Friends, foes alike attack petrol hike, PM defends decontrol

November 5th, 2011 - 12:29 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Nov 4 (IANS) The UPA government came in for sharp criticism over the latest petrol price hike with ally Trinamool Congress joining the opposition in slamming the move. Even the ruling Congress-led Kerala assembly asked the centre to revoke decontrol of petroleum prices, and the Kerala High Court too frowned upon the frequent fuel price rise.

Facing flak from all quarters, the government and oil firms defended the Rs.1.80 per litre hike, effective Friday, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ruled out rollback of decontrol of petroleum pricing mechanism.

The government and the oil firms said the latest hike could not be avoided as global crude prices had risen significantly while a depreciating rupee was adding to costs of fuel imports.

The hike came just over a month-and-half since the last hike of Rs.3.14 a litre Sep 15, and is the 11th since June 2010.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, addressing a press conference in Cannes, France, where he attended the G20 summit, said the decision to decontrol the petroleum prices was a part of the process to ensure fair play in commodity market.

“That is the general direction in which we should move. The decision to decontrol petrol prices was part of that process,” said the prime minister, who is returning hom Saturday morning.

The petrol price rise evoked widespread political protests. While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left spewed fire, the strong reaction of the Trinamool stunned the Congress, which played down West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s stinging remarks. The other allies — the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the DMK and the National Conference — were subdued in their criticism.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee defended the government, saying the decision was not of the government but of the petroleum companies.

In Kerala, a division bench of the high court in Kochi, hearing a petition filed by former Lok Sabha member P.C. Thomas asking the court to intervene to set aside the latest increase of Rs.1.80 per litre in petrol price, observed that it is time the consumer reacts to these frequent hikes.

The court also asked the government-run oil companies and Reliance Petroleum to produce their detailed account statements.

The court pointed out that it is only the political parties that protest the frequent price rise and that happens for political reasons.

The court posted the case for further hearing next month.

In the Kerala assembly in Thiruvananthapuram, former finance minister Thomas Issac gave notice of an adjournment motion on the issue and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy agreed to take it up for discussion.

Winding up the debate on this issue, Chandy read out a resolution which said the assembly is deeply concerned over the frequent price rise and also asked the centre to revoke their earlier decision giving a free hand to oil companies to fix the price of petroleum products.

The BJP refused to buy the government’s explanation that the oil companies are to blame for the price rise. “The companies belong to the government, they control it, so the whole responsibility is on the UPA government, the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi… It could not have been done without their permission,” former finance minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said.

“It is a midnight massacre,” he added. “When food inflation figures are added to it, there is only one conclusion that this government is totally insensitive.”

The Left agreed.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) blamed the government’s deregulation of petrol pricing for the repeated increases in petroleum prices.

The Trinamool, the biggest constituent in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) after the Congress, was furious. Its MPs said they wanted to quit the government but Banerjee said she would not take any action without meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Banerjee said she was not happy that the Congress was taking major decisions without consulting its allies but did not demand a rollback of the latest announcement.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said he was confident a way will be found to provide relief to people hit hard by the price rise.

“We have faith the government will, at the earliest, most urgently look at the issue and provide whatever relief is possible,” he said.

DMK leader T.R. Baalu asked the government to provide “relief” to fuel consumers.

National Conference leader and Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah said the hike was the result of change in crude oil prices in the international market.

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