Coming under sharp attack for virtually declaring a war on the common man and faced with a "rejection" of the verbal proposal from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister, Veerappa Moily on Monday was forced to backtrack on his night-time shutdown of petrol pumps across the country denying he had never mooted such a proposal.
Soon after Mr. Moily’s proposal, about which he spoke in Bangalore on Sunday and was also quoted by agencies saying it is one of the proposals being talked, drew strong reactions from the opposition parties including BJP, Trinamool Congress and CPI, the Petroleum Minister immediately issued a clarification stating that no such proposal had been mooted. "We have already made it very clear it is not our idea. It is an idea which is coming from public and others. No decision will be taken to keep petrol pumps dry in any part of the country. We have adequate petroleum supplies to cater to the demand of the entire country 24/7", he told reporters in New Delhi.
In fact, officials in the Ministry said that shutting petrol pumps from 8 pm to 8 am was an idea discussed within the Ministry by the Petroleum Minister as part of the massive fuel conservation campaign proposed to be launched from September 16 to cut fuel demand by 3 per cent and save an estimated Rs. 16,000 crore or $ 2.5 billion in forex outgo. In fact, the matter was also raised with the PMO which had conveyed to Mr. Moily that such a move would send a wrong signal and create panic at a time when clam and restraint was needed the most to tackle the economic crisis.
On Monday, the Petroleum Ministry spokesman issued a formal statement saying there is no proposal under consideration of the Government to allow sale of petroleum products from retail outlets (petrol pumps) only during certain hours. "We are coming with a mega conservation campaign, which will be launched on September 16. Before that, we are considering ideas about how this can be done. If BJP has some brilliant idea, they are most welcome to send it to us. We will certainly consider it. If we are successful in cutting the import bill by up to $ 25 billion, I would be contributing 1 per cent of the GDP", he added.
Following the outcry over the proposal, Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and discussed the matter in detail.
Reacting strongly to the proposal, the BJP said it tantamount to imposing economic emergency on the people. "This will only hurt the country and there will be no benefit. These steps will lead to more panic about the mismanagement of the economy in the country. I do not know why a responsible government Minister would talk like this", he remarked.
Communist Party of India MP, Gurudas Dasgupta trashed the suggestion of Mr. Moily and said the Petroleum Minister has decided to launch an onslaught against the common man. "Be it the pricing of natural gas or taking action against corporates, the Petroleum Minister has been in the forefront of fighting the cause of the rich. It is a ridiculous idea and its seems the Minister has thrown up his hands in dealing with the situation in the country", Mr. Dasgupta said.
In Rajya Sabha, the proposal drew sharp reactions with the CPI (M), CPI and Trianamool Congress staging a walkout. Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Prashanta Chatterjee (CPI-M) said it was unfortunate that petrol and diesel price hike was announced outside Parliament and demanded a rollback of the decision. "This is the sixth increase in the price of petrol in last three months. Price of diesel is being increased 50 paisa per month. Unable to check fall in value of rupee, UPA government is resorting to hikes. Government is responsible for increasing the miseries of people", he added.
M. Venkaiah Naidu of the BJP termed the government's decision as "totally anti-people" and said it came without taking the Parliament into confidence. Derek O'Brien of Trinamool Congress said the government has declared a war on common man and ridiculed Mr. Moily for his "ill-conceived and ill-thought" idea to shut down petrol pumps at night.
Senior CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury wanted a discussion on the issue but Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien ruled it out asking him to take it up in the Business Advisory Committee meeting. At this, Mr. Yechury accompanied by his party colleagues and some members from CPI walked out of the House saying, "You are not allowing a discussion on it and in between when a discussion is going on, the government has increased prices of petrol and diesel. So we are walking out."