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Now, Sonia Gandhi travels economy class


New Delhi : Congress president Sonia Gandhi Monday flew economy class to Mumbai in a commercial airliner, joining a battery of ministers in an effort by the government to enforce austerity measures.

Two rows of seats were booked for Gandhi and her security personnel in the aircraft as she left here for Mumbai to launch the Congress campaign for the Oct 13 assembly elections in Maharashtra, official sources said.

The Congress president usually takes a special aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in view of security concerns.

Gandhi has also suspended her Iftaar party as a symbolic gesture in view of the drought situation in the country and economic recession.

Her austerity drive coincides with the home ministry reviewing security to VIPs. The security of 51 ministers and VIPs has already been scaled down.

On Sunday, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna decided to forgo private jets and travel abroad economy class in a commercial flight.

Krishna will go to Turkmenistan and Belarus Tuesday on a commercial flight and will only take along three officials with him, official sources said. Earlier, his contingent used to have 20 people and would travel in an Air Force Embraer jet.

The government virtually enforced the austerity drive in the aftermath of the criticism that Krishna and his deputy Shashi Tharoor drew following disclosures that they were staying in five-star hotels for over three months in the capital.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who announced the austerity measures, led by example by flying economy class aboard a low-cost carrier to Kolkata on Saturday.

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee has already issued an order to stop holding Railway Board meetings in star hotels. Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh have announced their support for austerity measures.

Union Minister for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath is learnt to have cancelled her tour to New York. Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad joined in the austerity drive by asking officials to cut down on foreign and domestic travel.

Last week, Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal cancelled a goodwill visit by a parliamentary delegation to Egypt and Greece to save the government exchequer some money.

In a cabinet meeting Thursday, some ministers voiced reservations about the practicality of their travelling in economy class, especially on trips abroad. The prime minister reportedly agreed to make exceptions in some cases for taking business class, provided advance permission is sought.

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