Petrol and diesel prices rose to fresh highs on Thursday as Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas saw a change of guard with Hardeep Singh Puri taking over from Dharmendra Pradhan.
Petrol price was hiked by 35 paise per litre and diesel by 9 paise, according to a price notification of state-owned fuel retailers. This took fuel prices across the country to a fresh high.
Soon after taking charge of the ministry, Mr Puri said he would comment on the issue only after getting a full briefing from the officials.
"Give me some time. I need to be briefed on the issues," he told reporters. "It will be very wrong for me to comment on it (fuel prices) when I have just stepped into this building."
Petrol price, which has already crossed Rs 100 in over half of the country, rose to Rs 100.56 a litre in Delhi and Rs 106.59 in Mumbai. Diesel rate climbed to Rs 89.62 per litre in Delhi and Rs 97.18 in Mumbai.
"My formal training is in an area where comments are not offered without full information," Mr Puri, a former diplomat, said.
A 1974-batch IFS officer, Mr Puri comes into the oil ministry at a time when the country is reeling under a surge in fuel prices.
Also, the country's reliance on imported oil is increasing as domestic oil and gas production, particularly from fields operated by state-owned oil firms, continues to be static.
"As we transform towards a $5 trillion economy, energy availability and consumption will be of paramount importance," Mr Puri said. "My focus will be on increasing domestic production of crude and natural gas."
Along with Mr Puri, Minister of State for Petroleum Rameswar Teli also took charge. Outgoing minister Mr Pradhan, who has been given the ministries of human resource development and skill development in the cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, was present when the new ministers took over.
Mr Teli is the first Minister of State in the oil ministry during the seven years of the Modi government.
Mr Pradhan, who had been handling the ministry since the Modi government took office in May 2014, was the longest-serving oil minister in the independent India. Unlike his predecessors, he did not have a deputy.
"The work of this ministry touches each and every citizen in the country directly or indirectly," Mr Puri said. "The energy issues in this ministry have immense potential and several challenges. The need to adapt to changing times, adopt new technologies and to be in consonance with the energy transition taking place across the world, provides a fascinating opportunity."
He said he would work towards the development of a natural gas-based economy in the country and increase the share of natural gas in the primary energy mix of the country to 15 per cent by 2030 from current 6.2 per cent.
The Indian economy was a $2.89 trillion economy before COVID struck and it is in transition to becoming a $5 trillion economy.
"I must confess that I am reluctant to go into substantive issues unless I am briefed," he said.
Mr Puri said he felt honoured by the trust reposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "Dharmendra Pradhan ji's are big shoes to fill," he said. "In the last seven years, under the able guidance of my predecessor (Mr) Pradhan, a number of path-breaking reforms and initiatives have been ushered in the sector. I would strive to take them forward, and fulfil the expectations of the Prime Minister, our people and the country."
Petrol has crossed the Rs 100-a-litre mark in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bihar, Punjab, Ladakh, Sikkim and Puducherry.
Diesel, the most used fuel in the country, is above that level in some places in Rajasthan, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh.
Fuel prices differ from state to state depending on the incidence of local taxes such as value-added tax (VAT) and freight charges.
As much as 55 per cent of the retail selling price of petrol in Delhi is made up of taxes (Rs 32.90 a litre excise duty collected by the central government and Rs 22.80 VAT levied by the state government).
Half of the diesel price is made up of taxes (Rs 31.80 central excise and Rs 13.04 state VAT).
The hike on Thursday is the 37th increase in the price of petrol since May 4, when state-owned oil firms ended an 18-day hiatus in rate revision they observed during assembly elections in states like West Bengal.
In 37 hikes, the price of petrol has risen by Rs 10.16 per litre. During this period, diesel rates have soared by Rs 8.89 a litre in 35 instances of the price rise.