As fuel prices were today hiked for the ninth time in the last 10 days, the opposition Congress has taken to the streets to protest the move. Leading the charge, party MPs from both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha staged a protest demonstration at Vijay Chowk near Parliament in Delhi, kicking off a nationwide agitation against the steep rise in prices of petrol, diesel, and cooking gas. The grand old party is demanding a rollback, accusing the government of "stealing money from the poor" and handing it over to industrialists.
"Our demand is that the government should control prices and stop raising petrol and diesel prices," senior party leader Rahul Gandhi said, while noting that the poor and middle class have been worst hit by the hike.
"We can see that petrol and diesel prices are climbing rapidly. The government is making thousands of crores from this. Congress is protesting across the country against this price rise for petrol and diesel. The government has to stop doing this. It has to ensure that prices do not rise, "he added.
With an overturned motorcycle and cooking gas cylinders placed at the protest site, Congress mocked the PM. On cue from the central leadership, the Karnataka unit of the party hit the streets with gas cylinders decorated and garlanded as deities, with a priest mockingly worshipping them. Party workers were also seen banging utensils, a swipe at PM Modi's suggestion to lift the spirits of health workers during the pandemic.
Mr. Gandhi also quipped that he had predicted this would happen. In a jibe at the BJP, the Congress leader had earlier this month said people should fill up their vehicles' tanks before the election concluded, as the Modi government would hike prices as soon as it's over.
Among those present at the protest demonstration were the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, and the Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
There has been widespread criticism of the BJP-led government for using fuel prices for vote-bank politics. The Centre did not hike fuel prices for four and a half months, coinciding with the run-up to assembly elections in five states, even when international crude prices were going up. This has presumably led to this sudden, unprecedented hike.
However, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, however, has said the war in Ukraine is to blame for international crude prices going up, which the Indian government has no control over.
Petrol and diesel prices were today hiked by 80 paise a litre each, taking the total increase in fuel rates in the last 10 days to 6.40 per litre.
Not just Congress, several opposition parties like Trinamool Congress and DMK have also protested against the hike, pointing out that it will snowball into rising prices of essential commodities and lead to inflation. Opposition parties have also protested in parliament regarding the issue, demanding a debate on the floor of the house. On March 22, MPs from Congress, Trinamool, NCP, DMK and Left parties staged a walkout from the Lok Sabha after being disallowed by Speaker Om Birla when they tried to raise the issue as soon as the lower house met for Question Hour.
Non-BJP states have attacked the Centre for not lowering the central excise duty on fuel, saying they have already lowered Value Added Tax (VAT) and doing it further won't be viable. The Centre has made record collections through excise duty since it was hiked two years ago to counter a steep increase in international crude prices. However, the hike was never rolled back despite the crude price dipping later. The Centre mopped up the record gains, claiming to spend them on infrastructure, development and COVID relief.
While the Goods and Services Tax (GST) applies to most products since its introduction in 2017, oil products and natural gas have been kept out of its purview. Excise duty, which accrues to the centre, and VAT, which goes to the state government, are levied on their sale.
Petrol in Delhi will now cost 101.81 per litre as against 101.01 per litre yesterday, while diesel rates have gone up from 92.27 per litre to 93.07 per litre today, the price notification of state fuel retailers showed.
In Mumbai, the petrol and diesel prices per litre reached 116.72 and 100.94, respectively, after prices were increased by 84 paise each.
In Chennai, the price of petrol is 107.45 after an increase of 76 paise per litre, while diesel is priced at 97.52 after being increased by 76 paise per litre today.
In Kolkata, the price of petrol is 111.35 a litre (increased by 83 paise) and diesel is 96.22 per litre (increased by 80 paise).