UPA Govt’s ‘Pet-Rol(E)’ Spiralling Hike
Gone are the days when you would take out a small portion of your salary for the purpose of fuel expenditure—be it for a cooking purpose or for your vehicle. Now you have to think many a time to meet the expenses incurred on your fuel requirements, which is burning a hole in your pocket. Adding fuel to fire, the central government announced an increase of Rs 3.14 in petrol recently, which is the second hike in price of petro-products in the last four months. And what aggravates the situation is the fact that you still are not sure whether this increase in price of petro-products would not soar in the near future. This exposes the most inhuman face of the government before the nation. It will not be stretching the case too far to say that today there is a situation of economic emergency in the country. Due to wrong economic policies of the UPA government, the spiralling inflation has affected the villagers, the poor, farmers and the labourers as well as the middle classes very severely. On top of that, the decision by UPA government to increase the price of petrol will not only add to inflation further and deny two square meals to the common man, but also harm the environment. Although diesel price is still regulated, and remains unchanged for now, the repeated increases in the price of petrol have placed an enormous burden on the lower and middle income classes. The rationale for keeping the controls on diesel price is that any increase could affect agriculturists, freight carriers and public transport vehicles—but the unintended, and undeserved beneficiaries of such a policy have been owners of high-end diesel cars and SUVs, whereas owners of two-wheelers and small cars have borne the brunt of the escalating price of petrol. Also the yawning gap between the prices of petrol and diesel has given a boost to the sale of diesel cars even as environmentalists cry foul over the public health impact due to the increasing use of diesel, which is also referred to as “dirty fuel” in Indian cities. While petrol consumers are paying market-linked prices of Rs 66.84 per litre (in Delhi) after the latest hike, the government is bearing a Rs 6 per litre burden on sale of diesel which is being sold at Rs 41.29 per litre in Delhi—a difference of around Rs 25 per litre. This is prompting people to go for diesel cars in India. Industry experts say last year over 25 lakh cars were sold, of which over 30 per cent were equipped with diesel engines. They predict that by 2017 when the total car sales cross 56 lakh per year, more than 50 per cent will be diesel. This will further worsen air pollution.
The policies the government seek to initiate and implement make us think that it has the eyes that see not, ears that hear not and heart that neither feels nor understands the stark realities of the indigent. I am convinced that the government should be blamed for the present price hike for the following reasons: There is not much of a difference between the price of global crude now and the last time when the government thought it fit to revise the fuel prices. No significant steps have been taken to implement alternative plans. In India, the appropriate alternative fuels are jatropha and algal biofuels, both of which require R&D. Small and medium-scale jatropha refining units are now languishing or are closed for lack of support from the government, whereas several multinational companies are working feverishly to develop algal biofuel, now acknowledged as a viable crude alternative. Even aircraft manufacturers are offering biofuel engine options. But there is nothing here despite India having appropriate and ideal conditions for cultivating algae. No steps have been taken to curtail fuel consumption or improve fuel efficiency in vehicles. On the one hand, automobile manufacturers continue to churn out unsuitable models in a big way. No attention is being paid to mass transportation systems in spite of warnings about an impending crude oil crisis. India currently produces less than 30 million tonnes of crude per annum, a figure virtually stagnant for the last several years. On the one hand, imports are around 180 million tonnes which is likely to increase to around 220 million tonnes in the next few years, if the present usage trend continues. The government clearly falls short of ideas. However, waiting in the wings is a proposal to limit the number of LPG cylinders supplied to households paying income tax to between four and six a year. Although a meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers that was to decide this issue was deferred following open opposition from the TMC and DMK. But, indications are that the relief might be temporary. Political expediency, and not social commitment, seems to have tied the hand of the government on this sensitive issue, However, if the government wants to be genuine to the needs of the people, then mere rhetorics and promises in any quantum are no substitute for sincerity and action.