Ministers will not fly economy

September 11, 2009 12:00 am

, NEW DELHI, Sep 11 – Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has backed down after his cabinet revolted against an austerity drive that would have forced ministers to fly in economy class, reports said on Friday.

Singh faced a barrage of complaints when he chaired his weekly meeting on Thursday over a series of cost-cutting steps outlined by the finance ministry on Monday, the Hindustan Times and other media reported.

The strategy includes cuts in funds earmarked for travel, furnishing for ministers’ offices and residences, publicity work, as well as seminars and workshops in luxury hotels.

The measures were imperative given a drought in large swathes of the country, which has pressured government revenues, a finance ministry statement said.

While ministers have heeded calls to cut down on foreign travel, the idea of taking economy class proved too much for many, the reports said.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said previous attempts to fly in coach had proved confusing, citing protocol problems when Russian officials in Moscow were alarmed that they were unable to find him in business class.

The tall and imposing minister for non-conventional energy, Farooq Abdullah, argued that economy class seats did not give him sufficient leg-room.

Their pleas compelled Singh to say that ministers could travel business class after all — but only after seeking permission.

The reports came on the heels of Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and his deputy Shashi Tharoor being asked to vacate their luxury hotels in keeping with the government’s austerity drive.

With their official residences under renovation, both had been staying in deluxe hotels since joining the federal cabinet in May after Singh’s Congress party was re-elected earlier this year.

Last month, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had asked party colleagues to accept a 20-percent salary cut for a year.

India’s economy has been reeling under the combined impact of the global slowdown and poor monsoon rains, which have depressed farm output.


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