The buzz over a partial rollback in petrol prices has become stronger after widespread protests and political demands for a withdrawal of the huge hike of over Rs 6.28 per litre, excluding local taxes.
Sources said Opposition parties and allies apart, even Congress leaders have said they did not know about the petrol hike and have joined the chorus that the hike be withdrawn. The push finally came from the Congress, which leads the UPA government.
Party spokesman Manish Tewari said yesterday that he hopes the government could find a way to lessen the burden on the common man. Mr Tewari, however, said, "This is not the decision of the government, this is not a political decision. This falls in the jurisdiction of oil companies."
Some state governments have already started making efforts in this direction. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit indicated last night that her government may consider cutting taxes on petrol to provide some relief from the hike in fuel price. "We will see what we can do," she told reporters when asked whether her government will reduce VAT on petrol. Kerala and Uttarakhand governments had earlier waived tax on the additional amount to bring down the fuel price by up to 25 per cent of the hike.
The unease was visible in the Congress as the NDA and the Left yesterday announced agitation plans including a Bharat Bandh on May 31, while Railway Minister Mukul Roy from Trinamool Congress led a march in Kolkata against the hike with party chief Mamata Banerjee saying that the protests would continue.
While there has been talk that a Rs 2-2.50 rollback could be made, this might not happen immediately as the government attempts to grapple with a sliding rupee.
State-owned oil firms, who had lost Rs 4,860 crore on not raising prices of a deregulated commodity last fiscal, had lost about Rs 2,400 crore since April as depreciation in rupee wiped away gains made from fall in crude oil prices. State-owned oil companies too indicated on Thursday that rates may be cut at the next revision cycle due early next month on account of softening in global oil prices. And as the steep hike affected the sale of petrol cars, leading carmakers Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors and Hyundai Motor announced discounts of up to Rs 50,000 on petrol models for a limited period.
Sources said the plan was to raise the rates after passage of Finance Bill in Parliament but was at the last moment postponed till conclusion of the Budget session. The Budget Session of Parliament ended on May 22, which incidentally was also the third anniversary of UPA-II coming to power.
Meanwhile, people are addressing the issue in their own unique way. Long queues are being seen at petrol pumps in Goa near the Maharashtra border. Since petrol costs Rs 14 more in Maharashtra, vehicle owners prefer to fill up their cars in the neighbouring state. Petrol is the cheapest in Goa after the BJP government cut the VAT in March and now costs around Rs 64 a litre. In comparison, a litre of petrol in Mumbai now costs around Rs 78.
And there are unique protests too. The Shiv Sena protested against the hike in petrol prices in Maharashtra's Aurangabad district by organising a competition for motorcyclists. Participants couldn't ride, but instead had to run with their bikes. The winner was gifted a cash voucher for five litres of petrol. In Shirdi, the BJP and Shiv Sena organised a bullock cart rally. Around 200 people and ten bullock carts were part of the rally. The protesters say petrol has become so expensive that they have no option but to use bullock carts to travel.