High crude prices to put pressure on fiscal deficit: RBI

Political unrest in Egypt and Libya followed by protests in the Middle East has led to a spike in international crude prices, which at present are hovering around $100 a barrel. High oil prices could lead to greater subsidies to reduce burden on the common man

Mumbai: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) today warned high crude prices in global market could inflate the petroleum and fertilizer subsidy bill and put pressure on fiscal deficit which the government plans to bring down to 4.6$ in the next fiscal, reports PTI.

"While the budgeted level of fiscal deficit for 2011-12 gives some comfort on the demand front, a potential increase in the subsidies on petroleum products and fertilizers as a result of high crude prices could put pressure on expenditure," the RBI said in its mid-quarter monetary policy.

It is critical, therefore, to focus on the quality of expenditure, without compromising on delivery of services, the apex bank said.

"Only by doing this can the fiscal situation contribute to demand-side inflation management," it added.

The government has pegged the fiscal deficit for the next fiscal at 4.6%, which works out to be Rs4,12,817 crore. For the current fiscal, it is pegged at 5.1% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Political unrest in Egypt and Libya followed by protests in the Middle East has led to a spike in international crude prices, which at present are hovering around $100 a barrel. High oil prices could lead to greater subsidies to reduce burden on the common man.

The RBI further said it had expressed concern about the widening of the current account deficit (CAD) and the nature of its financing in its Third Quarter Review.

However, going by the recent robust export performance, CAD for 2010-11 is now estimated to come lower than earlier expected, at around 2.5% of GDP, it added.

The RBI further said there should be greater emphasis on attracting long-term inflows components, including foreign direct investment (FDI).

"While CAD for this year has been financed comfortably, it is necessary to focus on quality of capital inflows with greater emphasis on attracting long-term components, including foreign direct investment (FDI)... to enhance sustainability of balance of payments over the medium-term," it added.

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RTI activist alleges Nehru Museum director’s link with Congress is breach of service rules

Subhash Agrawal says Prof Mridula Mukherjee’s association with editorial board of a party publication is not permitted under civil service regulations

An RTI query reveals that the director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library is guilty of violating civil service conduct rules by virtue of her also being on the editorial board of a Congress party publication. However, as the director is the appellate authority to the information officer, the reply provided is incomplete and evasive, according to an RTI activist.

The query was posted by renowned RTI (right to information) activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, and in reply, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) admitted that its director, Professor Mridula Mukherjee, had violated provisions of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules and Central Civil Services (Classification, Control & Appeal) Rules which forbids officials from involvement in any political party or organisation. Prof Mukherjee is a member of the editorial board for a publication that has been published by the Congress party to mark its 125th year.

However, while admitting that Prof Mukherjee is a member of the editorial board of 'Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation', which is in two volumes, the information officer, Purnima Arora, was evasive on the exact nature of the violation of rules. But she admitted that NMML comes under the purview of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules and Central Civil Services (Classification, Control & Appeal) Rules.

It follows as a corollary that, therefore, NMML members are also not allowed to be associated with a party or political organisation, or offer any assistance in any manner. However, when asked about whether Prof Mukherjee has violated any service by-rules, the reply was evasive. "The query of the applicant is not covered under the definition of 'information' as given in section 2(f) of the RTI Act 2005," Ms Arora said. Citing a precedent, she said that giving advice or making suggestions to an enquirer falls under the scope of the Act.

Ms Arora also stated that no records are available of any action taken against Prof Mukherjee and that neither has any explanation been sought from her, nor has she volunteered any.

But, Mr Agrawal also cites a precedent that indicates a liberal interpretation of the Act for public welfare. He said, "Honourable Mr Justice S Ravindra Bhatt of Delhi High Court in the matter Bhagat Singh vs CIC (W.P.(C) No.3114/2007) has held that the Right to Information Act being a right-based enactment is akin to a welfare measure and as such should receive liberal interpretation."

Mr Agrawal has thus requested that the information authorities should answer his queries. Incidentally, the appellate authority in this case would be the director of NMML, Prof Mukherjee, herself.

'Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation' is edited by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, and it has been criticised by opposition parties and others for a distorted portrayal of the Emergency. The book blames Sanjay Gandhi for the compulsory sterilisation that was among the major excesses of the Emergency, and apparently absolves the former prime minister Indira Gandhi and other leaders.

This new controversy while hurting the Congress party further, also undermines the integrity of a premier institution like NMML.

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2G case: Judicial custody of Raja and 3 others extended

CBI request for more time to complete investigation into telecom scam case

New Delhi:  A Delhi court today extended the judicial custody of former telecom minister A Raja and three other accused in the 2G spectrum case till 31st March.

Mr Raja along with former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura, Mr Raja's former personal secretary RK Chandolia and Swan telecom promoter Shahid Balwa are lodged in Tihar Jail in the national capital. The four were to appear before special CBI judge OP Saini in a video-conference. But, due to technical glitches in the video conferencing system between Tihar Jail and the Patiala Court complex, they were produced before the judge in person, PTI reports.

The CBI informed the court that the probe in the case involving Mr Raja and the three others was yet to be completed and the judge granted an extension of judicial custody. The investigating agency also submitted that the accused are "highly influential" and could tamper with the evidence if they were released at this stage of the investigation.

Mr Raja was arrested by the CBI along with Mr Behura and Mr Chandolia on 2nd February 2011 and Mr Balwa was arrested in Pune on 8th February.

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