On Bharat Bandh: What Took Them So Long?
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spearheaded a series of protest rallies and nation-wide bandh during the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the Congress party over hikes in petrol price. Do you remember the BJP party workers hitting the Parliament Street in Delhi on bicycles, cycle rickshaws and bullock carts to protest against price rise in essential commodities and frequent hikes in petrol prices? Public memory is short but that was exactly what happened just a few years ago. People were disappointed as petrol price went as high as INR 74.10 a litre. The deregulation of fuel prices by the government to ease the subsidy burden and fiscal deficit backfired as it gave free hand to the oil marketing companies (OMCs) to revise prices fortnightly based on international crude oil prices.
History is repeating itself as Congress party workers hit the streets in bullock carts on Monday for the same reason that its BJP counterparts did a few years ago – hike in petrol price. The Congress and Left Front called for a Bharat bandh to protest against soaring fuel prices and weak rupee, and it was backed by several other political parties — Janata Dal (Secular), Samajwadi Party (SP), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Maharshtra Navanirman Sena
(MNS). But the big question is: what took them so long when the rise in fuel prices has been a matter of concern for months now? Toothless opposition party in the parliament didn’t help the plight of the public — no protest, no rally until now.
The fact is rupee keeps depreciating and there is no sign from the government to cut excise duty. Petrol price in the national capital has touched a record high of INR 80.73 per litre and diesel – INR 72.83 per litre in backdrop of a weak rupee that has breached the 72-mark to the dollar. This is quite high considering the fact that the price of Brent crude oil in the international market was hovering over $100 a barrel during the UPA rule, while it is still below $80 per barrel today.
The cruel reality is that common men are most affected by fuel price rise as it affects business and transportation system that directly and indirectly increases cost of living.
The Central government, which increased excise duty on fuel more than 10 times since 2014 instead of passing on the benefit of low international crude oil to the public, should now solve this issue by easing tax. The state government too should chip in by slashing value added tax (VAT). This move will at least come as an interim relief to the public.