New Delhi: From the middle of this month, says oil minister M Veerappa Moily, the government plans a massive six-week fuel conservation drive that could include closing all petrol pumps by 8 pm. The BJP has scoffed at the proposal.
The government is seeking to trim its huge oil import bill as it struggles to rescue the rupee, which has tumbled alarmingly in the last few weeks, touching 68.85 to a dollar last week to register its steepest fall in 18 years. It opened at 66.15 on Monday, lower than it had closed on Friday.
In a statement to Parliament last week, the Prime Minister said the country must "economise the use of petroleum products."
Mr Moily's austerity campaign from September 16 will attempt to cut fuel demand by three per cent and save an estimated Rs 16,000 crore or USD 2.5 billion in forex outgo.
The minister said on Sunday, "There are various options and ideas that have been floated. Shutting petrol pumps during the night is one of them." He emphasized that, "we have not decided. It is just a proposal."
The minister has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with suggestions to shave off up to Rs 1,32,000 crore of the Rs 9,50,000 crore oil import bill of 2012-13. The note, dated August 30, does not mention closing petrol pumps at night, but details the fuel conservation drive and suggests importing cheaper oil from Iran, which faces United Nations sanctions, to save Rs 5,600 crore or $ 8.5 billion.
State-owned oil companies, which hiked petrol and diesel prices on Saturday, want a steeper price hike to accommodate huge losses. The government estimates that these losses will mount to Rs 1,80,000 crore if imports are not cut; petrol prices will keep rising and the rupee will slide further.
"Will Veerappa Moily's call for shutting #petrol stations at 8PM really reduce #consumption? NO.What about job losses because of this?" Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairman and Managing Director of Biocon Limited, tweeted last night.
The BJP's Shahnawaz Hussain said, "Not only petrol pumps, this government is capable of shutting down this country. If petrol pumps are closed at night, won't people fill fuel in the morning?"
Mr Hussain has suggested that ministers should set an example by "cutting down on their expenditure and should return their cars."