Mr Pranab Mukherjee, did we hear ‘austerity’?
India is going through a rough patch. The common man knows it, foreign investors know it and so does our government.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is also one of the contenders for the post of president, has been trying his best to clear the air and restore the confidence to get the economy back on track.
In his recent Parliament speech, after he delayed the controversial GAAR norms, Mukherjee said new ‘austerity measures’ will be announced to aid the fiscal consolidation process.
The government, however, still doesn’t seem to be frugal when it comes to spending.
On Monday, newspapers in New Delhi were flooded with ads, some of them full page, on the 21st death anniversary of India’s former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Hindustan Times alone had 11 of them. The Times of India had nine while The Indian Express had eight, all paying tribute to Gandhi.
And it’s a collective effort of various ministries. From the Delhi government to the ministries of power, steel, environment, information & broadcasting, women & child development, commerce & industry — all have space reserved in national dailies to pay tribute in their own way.
Over the weekend, Mamata Banerjee, a key ally of the Congress-led government, had a centre spread in The Times of India as her government completed a year in office. The ad, titled ‘One year towards a ray of hope’ explained the recent initiatives of her state government in West Bengal.
And this is not restricted to the government. Last week, J.Jayalalithaa, whose party sits in opposition in parliament, celebrated a year in office as chief minister of Tamil Nadu with ads on the front page of many English dailies.
Several million rupees are spent on print media ads on the birth and death anniversaries of national leaders. It is tough to understand how India can afford to spend taxpayers’ money this way when there is dire need of reforms as growth languishes near 3-year lows, current account deficit rises and the rupee sinks.
When it comes to austerity, even Pratibha Patil, the President of India, has been under fire. She has been criticised for costing the public exchequer more than 2 billion rupees on her foreign trips, a record for any Indian president.
A few days after his Parliament speech, Mukherjee announced a ban on government employees buying new vehicles and imposed curbs on holding workshops/meetings by government officials at five-star hotels.
It is clear that reducing such expenses might not do much to solve India’s growing fiscal troubles. But perhaps, doing this and cutting back on needless expenditure such as advertisements in newspapers can be a good way to start.
(Follow Aditya on Twitter at @adityayk)