in Oman are operated only by Omani nationals and they must wear the ‘dishdasha’, the traditional Arabic robe along with the head gear, which reflects their clan.

What is interesting is that most of the Omani taxi drivers speak Hindi, because of Oman sharing old sea links with India. And of the very first Indian families to reach the Oman shores centuries ago, some have been given the Omani citizenship, which is a complete no-no for the expat Indians here. By the way, as in Delhi, the taxis here are also not metered but the drivers share the same trait of breaking traffic rules. The fares are usually negotiated ahead of the journey.

The Gonu effect

It has been more than a year since cyclone Gonu struck the Oman coast but the telltale marks of the effect it had on the Omani capital can still be witnessed. With the city bereft of a rain water drainage system, most of the low lying areas of the city were flooded to over 10 feet when the cyclone struck and stayed for days after.

While most parts of the city damaged by the cyclone have been repaired, the construction work is still underway along the beach-line which faced the brunt of the cyclone. The work is still going on along a patch of road running past the picturesque Qurum beach, a favourite hangout place for locals.

However, that is not only construction underway in Muscat. With the increase in traffic, which seems to be a dream when compared to Delhi, the authorities in Muscat are constructing another parallel road to the main road through the city to help distribute traffic and avoid jams, which according to locals are a new phenomenon here.

— Girja Shankar Kaura



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