Petrol fire singes govt

TMC threatens to pull out of govt, but Manmohan Singh justifies price hike
Last Updated 04 November 2011, 20:18 IST

A senior leader of the party said on condition of anonymity that the price hike may be withdrawn after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returned ho­me on Saturday from Cannes where he is attending the G20 summit, even as all key allies of the ruling UPA slammed the petrol hike and Trinamool Congress threatened to pull out of the government at the Centre.

Addressing a press conference at Cannes, the prime minister, however, struck a different tune, virtually ruling out a rollback and even justifying the price hike.  He said the prices of petroleum products need to be deregulated. While petrol has been deregulated, diesel, LPG and kerosene prices are administered by the government.

“Well that is the general direction in which we should move. I think the move to decontrol the prices is a part of that process. But... these are very sensitive areas and I have no hesitation in saying ultimately we must allow the markets to find their own level except for those commodities which are semi public goods,” Singh said. Back home in Delhi, his Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee conceded that the petrol price rise will fuel inflation, but said the hike was inevitable given the global increase in petroleum prices.

“Of course, petrol price hike will have some adverse impact on inflation,” Mukherjee told reporters.

The TMC, a key ally, breathed fire. “All junior and senior MPs and Central ministers have given in writing that things cannot go on like this. They say if the government continues like this, then we can’t be partners. Our MPs say we are in favour of quitting the government and also as alliance partner,” TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters in Kolkata.

“We have one Cabinet minister. We also have six ministers of state who are not given due importance,” she said. Mamata, whose party has 18 Lok Sabha MPs, however, said: “Our withdrawal of support may result in fall of the government.”

But since the prime minister is away, we want to discuss with him and have sought an appointment with him.”

Other coalition partners at the Centre — the National Conference and Nationalist Congress Party — have also expressed their concern and said repeated hike in petrol prices burden the common man and they would raise the issue within the government.

“In the next Cabinet meeting, there will be a debate on it,” New and Renewable Energy Minister and National Conference president Farooq Abdullah told reporters here.

NCP general secretary Tariq Anwar said his party wants the government to devise some mechanism to keep the fuel prices in check. “We are very much concerned. The government should devise some mechanism to check frequent hike in petrol prices,” he said.

He, however, said the NCP “does not have any plan” to pull out of the government, when his attention was drawn to TMC’s threat. Launching a scathing attack on the Central government, the main opposition party — BJP — alleged that the price hike demonstrated that the government was “completely insensitive” to people’s suffering and appealed the UPA allies to withdraw support as they were becoming a party to the “sins” of the Manmohan Singh dispensation.

Former finance minister Yashwant Sinha said: “The weekly food inflation figures were released yesterday (Thursday). And then as if the government was waiting for this cue, it increased petrol prices from midnight.... I want to say that this was a midnight massacre.” Congress leaders indicated that they would pressure the prime minister to provide “healing touch” to the common man through a rollback.

Oil companies act coy

The state-owned oil companies, under attack from various quarters, Friday said they may consider a roll back of the prices if government gives any such directive, reports DHNS from New Delhi. “We will abide by the government’s directive to roll back prices if it comes,” Indian Oil Corporation Chairman R S Butola said. Bharat Petroleum Corp Chairman R K Singh said, “we do not plan to affect a roll-back of prices, but if we get a directive, we will have to implement.”

(Published 04 November 2011, 14:12 IST)

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