Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Friday sought to downplay the controversy over austerity measures that had kicked up a row in the cabinet meeting yesterday saying it could be due to some misunderstanding.
He said the Finance Ministry had only made a request to ministers, MPs and officials entitled to travel by the executive class to take the economy class in domestic flights and that in international flights the ministers could travel by executive class.
"I have suggested that in domestic services you should try to avoid (travelling executive class) because the distance is not far off. So far as international flights are concerned they can travel executive class instead of first class", Mukherjee said in an interaction with journalists at the Women's Press Corps.
"There is some misunderstanding", he said, adding that "every ministry has financial advisors who understand what is practicable and implementable and they would advise you accordingly".
"So don't worry over it," he told his cabinet colleagues who had yesterday raised questions in the cabinet about the practicability of austerity measures announced by the Finance Ministry on Monday.
On the restrictions on holding conferences and hosting lunches in five-star hotels, the Finance Minister said there were excellent conference facilities available with the government in ministries and elsewhere and lunch could also be served.
"But that does not mean lunch or dinners should not be held in hotels for visiting dignitaries," he said.
Mukherjee said that these austerity measures were not new and were part of the standing instructions of the Finance Ministry. But because of the high growth the country has been witnessing in the recent past, these guidelines were not being adhered to.
On salary cuts for MPs and Ministers, he said, it was only a recommendation by the Congress party to its members and other political parties have to take their own decisions, more so in a coalition.
As regards air travel by MPs, he said, the Lok Sabha Speaker and Rajya Sabha Chairman would take appropriate decision.
On Thursday, in the meeting of the Union Cabinet, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had sought to know whether he could host his foreign counterparts, who had treated him to lunch and dinners when he was abroad, in five-star hotels.
Commerce Minister Anand Sharma wanted travel by first class in international flights because of long hours of journey and a hike in daily allowance.
Minister for Renewable Energy Resources Farooq Abdullah wanted to know how a tall person like him could travel in economy class, while Pawar said he could have similar problems because of his bulk.
Mukherjee said conferences in hotels in India should be avoided. "All ministries, External Affairs and my ministry have their own conferences halls apart from Vigyan Bhawan and Hyderabad House."
"I have suggested we should try to have the meetings of Parliamentary Committees in Delhi. Only three committees --committee on Public expenditure, Estimate committee and COPU are exempted", he said.