Dawn-to-dusk hartal to coincide with vehicle strike

The Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have issued separate calls for a dawn-to-dusk hartal in Kerala on Monday to protest the hike in petrol price.

The LDF State committee, which held an emergency meeting here on Saturday afternoon, decided to call the hartal for roll back of the price hike and to press for restoration of the administered pricing mechanism for petroleum products. The BJP said it was also organising a hartal from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the same demand. The LDF-BJP hartal would coincide with the vehicle strike called by pro-LDF unions in the transport sector on Monday.

The two hartal calls came despite the State government announcing earlier in the day that it was foregoing Rs. 108 crores in additional tax revenue, thereby bringing the retail price of petrol in the State down by roughly 70 paise a litre.

Briefing reporters after the LDF State committee meeting, Front convener Vaikom Viswan said that the State government's gesture, while significant in itself, was not the right solution for the free pricing regime under which the oil companies were indulging in indiscriminate hike in the prices of petroleum products.

The present hike had come despite a fall in the price of crude oil in the international market from the levels during May when the last major hike came. The oil companies had gone in for a price hike 13 times after scrapping of the administered pricing mechanism pushing up the price of petrol by Rs. 23.83 a litre.

Given the frequency and quantum of price increases being attempted by the oil companies, mere foregoing of additional tax revenue by the State government would not provide any relief to the masses. The need of the hour was the Central policy on oil pricing. Even some of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) constituents had raised this demand. The right thing for them to do was to join the protest being staged by the LDF, he said.

Mr. Viswan also came down heavily on the police for the 'brutal' manner in which it had handled the student-youth agitation in the State capital on Friday against the petrol price hike and demanded action against the police officials responsible for the beating up of the student and youth activists. If the government thought that it could persist with such methods, it would have to pay a heavy price, the LDF convener said.

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