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India needs spur to growth amid low inflation outlook - minutes

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"The overall food outlook remains benign and the headline inflation one-year ahead is projected to remain below the target level of 4 per cent," Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das said in the minutes.

[MUMBAI] India needs to take steps to boost economic growth as the inflation outlook remains low, the Reserve Bank of India's monetary policy committee (MPC) said in minutes released on Thursday.

Most of the six-member MPC were in favour of spurring growth in Asia's third largest economy amid a soft inflation outlook on a sustained fall in food prices, the minutes of the February monetary policy meeting showed.

The MPC delivered a surprise repo rate cut in a 4-2 split vote this month while members unanimously agreed to move the policy stance to 'neutral' from 'calibrated tightening'.

The MPC meeting was the first for central bank Governor Shaktikanta Das after the abrupt exit by his predecessor, Urjit Patel.

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Mr Patel was known for his hawkish stance on interest rates, but Mr Das downplayed inflation concerns and hinted at more rate cuts.

"The overall food outlook remains benign and the headline inflation one-year ahead is projected to remain below the target level of 4 per cent," Mr Das said in the minutes.

"The neutral stance will provide flexibility and room to address challenges to sustained growth of the Indian economy over the coming months, as long as the inflation outlook remains benign."

Softer interest rates will be good news for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government which wants to boost lending and lift growth ahead of elections to be held by May.

Mr Das, RBI Executive Director in charge of monetary policy department Michael Debabrata Patra and external members Ravindra Dholakia and Pami Dua voted in favour of a 25 basis points rate cut while another external member, Chetan Ghate, and RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya called for a hold.

Given that the last three interest rate moves out of five were split since the panel came into effect in Oct 2016, the probability of a divided MPC going ahead has gone up, analysts said.

India's January inflation fell to its lowest in 18 months at 2.19 per cent, well below the RBI's medium-term target of 4 percent, led by persistent food price deflation, but core inflation stayed sticky at around 5.4 per cent.

"Given the elevated level of inflation excluding food and fuel, our counterfactual exercises do not suggest any room for accommodation," Mr Acharya wrote in the minutes.

The RBI has lowered its inflation target for April-September to 3.2-3.4 per cent from the 3.8-4.2 per cent seen in December and trimmed the growth forecast to 7.2-7.4 per cent from its previous estimate of 7.5 per cent.

The MPC also noted the global uncertainties over trade frictions, Brexit and oil prices could add to growth headwinds back home even as most central banks have moved firmly away from last year's tightening moves.

The US Federal Reserve on Wednesday affirmed it would be "patient" on further interest rate rises after four in 2018, further cooling off rate hike expectations.

REUTERS