MUMBAI Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi has asked the government to review tough import restrictions on gold, which include a record 10 percent import duty, a television channel and a news website said on Thursday.
Her intervention is likely to create pressure for an easing of rules that have hammered the bullion industry and brought a surge in smuggling, but the finance minister said the curbs would not be rolled back anytime soon.
India used to be the world's biggest buyer of bullion until the government and central bank stepped in last year with import curbs aimed at reducing a record current-account deficit.
The jewellery industry has been calling for a reduction in the duty and a relaxation of a Reserve Bank of India (RBI) rule that calls for 20 percent of imports to be turned around as jewellery exports. Business has shrunk under the curbs and smuggling is rising.
"You are requested to kindly look into the matter for appropriate action," said a letter written by Gandhi's office to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, according to the Financial Express website quoting a report by Press Trust of India.
Earlier, television channel CNBC Awaaz said Gandhi had written to the government asking for restrictions to be eased, citing sources that it did not identify.
Reuters has not yet been able to confirm the existence of the letter from Gandhi's office or the Congress party.
Gandhi, who has no executive role in government, was responding to calls on her from the All India Gems and Jewellery Trade Federation, according to the report carried by the Financial Express.
Government sources told Reuters earlier this month that New Delhi was considering easing restrictions.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, in an interview with CNBC television on Thursday in Davos, Switzerland, ruled out any change in restrictions until the current-account deficit was under control. He said he had not read Gandhi's letter.
"Until we have a firm grip on the current-account deficit I do not contemplate any roll back in any measure. We will have a full idea of the current-account deficit only when the budget is presented and when the year comes to an end," Chidambaram said.
India's budget will be presented in February and its fiscal year ends on March 31.
(Reporting by Siddesh Mayenkar; Writing by Jo Winterbottom; Editing by Dale Hudson)