Economy wins slowdown battle but loses against prices in 2009

During 2009, the Indian economy grew at about 7%, but at the same time, food inflation touched more than a decade's high of 20%

India achieved the distinction of being the second-fastest growing economy amid the global recession in 2009, but the joy was marred by the decade's sharpest rise in food prices to the chagrin of the common man, reports PTI.

For a country that continued to lose on its exports throughout the year that has gone by, the economy achieved a remarkable growth of about 7% (during April-September 2009) on the back of focused government stimulus in tandem with well-articulated interest rate-cum-monetary policy of the RBI.

But it is a paradox of sorts that the price line, that dipped from a 13-year high into the negative zone at one point during the year, climbed sharply again, with food inflation touching more than a decade's high of 20%.

From the growth focus, the government had to concentrate on fighting natural disasters ranging from drought to floods in different parts of the country that led to shortages of food grains, fruits and vegetables. The resultant spurt in their prices caused a political storm.

To add to this roller-coaster, developments in the economy, including in the share market, the general elections in May that helped the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to retain power, lent further colour.

In the New Year, fear of rising inflation will continue to influence economic policies, whether it is the monetary review to be announced by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on 29th January or the Budget to be unveiled by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee towards the end of February.

Powered by strong doses of three stimulus packages, the Indian economy did well, only next to China in terms of growth. Despite widespread drought and devastating floods in parts of the country, the economy during 2009-10 is estimated to expand by 8%, up from 6.7% in the previous fiscal.

India's growth during 2008-09 dipped from 9% on account of the impact of the global financial crisis.

Stimulus, green shoots and exit policy will continue to remain the buzzwords as the government in the coming year will move forward to withdraw the extraordinary steps it took to fight the impact of the global meltdown, domestic drought and spiralling food prices.

The focus of economic planners during the initial months of 2009 was to continue the stimulus to tide over the impact of the financial crisis triggered by the collapse of America's iconic banker Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

Not waiting for the election results, Mr Mukherjee, while presenting an interim budget in February 2009, provided the third stimulus package to the industry by announcing tax cuts and raising public expenditure.

These stimulus packages, backed by easing of monetary policy by the RBI, yielded some results which economists described as "green shoots". As the green shoots appeared, the economy started looking up and in the second quarter (July-September 2009-10) recorded a high growth rate of 7.9%, much more than anticipated by any analyst or think-tank.

The impact, however, was not so visible on the external front as exports continued to remain in the negative zone for most part of the year. This has been on account of slow recovery in the external market.

Now with the US economy recording a growth of 2.2% during the quarter (July-September), though less that the initial estimate of 3.5%, Indian exports too may look up in the future.

After a gap of 13 months, exports in November registered a growth of 18% and the rise might continue with the global economy gradually recovering from the recession, described as the worst since the Second World War.

Buoyed by the performance in the second quarter, the Planning Commission and the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Committee have talked about revising their growth projections once the data for the second quarter was made public. Both these organisations had projected a 6.5% growth rate for the current fiscal.

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    Enforcement Directorate back in the limelight in 2009

    High-profile economic offences, particularly the case for alleged money-laundering against former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda and the multi-crore Satyam scam, kept the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on its toes all through 2009

    High-profile economic offences, particularly the case for alleged money-laundering against former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda and the multi-crore Satyam scam, kept the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on its toes all through 2009, reports PTI.

    The ED hogged the media headlines for days together in connection with the multi-crore illegal investments and hawala case against Mr Koda and his former Cabinet colleagues.

    The ED also nabbed a businessman, Naresh Jain, an alleged associate of Dawood Ibrahim, in connection with a hawala racket.

    Mr Jain, who is accused of running a hawala network of over Rs5,000 crore, was first booked under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) and later arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau in a joint operation with the ED.

    Arrested in Dubai two years back in a coordinated operation with the US and European security agencies, Mr Jain is also being probed for his alleged links with international terrorist and India's most wanted man, Dawood Ibrahim.

    As various agencies probed the over Rs13,000 crore Satyam scam, the ED went ahead and attached close to 285 properties worth over Rs1,000 crore of Satyam founder Ramalinga Raju, his relatives and others on the charge of money laundering.

    The ED worked in close coordination with the Income-Tax Department, state vigilance departments, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and the Narcotics Control Bureau in order to crack various cases.

    Another case the agency handled during the year was the alleged FDI violations of realty major Emmar MGF.

    The ED searched 13 premises of the firm, which is constructing the 2010 Commonwealth Games village in the national capital, at a time when the firm was getting ready for an initial public offering (IPO) worth Rs3,850 crore.

    US-based Yum Restaurants, which owns the franchise for KFC and Pizza Hut in India, came under the ED scanner for allegedly failing to bring in Rs390 crore ($80 million) foreign investment in the country after getting prior government approval.

    In the case of Pune-based stud farm owner Hassan Ali Khan, the ED had acted in 2008 for alleged FEMA violations to the tune of over Rs39,000 crore, but investigations are going on at a snail's pace.
    — Yogesh Sapkale

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    India to spend Rs15,000 crore for 'a clean, free-flowing’ Ganga

    The Indian government says it is confident that it will clean the Ganga river by 2020 and Rs15,000 crore will be spent for this purpose under the river development fund

    The Indian government has expressed confidence that by 2020 the polluted Ganga river would be cleaned up. It plans to spend Rs15,000 crore for this purpose, reports PTI.

    "The Union government is confident that it will clean the Ganga river by 2020 and Rs 15,000 crore will be spent for this purpose under the river development fund," environment minister Jairam Ramesh said in Varanasi.

    The government plans to save the river by making it 'nirmal' (clean) and 'aviral' (free-flowing), he told reporters.

    "We will not only ensure 'aviral dhara' (continuous flow of the river stream), as being demanded by several non-governmental organisations (NGOs), but also ensure 'nirmal dhara' (clean and pollution-free flow), the minister said.

    Mr Ramesh said that the World Bank has also committed at least $1 billion to India as assistance for cleaning up the heavily polluted Ganga in the first phase.

    The clean-up involves building modern sewage treatment, revamping drains and other measures to improve the quality of the river, which has been badly polluted by industrial chemicals, farm pesticides and other sewage.

    "This is a project of enormous national importance and I am pleased that the World Bank has come forward to assist us," he said, adding that the initial assistance of $1 billion would be provided over the next four to five years.

    In 1985, then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had launched a grand Ganga clean-up project—the Ganga Action Plan. But the river remains heavily polluted even after 24 years of the implementation of the project, Mr Ramesh said.

    "We have made a fresh proposal to the 13th Finance Commission stating that the costs of operating and maintaining sewage treatment plants (STPs) along the Ganga river be borne by the Union government," he said.

    A number of STPs built under the Ganga Action Plan-I and II were not operating to their full capacity due to financial constraints of municipal bodies. The move would give them some breathing space to reform their finances.

    Asked about the failure of the Ganga Action Plans, the minister said that GAP-I and GAP-II were initiated to control direct discharge of sewage and industrial effluents into the river from 29 major and 23 small cities as well as 48 towns from Uttarakhand to West Bengal.

    He said that about 260 crore litres of untreated sewage and effluents are discharged into the river daily and the NGOs working to save the Ganga and the Centre were concerned over this issue.

    During his visit to the Ganga ghats, Mr Ramesh pulled up municipal commissioner Nand Kishore for their poor maintenance.

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