The Union Cabinet is likely to discuss on Thursday a Petroleum Ministry proposal for freeing petrol prices from government control and a moderate increase in diesel, cooking gas and kerosene rates, ahead of which Oil Minister Murli Deora held consultations with key allies DMK and Trinamool Congress on the subject.
Mr. Deora met A. Raja, Telecom Minister and senior leader of UPA’s key ally, DMK, on Wednesday morning and spoke over phone to Trinamool Congress leader and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee explaining the “precarious” situation that PSU oil firms would find themselves in, if fuel prices were not hiked.
Sources said that both Mr. Raja as well as Ms. Banerjee were non-committal on the stand that their parties may take if the proposal of freeing petrol prices — that would lead to a price increase of Rs 4.72 a litre — when the issue comes before the Cabinet tomorrow.
Already, opposition from key allies has seen Mr. Deora drop the proposal on freeing diesel prices that would have resulted in rates going up by Rs. 2.33 a litre. However, there is now a move to hike diesel rates by at least Re. one a litre.
Mr. Deora may, however, may bargain for an increase in LPG and kerosene rates although it would not be in the range of the steep Rs. 100 per cylinder and Rs. 6 a litre hike, respectively, suggested by the Kirit Parikh panel on fuel pricing reforms.
Sources said he may bargain for half of the increases suggested by the panel, but may settle at Rs. 25 per cylinder hike in LPG rates and Re. one a litre raise in kerosene prices.
The Congress party core group, which includes UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, will meet to vet the proposal before it goes to the Cabinet.
Mr. Deora refused to say what his ministry may propose to the Cabinet. “At the time of presentation of the Kirit Parikh Committee report (last week), I had said that we will process and present our view on it to the Cabinet in one week. We are ready (with comments on the report) and will submit it (the report) to the Cabinet...”
He refused to elaborate but gave enough hints that the ministry’s view would incorporate the Congress party’s stand that may evolve at the core group meeting.
The experts group, headed by former Planning Commission member Kirit Parikh, recommended deregulating of petrol and diesel prices, while raising kerosene and domestic LPG rates by Rs. 6 per litre and Rs. 100 per cylinder, respectively.
State-owned Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum sell fuel below cost on the orders of the government and expect a revenue loss of Rs. 46,030 crore on that account this year. Of this, the government was meeting only Rs 12,000 crore, Mr. Deora explained to Mr. Raja and Ms. Banerjee.
Sources said Mr. Raja is believed to have told Mr. Deora that a position on the proposal will be taken by his party’s leader M. Karunanidhi.
Petrol is currently sold at a loss of Rs. 4.72 a litre, diesel at Rs. 2.33 per litre, kerosene at Rs. 18.06 per litre and domestic LPG at a discount of Rs. 287.59 per cylinder.
In case the government went for only marginal price hikes, the Cabinet will also have to decide on how the remainder of the revenue loss would be met.