Allies confront govt on fuel price hike

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 4 2009, 05:20am hrs
SeRVING up a sharp reminder to the Congress that the Manmohan Singh government is not a single party regime but a multi-party coalition, partners of the UPA on Thursday chose to distance themselves from the Congress-led governments decision to hike fuel prices and demanded a rollback of the anti-people move.

Key allies of the UPA including the DMK and Trinamool Congress joined hands with the Opposition and other parties like the Samajwadi Party and Left in the Lok Sabha on the first day of the budget session to lodge their disapproval of the measure, which came days before the general Budget is to be presented in Parliament by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Opposition parties staged a walkout in both Houses of Parliament after petroleum minister Murli Deora rejected the demand for a rollback and justified the decision by citing a spurt in international crude rates. In view of the continuous rise in global crude prices, a marginal increase had become unavoidable, he argued and said that the price of petrol was raised by only Rs 4 against Rs 6.9 as desired and the diesel price by only Rs 2 against Rs 4.11 keeping in mind the interests of the common man.

The strongest protest from the allies came from DMK leader TR Baalu in the Lok Sabha when he condemned the hike and called for a consensual approach while taking important decisions like raising fuel prices. This government is not a unitary government but is supported by the DMK and Trinamool Congress. The hike is not at all good. It should have been discussed with party leaders as also in the Cabinet, Baalu said. I strongly condemn the act. It should not recur. I am saying this as a close friend of Congress, he said adding that it was nowhere justifiable.

Trinamool Congress member Sudip Bandopadhyay too said the decision should be revoked. We understand that international crude prices have gone up. But this (price rise) will affect common people, he said. Bandopadhyay, however, also directed his attack at the Left Front government in West Bengal saying that it had the highest rate of sales tax on fuel in the country. He asked the Centre to direct the state to reduce the sales tax on petroleum products.

Sharif-ud Shariq of National Conference, also an ally of the government, suggested that an all-party meeting be called to find a way out in view of demands for roll back of prices of petrol and diesel.