Oil prices are increasing in the world market every day. If the prices of petroleum products in India are subsidised, oil companies will incur losses. As for decreasing customs and excise duties, this will affect the government’s revenue, which it proposes to use for welfare activities. Parties opposing the hike must understand that they too would have had little choice had they been in power. Instead of politicising the issue, they should see the issue in the larger interest of the nation.
Those who attack the increase in the prices of petrol and diesel are actually championing the cause of the well to do in the name of the poor. On the one hand, they want the duty on crude oil to be slashed. On the other, they want huge outlays on education, health, and rural employment. How much revenue can the Centre afford to fore go just to sell petrol at subsidised rates to the rich? The Left parties and the BJP, which are so concerned about the poor, should first cut down the sales tax in the States ruled by them.
If the price of fuel is not increased, that is to say, if taxes are reduced, the first to get affected by lack of funding for government schemes will be the common man. The effect of this on him will be much more than the price hike. Calls to reduce oil prices are tantamount to asking for more government subsidy for the middle classes at the cost of the really poor. Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi’s statement that the lowering of sales tax on petrol and diesel will result in increased bus fares puts the matter in the right perspective.
The Centre has raised the prices of petrol and diesel by less than half of the oil companies’ demand. But the state governments have shown no such consideration. Over the last two years, when petrol prices have risen by about Rs 17 a litre, I wonder how many state governments reduced sales taxes even once. They silently gobble up the increased revenue and use it for funding their populist schemes many of which contain untargeted subsidies.
Our economy is vulnerable to fluctuation in international crude prices, and we are paying the price for excessive dependence on fossil fuels. The government must evolve a comprehensive national energy security policy. It must stimulate massive research and development in alternative energy such as solar, wind and biofuel, even if it means putting the mission to the moon on the back burner. Citizens too have a role to play. They should consume energy judiciously, and use public transport whenever possible.
Is Bharat Bandh the only way to protest in a democracy? True, dissent should have legitimate space in a democracy to make known one’s disapproval of certain decisions. But the right to dissent should in no way hinder the rights of others. During hartals, children cannot go to schools; people cannot go to work; vehicles do not ply on the roads, and movement of goods comes to a grinding halt causing loss to the national exchequer. There are many disciplined ways to mark protest. Black badges, peaceful demonstrations, raising the issue in the Assembly and Parliament, and mobilising public opinion are a few.
(This is the first part of the Diary and the latter part will continue tomorrow.)