Petrol Price Hike: Opposition trade charges as public protests

protest for petrol hikeProtests and demonstrations across the country on Thursday appeared to place the Manmohan Singh Government on the back foot over its decision to hike petrol prices by over Rs.7 a litre.

In Odisha capital Bhubaneswar, the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) organized a motorcycle rally and staged protests in front of petrol pumps.

The president of the Odisha unit of the BJP, Jual Oram, was quoted, as saying: “The atrocious, unbelievable hike is a cruel blow to the people. Our agitation will continue until the roll-back is done.”

Odisha Finance Minister Prafulla Ghadai said that the ruling Biju Janata Dal has sought an immediate rollback of the hike, warning that not doing so, would have far-reaching consequences.

The youth wing of the ruling Biju Janata Dal also held a protest near state Governor M.C. Bhandare’s official residence.

Similar protests were reported in Sambalpur, Rourkela, Balangir, Cuttack, Puri, Balasore and Berhampur.

In Kashmir, protesters said that the petrol hike would cripple markets, services and other sectors.

State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also expressed his unhappiness over the petrol price increase through a tweet.

‘Petrol Pump Attendant: Saab, Kitne ka daaloon? Customer: 2-4 Rupaye ka car ke upar spray kar de bhai. Aag lagani hai,’ Omar said on Twitter.

Autorickshaw drivers in Srinagar said they might have to consider burning their vehicles and start begging.

Some of them said that they had loans to pay back on their vehicles and describe the petrol price hike as unbelievable.

The central government’s argument that the hike decision had been taken independently by the oil marketing companies also had no takers in the Kashmir Valley.

In Kerala, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called a statewide shutdown.

Both the Left and the BJP protestors said that they would march towards the district headquarters and in the capital to the state secretariat to express their protest.

Private vehicles were plying as usual in cities and major towns, but in rural areas of the state, people were cautious about taking out their four-wheelers.

The opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) gave a call for a nation-wide shutdown on May 31.

The Left parties said they would observe an ‘All India Protest Day’ on the same day that would include strikes, picketing, demonstrations, road blockades and rallies.

In a press statement, the Left parties-CPI-M, CPI, RSP and All India Forward Bloc-said the Left parties strongly condemn the steep increase in the price of petrol.

“This is a savage attack on the people, who are already suffering from the effects of continuous price rise of all essential commodities…In order to build a sustained movement to demand a rollback of price hike, Left parties have decided to observe an All India Protest Day on May 31,” the statement said.

Janata Dal-United president Sharad Yadav has also talked to Left parties and Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav.

“Government has washed its hands off the decision on price hike but in reality this happens only when government wants. The government will also be increasing prices of diesel and LPG after the presidential elections get over,” Yadav said.

He asked why the hike in petrol prices was not announced when Parliament was in session and why oil companies did so the very next day after the Budget session got over.

Yadav said that while all the partners of his alliance have already been consulted on the issue of going ahead with a nation-wide shutdown, efforts would be made to reach out to other parties as the matter was not a political one, but one that concerns the common man economically.

Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister S Jaipal Reddy is expected to return to Delhi tonight from Turkmenistan where he had gone on an official visit to field questions on the steepest ever increase in the fuel price.

Defending the government’s decision to hike petrol prices, Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari said petrol prices are linked to international crude oil prices and are fixed by the oil marketing companies.

Rejecting the opposition charge that the government was insensitive to the burden it was imposing on the common man, Tiwari said that deregulation of the fuel prices was not a product of Congress policy, but a step first taken by the NDA Government (1998-2004).

Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma and Congress spokesman Rashid Alvi admitted that the petrol price hike was a “stringent economic decision”.

“Sometimes, the government has to take stringent measures. We spend funds on the social sector. It should not be reduced. That is why this tough step has been taken,” Verma said.

Alvi said: “The value of the rupee has drastically fallen against the dollar. The government had deregulated the petrol price. Oil companies are independent to take their own decisions. It is their decision.”

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