Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had to defend the government from charges made by Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi that the Centre was profiteering from repeatedly raising petrol and diesel prices. She demanded a rollback, which was echoed by Congress units in many states.
Pradhan, however, said Congress-ruled states were equally responsible for an overall rise in oil prices, caused by the government’s low revenue collection because GST collections had been low because of the hit taken by business on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a part of the party’s ‘speak up’ campaign, Gandhi in a video appeal asked the Centre to cut taxes and lower the burden on people already suffering economically.
“I along with the Congress workers and citizens demand that the government should take back the hike in prices of diesel and petrol in these tough times,” said Gandhi.
She alleged that the government was “insensitive” towards the people's problems as it had increased the prices 22 times in three months.
“The government has earned an extra Rs 18 trillion since 2014 and the crude oil prices have decreased worldwide,” said Sonia Gandhi, adding that in the national Capital and other metros, the cost of petrol and diesel had crossed Rs 80 a litre.
In various states, Congress workers used bullock carts, cycles and other means to demonstrate against the government. The protests will go on for five days.
Congress General Secretary KC Venugopal said: “Today as a symbol of protest against the unjustifiable hikes in fuel prices, I rode my bicycle to Parliament as part of the movement started by Congress.”
Pradhan rebutted the charge that the government was profiteering. He said collections by OMCs had fallen and the government was trying to make up for those.
“World economy as well as Indian economy is going through a challenging time. Due to Covid-19 pandemic, energy industry is going through a tough time. Demand for petrol went down by 70-80 per cent in April-May months in the country, which directly impacted economy. Now demand is picking up again. No one can predict oil prices, but we’ve estimated that as prices in international markets stabilise, prices in India will also stabilise,” the minister said.