Much to the chagrin of India Inc. as well as fresh home and auto loan borrowers, headline inflation continued to hover near double digits at 9.72 per cent in September leaving no room for a pause in rate hike by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) later this month.

The WPI (Wholesale Price Index) data for September released here on Friday revealed that even as headline inflation during the month was a tad lower than 9.78 per cent in August this year, it was way higher than 8.98 per cent in September, 2010.

Contributing to the surge in prices were all items, cutting across food and manufactured products. While food articles turned 9.23 per cent dearer on a year-on-year basis with vegetable prices up by over 14 per cent during the month, so were manufactured items which, accounting for a share of 65 per cent in the WPI, turned more expensive by 7.69 per cent. Even as key policy rate hikes by the RBI for a dozen times since March, 2010, do not appear to have tamed inflation but only resulted in a slowdown in industrial and overall economic growth, the fact remains that headline inflation in June has been revised up to 9.36 per cent from 9.22 per cent estimated earlier. In the event, both the provisional inflation figures for August and September are certain to breach the 10 per cent mark on final revision as compared to the RBI's ‘comfort zone' of 5 per cent. In a clear indication of what should be expected during the apex bank's policy review later this month, RBI Deputy Governor K. C. Chakrabarty noted that interest rates will have to move in tune with inflation since there is no other mechanism to check the price rise. “If inflation goes up, interest rates will go up anywhere in the world... I have no other [monetary policy] instrument available with me [to anchor inflationary expectations],” he said on the sidelines of a FICCI function here while pointing out that inflation “is not high because of interest rates. It is high inflation that has led to an increase in interest rates.”

Holding a similar view in conversation with a private TV channel, Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) Chairman C. Rangarajan said: “It is not a very comfortable situation. For the monetary policy stance to change, inflation has to come down and show signs of definite decline. But that kind of an indication has not come...”

Despite the 350 basis point hike in policy rates since March last year, inflation in manufactured items has been creeping up from February this year when it breached the six per cent mark. The relentless rise in prices by way of generalised inflation has been a major cause for worry.

“Repeated rate hikes have failed to control the rate of price rise,” Deloitte, Haskins & Sells director Anis Charkravarty said.

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