PM hopes for fall in inflation, progress with Pakistan

PM hopes for fall in inflation, progress with Pakistan

New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Monday that his coalition government could have done more in its first year, but added that progress would soon be made on key concerns like high inflation.

Inflation would moderate to around 5 to 6% in December, he said. Inflation is nearly currently 10% and is a major worry for the government as it has raised prices of basic foods, and increased the chance of interest rate hikes.

Despite inflation, Singh sees growth in 2010/11 rising to 8.5%, according to the prepared speech.

“I would be the first person to admit that we could have done more," Singh said in a prepared speech ahead of a rare news conference in New Delhi to mark the first year since the Congress-led coalition government was reelected to a second term. “We have given our country a government which works, which has delivered high rates of growth, which has accelerated the process towards inclusive growth and I have every reason to believe we will complete our term," Singh added at the news conference.

Singh, 77, has disappointed many investors with a slow pace of reforms that investors say are needed to ensure India can sustain fast economic growth and compete with the likes of China.

Monday’s full press conference was one of only a handful he has given since first coming to power in 2004 and appeared an attempt by the government to show it was pushing ahead with policies rather than reacting to a series of crises and scandals.

Despite being freed from the shackles of communist support in the second term, his government has floundered on inflation, struggled against a Maoist insurgency, and managed its political allies so badly its substantial parliamentary majority dwindled.

Foreign Policy

Outlying government policy, he said India was willing to discuss all outstanding issues with nuclear foe Pakistan, a sign of New Delhi softening its approach to Islamabad after the 2008 Mumbai attacks when Pakistan-based militants killed 166 people.

“India cannot realise its full development potential unless we have the best possible relations with our neighbours, and Pakistan happens to be the largest neighbour of ours," he said. “The trust gap is biggest problem."

Singh said he hoped political parties would pass a delayed nuclear liability bill needed to allow entry of US atomic energy firms into India.

Singh said the government would take more steps to battle inflation which is currently nearly 10%, along with the help of state governments. Despite investor criticism, the government has won praise for a sound fiscal policy that has helped protect India from the worst of the global credit crisis. Growth is still one of the fastest in the world and there have been some tentative steps to reforms.

Many investors remain optimistic India eventually will take steps to open the insurance, banking and retail sectors to overseas players, and India still attracts many foreign firms.