Cooking gas and diesel hold the key to compromise?

September 19th, 2012 - 4:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Sep 19 (IANS) Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee may have taken an seemingly uncompromising stand on the fuel and retail issues by withdrawing support to the UPA, but some of her party leaders feel a call from the topmost Congress leadership could still provide a compromise formula. An increase in the number of subsidised cylinders per household and a cut in the diesel price hike could hold the key to that patchup and save the government.

“First (UPA and Congress chief) Sonia Gandhi or (prime minister) Manmohan Singh should call her. We are all waiting for that,” a senior Trinamool leader holding a ministerial post told IANS, requesting that he be not identified because of the sensitivity of the current political situation.

While announcing her party’s decision Tuesday to quit the ruling coalition, Banerjee gave it a lifeline. She said the Trinamool would reconsider its decision if the government took back its decision to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, cut the hiked diesel prices by Rs.3, and raised the number of subsidised cooking gas cylinders each household can get in a year to 12.
He said these measures were necessary to protect the middle class and poor, her main constituency.

“We are not sure whether the Congress would agree to blink on the FDI in multi-brand retail issue, because it would involve a tremendous loss of face for the prime minister both internationally and also in the domestic front. The business sentiments will be affected. In this scenario, finding a compromise formula on this matter would be difficult if not outright impossible,’” the leader confided.

On the contrary, Banerjee has given the UPA a way out on the more doable cooking gas and diesel price fronts.

The UPA government recently upped diesel prices by Rs 5 per litre and restricted the number of subsidised cooking gas cylinders to six per year for every household to bridge the huge losses that oil companies were incurring, an amount that was widening the government’s fiscal deficit and adding to inflation.
The government was losing nearly Rs 55,000 crores (Rs 550 billion/$10 billion) every year because of the subsidy burden, according to the petroleum and natural gas ministry.

The decision on cooking gas has, nonetheless, angered the middle and lower classes the most. “This is absurd. How can we limit our requirement to six cylinders? In this era of constant price rise, this decision will burn more holes in our pockets. Moreover, LPG cylinders are now also used by the lower classes. Ho can they manage?” asked an angry Sanghita Dasgupta, a housewife residing at Titagarh of North 24 Parganas district.

“Mamata’s stand is correct. The cooking gas prices impact a sizeable section of India’s huge population spanning all economic levels. Paying double the price of a cylinder once you cross the threshold of six cyllinders will put much pressure on the people,” T P Dutta, a banker, told IANS.

The Trinamool leader felt that an increase in the number of subisidised cylinders per household would not help to bridge the perception gap between the two parties, but also help the Congress in mollifying the middle and lower classes.

On diesel hike, another Trinamool leader felt that reduction in prices by Rs 3 a litre or close to it could help to bring a compromise and serve as a face-saver for both parties in their respective stands.

“The bus and taxi fares have not gone up till now. When the fares go up, as they will certainly do if the prices are not reduced, then the people will feel the pinch. And that will make them bitter towards the government. So something needs to be done at the earliest,’ he said, saying the Trinamool’s main constituency would turn against it if the party is not seen to protect their economic interests despite being part of the ruling UPA coalition.

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at s.panth@ians.in)

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