Four ministers cancel trips abroad after PM’s austerity call (Lead)

June 6th, 2008 - 8:06 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Ambika Soni

New Delhi, June 6 (IANS) Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni has become the fourth member of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s council of ministers to heed his advice about curtailing expenditure on air travel. She has cancelled her trip to the US. Soni, who was supposed to visit San Francisco and Los Angeles June 21-28 to attend the World Kuchipudi Dance Festival and American Association of Physicians of India Origin meet, announced Friday that the visit was off.

Earlier, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Petroleum Minister Murli Deora and Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar had cancelled their trips.

Citing the prime minister’s directive on “foreign travel to members of the council of ministers, Ambika Soni has cancelled her visit to San Francisco and Los Angeles”, said a statement issued here.

Manmohan Singh Thursday wrote to all his ministers asking them to practise austerity in their ministries and at all levels of government in the wake of the rise in oil prices and urged them to curtail air travel, both foreign and within the country.

He wrote the letter a day after the government hiked petrol and diesel prices by Rs.5 and Rs.3 a litre respectively and of cooking gas by Rs.50 a cylinder, to bail out oil firms hit by spiralling global crude prices.

In his letter, he had said: “I am writing to ask you to severely curtail expenditure on air travel, particularly foreign travel, except in cases where it is deemed to be absolutely necessary.”

“This economy may be made applicable immediately for your own self and also for all senior functionaries in your ministry.”

The PM’s letter had been preceded by a directive from his office on May 30, just a day before Aiyer was scheduled to go on a 13-day trip to the US and Norway.

Chidambaram had earlier been scheduled to visit Stanford University.

As part of the austerity measure, Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi has reportedly asked his staff to book him in economy class for all domestic flights.

The prime minister’s disapproval of foreign trips came at a time when Commerce Minister Kamal Nath is in Paris for WTO talks and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is in Rome for the UN food summit. Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi is also in the Netherlands, where he is pursuing the bilateral social security agreement on labour and social policy.

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