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Jalan feeds some media curiosity
BS City Editor in Mumbai | August 23, 2003 10:55 IST
The media were in for a surprise on Friday. Reserve Bank of India Governor Bimal Jalan's off-the-record lunch with the financial Press, which takes place roughly once in three months, turned out to be an on-the-record exercise, albeit partially.
Sprinkling salt and pepper on bland tomato soup, Jalan announced that since this was his last lunch with the media, it could be on record on certain issues.
Instantly, the 20-odd journalists present at the 25th floor of the RBI headquarters on Mint Street, the traditional venue for the luncheon, picked up pen and paper instead of spoon and fork.
Clad in a formal grey suit, Jalan hunkered down for his farewell lunch.
Flipping through the pages of a small notepad kept before him on the table, he spent the first few minutes on the changes in the functioning of the central bank and other sensitive issues like procedures of exchange rate management, the autonomy of the RBI and the relevance of a super-regulator in the Indian context.
All that was off the record. By the time pulao, sweet 'n' sour prawn, fish fingers and chicken makhanwala -- along with spinach and corn, vegetable cutlet, dal, dahi and salad -- were served, Jalan was ready to switch to an on-record mode.
The first topic was the resilience of the Indian economy. Despite the oil crisis and the global economy's extremely poor outlook, India did well.
"We have removed external constraints to India's growth," Jalan said. Mixing dal with plain rice, he discussed the new-found confidence on the ground.
Things are looking up not only in the services sector but also in the manufacturing segment and there is a tremendous upsurge in a sector like steel.
"Things have changed qualitatively. The monsoon is good and the inflation rate continues to be low. The growth projection will be revised in the October policy," Jalan said.
A question on the flatness of the yield curve made Jalan cautious. "It is not a concern but an issue," he said.
When journalists switched to external commercial borrowings, Jalan was on guard. Keeping a straight face, he said the volume of external commercial borrowings raised was not a problem from the macroeconomic point of view.
But when asked about the regulator's stand on tightening norms, the governor could not conceal his laughter.
"However you try, I will not give you a headline," he said. Asked about a possible repo rate and bank rate cut, he reacted identically.
By the time dessert--rasmalai, ice-cream and fruit salad--was served, Jalan was back in off-the-record mode.
What his greatest challenge as RBI governor was and whether he planned on writing a book on economics, politics and ethics were not for the outside world.
Nor were answers to personal questions. When is he leaving office? His answer was: "After the World Bank-IMF meet. Sometime in end-September or early October."
Why is he leaving? "Everything is fine now. This is the time to go." But should not he stay because things are fine?
"Well, I have seldom finished my job in any assignment, you know." He sipped a cup of coffee but refused to answer why he was going to the Rajya Sabha.
As to his political leanings and what his exact role in Parliament will be, he declined to comment. Will he be made the finance minister? Again, he chose not to answer.
The governor's last lunch was over in exactly an hour. Jalan stood up, shook hands and started walking towards the lift. "I am going to Delhi which is my home," he said.