It took the Opposition a little while to react to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s proposal to raise the excise duty on petrol and diesel by Re 1 a litre.

The entire Opposition staged a walkout in the Lok Sabha to register their protest over the issue.

Expelled BJP leader and former Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh, did not join his former party colleagues.

As Mr. Mukherjee read out the proposals of restoring the basic duty of 5 per cent on crude petroleum, 7.5 per cent on diesel and petrol and 10 per cent on other refined products, as also the hike in the excise duty on petrol and diesel, there was no reaction from anyone.

It was only after he announced some structural changes in the excise duty on cigarettes, cigars, and cigarillos and appealed to people to follow him in quitting smoking, there was a sudden, noisy reaction from the Opposition.

The entire Opposition stood up in protest against the proposed hike in the excise duty of petrol and diesel, saying it would lead to inflation. Most vocal were Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh and Left members.

The Opposition members made noisy protests demanding a rollback and the Minister appealed to them to let him finish with the presentation which, he said, was a constitutional requirement. The Opposition could give its suggestions during debate but could not prevent him from reading out the budget proposals. “You have every right to discuss, debate and make observations but this is no way to protest,” he said repeatedly but to no avail.

The government had provided full exemption from basic customs duty to crude petroleum and proportionately reduced the basic duty on refined petroleum products in June 2008 in the wake of spiralling prices of petroleum in the international market.

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