Jaitley plays censor

It helps being the Minister of Information & Broadcasting. Though in this day and age one can’t enjoy the powers as Vidya Charan Shukla did during the Emergency, one can still play censor in a limited way. As the current incumbent, Arun Jaitley, recently did. Apparently, rattled by the criticism following the reduction in EPF rates from 8.8 per to 8.7 per cent, he ensured that the Press Information Bureau (PIB) removed the press release in which Labor Minister Bandaru Dattatreya has squarely shifted the responsibility of rate cut on the Finance Ministry, also under Jaitley. The PIB is under the I&B Ministry.

The Central Board of Trustees (CBT) of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organization (EPFO) had approved an “interim” interest rate at 8.8 per cent for the current fiscal, as compared to 8.75 per cent during 2013-14 and 2014-15. When asked about “interim,” Dattatreya had said that the rate could not go below 8.8 per cent.

In a written reply to the Lok Sabha on Monday, however, the Minister had to backtrack, but he made it point to mention that the decision was not his: “The CBT, at its meeting held in February, had proposed an interim rate of interest at 8.8 per cent to be credited to the accounts of Employees’ Provident Fund subscribers for 2015-16. The Ministry of Finance has, however, ratified an interest rate of 8.7 per cent.”

Dattatreya’s reply was mentioned in one of the press releases issued on Monday. But, following the furor after, after the decision, the PIB removed it from its list.

Trade unions, including the RSS-affiliated BMS, are up in arms against the Finance Ministry.