THE CPM is protesting fuel price hike as if the BJP is in power at the Centre. The Congress is protesting as if it is the NDA which is ruling. Sonia Gandhi protests as if Atal Behari Vajpayee is still running the country. Political farce cannot be more brazen.
Petroleum Minister Murli Deora says that the states like Maharashtra are levying sales tax of 33 per cent on petrol and 38 per cent on diesel. And so is the case with West Bengal and Kerala. Further he adds that a major portion of the tax earning on fuel goes to states. This is the first instance that the government has officially admitted that the central and state taxes add to the actual cost of fuel. Still the government is refusing to absorb the burden on the common man by reducing customs and excise duties on petroleum products. Can there be a more outrageous instance of political dishonesty and moral double standards?
In the last Lok Sabha election, the Congress slogan was ?Congress ka haath aam aadmi ke saath?. In the last two years, this is the sixth hike in fuel prices. When the NDA Prime Minister Shri Vajpayee demitted office in May 2004 diesel was available at Rs. 21.73 per litre and petrol at Rs. 33.70 per litre in Delhi. Under the UPA, the diesel has gone up to Rs. 32.47 per litre and petrol to Rs. 47.51 per litre in Delhi. Outside Delhi, these prices are higher. Fuel is not the only item that is dearer under the UPA. Every single essential commodity is costlier and the burden on the poor common man has become manifold. Even at the state-run ration shops the food-items are made inaccessible. The stagnating food production, failed procurement and costly imports point to the total mess the UPA has created in the consumer market. There is no let-up in farmer suicides; the government has no plans for increased agriculture investment. The Left parties pretend that promises of huge rural poverty alleviation schemes and employment guarantee schemes costing the exchequer Rs. 40,000 crore annually will substitute for effective economic policy initiatives. The rural road building, national highway programme, rural electrification and power sector reforms have come to a standstill under the UPA.
Populist promises will not serve for honest infrastructure development schemes. The coalition that ridiculed the India Shinning vision has reduced governance to compartmentalised distribution of the meagre national resources to create mutually competing vote-banks. The communists plead for higher subsidy for kerosene and cooking gas as if higher diesel and petrol prices will not affect the man on the street. The common man cannot understand this complex arithmetic. Higher fuel prices will have a cascading effect on every commodity. The household budget goes haywire with every price hike, for it makes transportation costlier, vegetable and all other commodities further unreachable.
But the Congress is protesting as if it has nothing to do with all this. The Left is like the proverbial cat. It supports from inside and protests from outside. Their protests have become too predictable like an anecdote repeated many times over.
The government is crying that the crude oil prices in the international market are spiralling hovering around dollar 70 per barrel. The public sector oil companies in India are losing around Rs.1500 crore every week, it says. But the government is earning huge revenue in spite of the misery of the common man and the losses of the PSUs. Over 50 per cent of the retail price for fuel is made up of government levies.
The BJP was the first to articulate this point. The party when in power was willing to separate the price-fixing mechanism from political interference. That decision was shelved under the UPA. The price of fuel will automatically come down if the government decides to reduce levies. Even where the Left is in power, the party is not ready to reduce the taxes imposed by the state governments. For, they don'twant to incur a revenue loss.
The BJP can make a beginning instead of protesting on the street by stopping the wheels and adding to the public misery. The party can walk the talk by asking its state governments to reduce state levies on fuel and show the way. The political parties cannot have it both ways. That is why we say, these protests lack intellectual honesty.