.No sooner was the wasted winter session of parliament adjourned sine die, the price of petrol was hiked by Rs 2.95 per litre. Now as mahara sangranthi(pongal) gift to people of India again petrol price was hiked by another Rs.2.55. This is the sixth increase in the price of petrol since June 26, when this UPA government deregulated the prices of petroleum products, thus, allowing them to rise according to market conditions. These hikes together mean that the price of petrol has risen nearly by Rs 11 during the last five months. Reports indicate that the price of diesel is also likely to be hiked soon. Clearly, despite the deregulation, the government is timing the price hikes in order to avoid the political costs of such hikes during a parliament session.
This constitutes a cruel attack on the livelihood of a vast majority of our people. With the prices of all essential commodities continuing to rise, these hikes in petroleum products will further contribute to inflation eating into the real earnings of the people. Ironically, the finance minister expressed happiness at a eleven-month low rate of inflation that stood at 7.48 per cent in November this year. This, however, cannot mask the reality that general inflation rate has been hovering above the 10 per cent level and food inflation has been close to 20 per cent during the course of the last one year.
Restructuring of the tax regime currently in operation in the petroleum sector is required in order to provide some relief to the people. While the government has deregulated the prices, it has done nothing to restructure the taxes. The net result is that the burden of taxes is being borne by the people while the government reaps a bonanza of revenues. The government’s argument that these revenues are required to meet the expenditures in the social sector is, to say the least, totally untenable. Vast multiples of what the government spends in the social sector are being looted through various scams. The 2G spectrum scam alone is nearly 20 per cent of this year’s budgetary expenditures!
A government that has assumed office in the name of the aam admi is imposing cruel hardships on the vast majority of our people. Relief can be provided to the people if the government immediately releases the excess stock of foodgrains lying in its godowns to be distributed through the public distribution system at BPL prices. According to the last reports, as against the buffer norm of 200 lakh tonnes of rice and wheat, the stock in the godowns was over 475 lakh tonnes. This measure along with a withdrawal in the hike of petroleum products will result in some relief to the people.
Additionally, it is absolutely necessary to prohibit growth of speculative trade in essential commodities. The cumulative value of trade in agricultural commodities during the year from April 1 to November 30 was Rs 8,36,605.53 crores. In the corresponding period last year, it was Rs 7,66,133.46 crores. Clearly, there are super profits in such speculative trading, the cost of which is borne by the common people through rising prices.This UPA-II government, however, continues to remain not merely insensitive to growing agonies of the people but is imposing policies that are adding to people’s woes.