New Delhi, Feb 21 (PTI) Accusing the government of 'profiteering' off 'people's misery', Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Sunday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over 'spiralling' fuel prices, urging him to follow ‘Raj Dharma’ and reduce the prices by partially rolling back excise duty.
In a three-page letter to Modi, she said the truth is that as GDP 'nosedives', the prices of gas, diesel and petrol continue to rise unchecked.
Gandhi also said governments are elected to ease the burden of people and at the very least, not work directly contrary to their interests.
'I write to you to convey every citizen's anguish and deep distress regarding the spiralling fuel and gas prices. On one hand, India is witnessing systematic erosion of jobs, wages and household income. The middle class and those at the margins of our society are struggling. These challenges have been compounded by runaway inflation and an unprecedented rise in price of almost all household items and essential commodities,' the Congress chief said.
'Sadly, in these distressing times, the government has chosen to profiteer off people's misery and suffering,' Gandhi said.
Petrol price on Saturday touched an all-time high of Rs 97 per litre in Mumbai while diesel rate crossed Rs 88-mark. This was the 12th straight day of price hike and the largest daily increase since oil companies started to revise rates on a daily basis in 2017.
The increase pushed the petrol price to Rs 90.58 a litre in Delhi and to Rs 97 in Mumbai.
Stressing that fuel prices are at an 'historic and unsustainable' high, Gandhi said petrol has breached the Rs 100 per litre mark in many parts of the country and the surging price of diesel has added to the escalating woes of millions of farmers.
'What baffles most citizens, is that these prices have been increased despite moderate prices of international crude oil. To put it in context, the crude oil price is nearly half of what it was during the UPA government's tenure. Therefore, your government's act of raising prices (continuously for 12 days till February 20th) is little less than a brazen act of profiteering,' she said.
What is equally distressing is that despite being in power for almost seven years now, the government continues to blame previous regimes for its own economic mismanagement, she said in her letter to Modi.
To set the record straight, domestic crude oil production had fallen to an 18-year low in 2020, Gandhi said.
'I fail to understand how any government can justify such thoughtless and insensitive measures directly at the cost of our people. Your government has increased excise duty on diesel by 820 per cent and on petrol by 258 per cent over and collected upwards of Rs 21 lakh crore in the last six and a half years,' she said.
This 'unaccounted-for' windfall is yet to be passed to the people for whose benefit it was ostensibly collected, the Congress chief said.
Gandhi said it was cruel on the government's part to refuse to reduce fuel prices even when global crude oil had crashed to USD 20 per barrel last year.
The whole principle of deregulation and dynamic pricing is predicated on the principle that reductions in crude oil prices will proportionately benefit the end consumers, she asserted.
'The fact that your government fails to do so implies a deliberate and conscious decision to deny the common man his legitimate due,' she said.
Instead, ironically, the government has been 'unreasonably overzealous' in levying excessive excise duty on petrol and diesel -- Rs 33 on every litre of petrol and Rs 32 on every litre of diesel, which is higher than the base price of these fuels, she said 'This is nothing short of extortion to cover up economic mismanagement. As the principal party in opposition, I urge upon you to follow ‘Raj Dharma’ and reduce fuel prices by partially rolling back excise duty,' she said.
Gandhi said the astronomical rise in domestic non-subsidised LPG gas cylinder to Rs 769 in Delhi (and over Rs 800 in many states like Uttar Pradesh) is even more cruel and has impacted every household.
Can there be any justification for the government increasing the price of a cylinder by Rs 175 in two and a half months since December 2020, she asked.
'I urge you to roll back these increases and pass on the benefit to our middle and salaried class, our farmers and poor and our fellow citizens. It is they who are battling an unprecedented economic slowdown, widespread unemployment, wage reductions and job losses, high prices and erosion of income,' she said.
'I hope you will agree that it is time for your government to focus on solutions instead of looking for excuses. India deserves better,' Gandhi said.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday had said the Centre and state governments will together have to work out a mechanism to bring retail rates of petrol and diesel to reasonable levels. PTI ASK ANB ANB