The Opposition on Tuesday accused the government of being “insensitive'' to the plight of people who had voted it to power for a second time and asked it to “wake up from its deep slumber'' and provide relief to the common man.
Initiating a debate on a resolution on “inflationary pressure on the economy and its adverse impact on the common man'' in the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj said the hike in the prices of petroleum products, particularly kerosene and LPG, had had an adverse impact on people, who were already reeling under the spiralling costs of food grains and other essential commodities.
The resolution was moved after the government and the Opposition arrived at a consensus to end the week-long parliamentary impasse over how to discuss the price rise issue. The Opposition was demanding a debate under a rule that entailed vote, but this was not acceptable to the government. The Speaker had also turned down an adjournment motion under Rule 184 last week.
Ms. Swaraj said though the term used in the motion was “inflationary pressure,'' for the common man, it meant price rise. Even members of the Congress and its allies were concerned over the price rise, but were keeping quite.
According to Ms. Swaraj, it was their duty to raise issues related to people. It was the duty of the government to safeguard people's interests. “If the government becomes unpopular, we will benefit. But that is the language of a businessman. We are not businessmen, but guardians of the interests of the people.''
Ms. Swaraj criticised the government's decision to raise the prices of kerosene and LPG, saying it was done on the pretext that the oil PSUs were incurring losses to the tune of Rs. 53,000 crore. But their annual reports showed net profits of hundreds of crores of rupees.
Intervening, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said she was juggling with figures and projecting a wrong picture.
Ms. Swaraj launched a scathing attack on the Kirit Parekh report that recommended hiking the prices of petroleum products. She said the National Democratic Alliance government was hit hard by only one committee — the Kelkar Committee — while the UPA government was hurt by three high-level committees constituted to go into key aspects of the economy, including subsidies. These committees were headed by C. Rangarajan, B.K. Chaturvedi and Kirit Parekh.
She quoted Petroleum Minister Murli Deora's statement that the prices of kerosene and LPG were raised to enable the government to fund social schemes for the common people — something Congress president Sonia Gandhi wrote in a party publication also. Ms. Swaraj said people would benefit from the schemes only when they survived the inflation.
There was need to reduce Central taxes on petrol and diesel by adopting a revenue-neutral regime. The government could shift to the flat rate system while imposing taxes on petroleum products, instead of the present percentage system that put a bigger burden on the consumer.
The government did not raise the prices when crude oil prices in the international market were very high in 2008 because elections were scheduled for the next year. Now when the prices in the international market were going down, it was hiking the prices domestically. “This amounts to cheating and misleading the people,'' Ms. Swaraj said.
It was ironical that while lakhs of tonnes of food grains were decaying for want of storage capacity in Food Corporation of India godowns, the Centre was not providing the required allocation to the States despite demands.
Participating in the debate, Sandeep Dikshit (Congress) admitted that price rise was hurting people, particularly the poor, and the government needed to send out a “message'' that it was taking steps to address the situation. This had not happened.
He said the government had taken a number of steps, including bringing the Food Security Bill and raising the minimum support price on food grains, and these needed to be taken forward.
Efforts were needed on a war-footing to address the situation arising from the inflation. He said Congress members like him were raising the issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Finance Minister privately and they shared their concern.