NEW DELHI: The government on Thursday rejected the Opposition demand for an immediate rollback in increased prices of petrol and diesel even as Lok Sabha witnessed frequent adjournments with non-Congress parties, including UPA allies the DMK and the Trinamool Congress, criticising the hike and the Opposition staging a walkout from the Rajya Sabha over the issue.
Beginning on a stormy note, the opening day of the budget session saw two adjournments in the pre-lunch session over Wednesday night’s increase of Rs. 4 a litre in the price of petrol and Rs. 2 a litre of diesel. Later, when the Lok Sabha reassembled in the afternoon, furore over the issue continued and the House was adjourned for the day.
Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora said the government would keep the views of the members in mind and would respond suitably in case there was a decline in international prices of crude oil. “At the same time, I would appeal to State governments to do their bit by revising downwards the sales tax imposed on petrol and diesel,” he suggested while making a statement in Lok Sabha.
Defending the decision to raise fuel prices, Mr. Deora said that against the desired increase of Rs. 6.94 per litre, the retail price of petrol was increased by only Rs.4 a litre. Similarly, against the desired price increase of Rs.4.11 per litre in diesel, the retail price was increased by only Rs.2 a litre.
He said the government had decided not to increase the retail prices of PDS kerosene and domestic LPG. The government was bearing a burden of Rs.15.26 on each litre of PDS kerosene and Rs.92.96 on each cylinder of domestic LPG. “To ensure uninterrupted supply of these two products at subsidised prices, the government is prepared to bear the projected subsidy of over Rs.30,000 crore in 2009-10,” Mr. Deora said.
Earlier, members of the Left parties and the Samajwadi Party were joined by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Shiv Sena, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the RJD and the Telugu Desam Party in criticising the government on the issue.
Noisy scenes and uproar in the House did not allow the Question Hour to proceed. While condemning the decision, T.R. Baalu (DMK) said: “This government is not a unitary government but is supported by the DMK and the Trinamool Congress. The hike is not at all good. It should have been discussed with the party leaders as also in the Cabinet.”
“I strongly condemn this increase. It should not recur. I am saying this as a close friend of the Congress,” he said. Mr. Baalu said the action was not “justifiable” as it had come a day before the budget session was to begin.
Trinamool member Sudip Bandopadhyay said the decision should be revoked. “We understand that international crude prices have gone up. But this [price rise] will affect common people,” he said.
BJP leader Sushma Swaraj charged the government with “violating Parliamentary propriety” and said the move to hike petrol and diesel prices “raises suspicion as to which companies will be benefited by this decision.”
“The public sector oil companies have been making profits and giving dividends to the government. Then why this secrecy over who is making losses,” she asked.
Call for all-party meet
Sharif-ud Shariq of the National Conference, which is also an ally of the government, suggested that an all-party meeting be called to find a way out in view of the demand for a rollback.
The issue was raised by CPI member Gurudas Dasgupta, who said the decision would have a cascading effect on the prices of other commodities. He and Basudeb Acharia of the CPI(M) slammed the government for showing scant regard for Parliament and no concern for “aam aadmi.”
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh and RJD president Lalu Prasad attacked the government, saying it would put a burden on the masses.
In the Rajya Sabha, Opposition members termed the hike as “unwarranted” and demanded its withdrawal. The members staged a walkout with the Leader of the Opposition, Arun Jaitley, trooping out with BJP MPs on the grounds that the government was not offering any assurance.
Prasanta Chatterjee (CPI-M) said the government raised the fuel prices at a time when people were burdened with the rise in prices of essential commodities.
M. Venkaiah Naidu (BJP) said the manner in which the price rise was effected was “not a way to treat Parliament.”
D. Raja (CPI) said it would have a cascading effect on the prices of foodgrains, vegetables, pulses, cereals and milk.