Congress president Sonia Gandhi in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday accused his government of profiteering from people’s miseries by called the “excessively” levying excise duty on petroleum products and called it “nothing short of extortion to cover up economic mismanagement”.
In her three page letter, Ms. Gandhi mentioned that hardships faced by the middle class increased with the price of petrol crossing ₹100 per litre in several parts of India and the surging diesel prices have only added to the problems of the farmers.
She asked the government to “focus on solutions instead of looking for excuses as India deserves better”.
Though the Congress has been campaigning against high fuel prices for the past 10 days, it is first time that Ms. Gandhi has written to Mr. Modi to “convey every citizen’s anguish and deep distress regarding the spiralling fuel and gas prices”.
The Congress chief said that while India was witnessing erosion of jobs, wages and household incomes, problems for the middle class and marginal income groups have compounded by “run away inflation and an unprecedented rise” in price of almost all household items and essential commodities.
“Sadly, in these distressing times, the Government has chosen to profiteer off people’s misery and suffering,” Ms. Gandhi wrote, adding, “Governments are elected to ease the burden of our people and at the very least, not work directly contrary to their interests”.
“I urge you to roll back these increases and pass on the benefit to our middle and salaried class, our farmers and poor and our fellow citizens. It is they who are battling an unprecedented economic slowdown, widespread unemployment, wage reductions & job losses, high prices and erosion of income,” Ms. Gandhi noted.
The Congress chief accused the Modi government to be “unreasonably over-zealous” in levying excessive excise duty that works out to be ₹33 on every litre of petrol and ₹32 on every litre of diesel, higher than the base price of these fuels.
“This is nothing short of extortion to cover up economic mismanagement. As the principal party in opposition, I urge upon you to follow ‘Raj Dharma’ and reduce fuel prices by partially rolling back excise duty,” she said.
Ms Gandhi pointed out that international crude prices are not only moderate now but also half of what the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) faced. She said every household was impacted now as the price of LPG cylinders has gone up by as much as ₹175 in the past two and half months.
“I fail to understand how any government can justify such thoughtless and insensitive measures directly at the cost of our people,” she asked, adding that the government has collected over ₹21 lakh crore in the last six and a half years by a 820% increase in excise duty on diesel and 258% on petrol.
“The whole principle of deregulation and dynamic pricing is predicated on the principle that reductions in crude oil prices will proportionately benefit the end consumers. The fact that your Government fails to do so implies a deliberate and conscious decision to deny the common man his legitimate due,” the Congress chief said.
Ms Gandhi said it was distressing to note that the Prime Minister sought to blame previous governments for his government’s economic mismanagement and pointed out that domestic crude oil production has fallen to an 18-year low in the year 2020.