PMO rejects the idea; Opposition slams Moily

Under attack for proposing shutdown of petrol pumps at night, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Veerappa Moily on Monday was forced to backtrack on his plan, which the PMO has rejected outright. He denied having made such a proposal.

Soon after the proposal — he spoke about it in Bangalore on Sunday — was criticised by the BJP, the Trinamool Congress and the CPI, Mr. Moily said no such plan was mooted. “We have already made it very clear that 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. We have adequate supplies to cater to the needs of the entire country 24/7,” he told journalists here.

In fact, officials said Mr. Moily discussed the plan to shut petrol pumps down from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. within the Ministry as part of a fuel conservation campaign, to be launched on September 16, to cut fuel demand by 3 per cent and save Rs.16,000 crore, or $2.5 billion, on foreign exchange.

In fact, the PMO told Mr. Moily that such a plan would create panic at a time when calm and restraint were needed to tackle the economic crisis.

On Monday, the Ministry spokesman issued a formal statement, saying there was no proposal to allow sale of petroleum products from retail outlets only at certain hours.

Mr. Moily said, “We are coming with a mega conservation campaign, which will be launched on September 16. Before that, we are considering ideas of how this can be done. If the BJP has some brilliant idea, it is most welcome to send it to us. We will certainly consider it. Cutting the import bill by $25 billion will contribute one per cent of the GDP.”

As the plan sparked outcry, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.The BJP said the proposal amounted to imposing economic emergency on people. CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta said that by suggesting such a measure, the Minister had launched an onslaught on the common man.

“Be it the pricing of natural gas or taking action against corporates, the Minister has been in the forefront of fighting the cause of the rich. It is a ridiculous idea, and it seems he has thrown up his hands in dealing with the situation.”