Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to roll back recent fuel price hikes and pass on the benefit of reduced international crude oil rates to consumers. “(If) you want citizens to be self-reliant then do not place financial fetters on their ability to move forward,” she said.
In her letter, Gandhi said the hikes came at a time when the country was facing unprecedented public health, economic and social challenges during the ongoing battle against Covid-19 pandemic. “I am deeply distressed that in these exceedingly difficult times since the beginning of March, the government has taken the wholly insensitive decision to increase petrol and diesel prices on no less than ten separate occasions,” she wrote.
The letter came a day after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi criticised the government over the increase in petrol and diesel prices.
The opposition party also wants that the rates of petrol, diesel and LPG be reduced to the August 2004 level. The price of petrol then was ~36.81 per litre; diesel was sold at ~24.16 per litre and LPG ~261.60 per cylinder in Delhi, it said.
On Tuesday, petrol and diesel prices were hiked for the 10th straight day. Petrol was hiked by ~0.47 per litre to be at ~76.73 per litre, while diesel rates were increased ~0.57 to be at ~75.19 a litre. A petroleum ministry spokesperson declined to comment on the issue.
However, an oil ministry official said on the condition of anonymity that fuel retailers enjoy pricing freedom and pair pump prices of petrol and diesel on the basis of international prices. The government deregulated the pricing of petrol on June 26, 2010 and that of diesel on October 19, 2014.
Alleging that the government is earning out of the pockets of the poor by imposing high taxes on fuel, the Congress has been demanding that fuel be brought under the ambit of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
“Your government is seeking to earn an additional revenue of nearly ~2,60,000 crore by these ill-advised hikes in excise duty and increases in petrol and diesel. As it is, people across the board are facing unimaginable hardships…,” the Congress chief said.
“These price increases are saddling our people with an additional burden of this enormous magnitude that is neither justified nor appropriate. It is the duty and responsibility of the government to alleviate suffering, not put the people to still greater hardship,” she added.
Gandhi questioned the “logic” behind such an increase at a time when the economic impact of Covid-19 is “depriving millions of jobs and livelihood, devastating business big and small, rapidly eroding the income” of the middle class.
She said it is a matter of record that despite historically low oil prices over the last six years, the government’s revenues have been massively enriched by the cumulative increase in excise duty on petrol and diesel on twelve different occasions (by an additional ~23.78 per litre on petrol and ~28.37 on diesel).
Gandhi urged the Prime Minister to roll back these increases and pass on the benefit of low oil prices directly to the citizens. “If you wish for them to be ‘self-reliant’ then do not place financial fetters on their ability to move forward. And I am once again obliged to repeat what I have said before: please use the government’s resources to put money directly into the hands of those who need it in this time of severe hardship,” she said.
The issue will also come up for discussion at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, on June 23.
Later in the day, Rahul Gandhi once again attacked the Prime Minister over the issue. “PM Modi, these tragic times dictate putting money directly in the hands of the middle class and poor. STOP profiteering from their misery,” he tweeted.