Andhra Pradesh

Fuelling concerns

Amidst public rage over the spiralling fuel prices, the Union Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan’s recent statement that the prices, which have surged past ₹100 in several cities, are likely to drop as winter passes by, and attributing the rise to an increase in demand during the season, came as a cruel joke.

His Cabinet colleague and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s talk of the steep hike in petrol price being a vexatious issue for which there is no answer except for reducing it and the Centre's ‘dharma sankat’, is not helping either.

The sharp spike in fuel prices is digging holes in the pockets of the public, especially the middle class and the lower strata of society.

The common man has always been the worst victim of price hike. Such steep hike coming at a time when people have lost jobs and incomes and are battling soaring inflation, has dealt a rude blow. “It’s a double whammy. Fuel has become expensive when people have so much less in their pockets,” says Ch. Babu Rao, senior CPI(M) leader, citing the disquiet, which he attributes to the anger and helplessness of the public.

‘Consumer denied benefits’

He says the Centre’s contention that due to an increase in the prices of crude oil in international markets, consumer price for petrol and diesel has risen does not cut any ice. “The government says it will soften gradually but it will never happen,” he avers, recalling that the 2018 series of price hikes came when crude prices were ruling at an average of 80 dollars per barrel and the prevailing oil market is half as strong as that but the government is raising prices at the same rate. “This is gross injustice. When crude prices had touched historical lows, the benefits were never transferred to the customer and the price difference was pocketed by the government and the oil companies,” he says.

In the State, where petrol is costing more than ₹95 per litre and diesel is plodding closer to ₹90 per litre, the petroleum dealers blame the excise duty and additional VAT thrust by both Central and State governments.

It may be noted here that as the lockdown hurt the Centre’s revenues, it increased excise duty on petrol by 64% from ₹19.98 to ₹32.90 per litre and ₹18.23 to ₹32.90 on diesel during the period. VAT was increased from ₹15.25 to ₹20.61 per litre and from ₹9.48 to ₹11.8 per litre of petrol and diesel respectively.

Business yet to pick up

“The transport sector is already reeling under a serious financial crisis. Business is at its lowest point with a serious dip in loading of goods in trucks as a large population of migrant labourers has not returned to work post-COVID,” says Eeswar Rao, general secretary of the AP Lorry Owners’ Association (APLOA). He says it is not fair to overburden people with excise duties and taxes by the Centre and the State government when people are yet to recover from the financial losses inflicted by the pandemic resulting in the lockdown.

Andhra Pradesh collects higher VAT than Telangana. Besides VAT, there is road cess adding to people’s financial woes.

The APLOA plans to meet the Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy to draw his attention to these issues. “We want the government to consider our travails and reduce excise duty and VAT on fuel at least till we recover from the COVID-inflicted revenue losses,” says Mr. Rao.

Kitchens not spared

The increase in the price of 14.2 kg LPG cylinder from ₹769 to ₹794 per cylinder has already begun to show adverse affect on the cooking pattern in the kitchens of middle and lower income households. This is the third time in February that LPG prices have been hiked, earlier it was on February 4 and February 14.

“With my husband’s meagre salary of ₹7,000, I can ill-afford this cost and so I cook food only once a day and use it the entire day. At times, I even cook once in two days,” says Savithri Alaparthi, a home-maker.

“The fuel and LPG price rise have a cascading impact and my monthly budget has gone for a toss,” rues Prabhavathi, a resident of Ashok Nagar.

Angry about what they allege as ‘profiteering’ at the expense of hapless people instead of helping them during this crisis, people are unanimous in their demand for a rollback of the hike.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 1:50:16 AM |

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