New Delhi: India’s high food and fuel inflation eased in early August and the head of the ruling Congress party said controlling prices must top the government’s agenda.
Data released on Thursday showed food prices rose an annual 10.35% in the week to7 August, slower than 11.4% rise in the previous week. Fuel prices rose 12.57%, compared with the week-ago’s 12.66%.
The comments from Congress chief Sonia Gandhi come as the party faces popular discontent, with price rises affecting hundreds of millions of citizens who live on under $1.25 a day.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said earlier this month high inflation was the price that had to be paid for rapid economic expansion.
The divergence highlights a divide between a party that is worried about the impact of high prices on its fortunes in state polls this year and in 2011, and a government which believes double-digit growth is crucial to improve the lot of the poor.
“While we are proud of our economic growth, as indeed we should be, controlling price rises remains our top priority,” Gandhi told her party’s lawmakers.
Opposition parties have twice this year sought to force Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to resign to take the blame for his inability to bring down inflation, which is the highest amongst G20 major economies, and have organised protests and stalled parliament.
Some officials have said headline inflation has peaked and steps such as releasing government food stocks and monetary tightening by the central bank will bring it down to around 6% by December.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) projects inflation at 6% only by March. It has warned of price pressures from demand-side factors and has taken an increasingly hawkish stance. Analysts see the RBI following up on its four lending rate hikes totalling 100 basis points so far this year, with many seeing a 25 basis point increase when the central bank reviews policy on 16 September.