New Delhi: Amid the Indian rupee falling to record low against the US dollar and the fuel prices skyrocketing to all-time high, tremendously adding to common man’s woes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to hold a meeting this weekend to take stock of the nation’s economic situation and deliberate if any intervention measures are required to stem the thorny issues of currency fall and fuel price hike.
“Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar, PMEAC Chairman Bibek Debroy and Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia are among the officials who are likely to attend the meeting slated for Saturday,” PTI quoted sources as saying.
It has also been reported that the government may think upon increasing the interest rate to shore up the rupee, which hit its lifetime low on Wednesday.
While the structure of the meeting is not known, it may review macroeconomic indicators, government finances and implementation of flagship financial inclusion and other development schemes, they said.
The meeting comes in the backdrop of the Indian currency touching its lifetime low of 72.91 per dollar, depreciating 12.3 percent since the beginning of 2018.
The rupee on Wednesday rebounded from its historic low of 72.91 to end 51 paise higher at 72.18 after the Finance Ministry assured of steps to avert its fall to “unreasonable levels”.
Besides having an impact on current account deficit, the nosediving rupee has made imports costlier and led to petrol and diesel prices skyrocketing to record highs.
The Finance Ministry has ruled out any cut in taxes to ease the burden on consumers, saying it does not have the bandwidth to lose any revenue without developmental spending being cut. The government can ill-afford this in an election year.
Opposition parties led by Congress have made spiralling fuel prices and plummeting rupee a political issue and questioned the efficacy of the government’s economic policies.
While the Centre is no mood to reduce taxes of petrol and diesel as demanded by the opposition parties, states including Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal have cut the VAT on fuel prices by Rs 2.5, 2 and Re 1 respectively.
Petrol prices on Thursday climbed to an all-time high of Rs 81 per litre in Delhi, while in Mumbai it inched up to Rs 88.39. A litre of diesel in the national capital was priced at Rs 73.08 and Rs 77.58 in Mumbai.
As per Finance Ministry estimates, every Rs 2 cut in the prices of petrol and diesel would lead to a revenue loss of around Rs 30,000 crore. The government has so far maintained that it would not take any knee-jerk action as a response to the fall in rupee or spike in fuel prices.
Data from the Commerce Ministry has shown better than expected trade deficit at $17.40 billion in August, down from $18.02 billion a month ago. Exports grew 19.21 percent to $27.84 billion while imports rose 25.41 percent to $45.24 billion.
Also, boosting the government was retail inflation rate easing to a 10-month low of 3.69 percent in August.
Sources said that while the government has virtually ruled out a cut in excise duty, saying that it would mean that a commensurate reduction in developmental expenditure has to be undertaken to keep the fiscal deficit at the budgeted level, it is up to the states to reduce VAT on petrol and diesel.
The retail price of petrol and diesel is arrived at after adding excise duty, which is charged by the Central government, commission paid to petrol pumps dealers and VAT, charged by the state governments.
While Brent crude oil price is hovering at around $79 a barrel, the relentless slide in rupee has put pressure on the oil import bill.
The Current Account Deficit (CAD), which is the difference between inflow and outflow of foreign exchange, rose to USD 18 billion or 2.4 per cent of GDP in the April-June quarter on account widening trade deficit.
(With PTI inputs)