Indian finance minister skips G20 meeting, still in hospital

Indian finance minister skips G20 meeting, still in hospital

NEW DELHI - Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will miss a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of 20 nations in Australia next week as he is still in hospital undergoing treatment, the finance ministry said on Wednesday.

Jaitley was admitted to a private hospital in New Delhi on Sept. 1 for surgery to manage a long-standing diabetic condition, and had originally been expected to leave after a few days.

The 61-year-old former lawyer is one of the most powerful figures in the nationalist government formed in May by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, holding responsibility for both finance and defence. "The minister is partly working from the hospital and checking official files," said finance ministry spokesman D.S. Malik. "He may at least take couple of days before coming to the office," said Malik, adding that a final decision on when Jaitley can return to his office would be taken by his doctors.

Jaitley has made no secret of his diabetes and, according to media reports, underwent a minimally-invasive gastric bypass procedure that is intended to prevent weight gain that is often suffered by people with the condition.

Some commentators have questioned whether Jaitley's health is strong enough to shoulder the burden of running two big ministries. Delivering his maiden budget in July, he had to take a break half-way through and gave the second part of his address seated.

In a government short of cabinet bench strength, Jaitley's health over the next few months will be critical to the success of economic reforms, such as a proposed nationwide General Sales Tax, or GST.

The GST would unify India's 29 states into a common market for the first time, cutting red tape while at the same time broadening the government's tax base. Economists estimate it could add 2 percentage points to India's economy.

Jaitley will be represented at the Sept. 20-21 meeting of G20 finance ministers in Cairns, Australia, by Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who also holds the post of deputy finance minister.

The Group of 20 is the world's main intergovernmental policy forum, bringing together developed and emerging nations that between them account for nine-tenths of global economic output.

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