Monday, September 11, 2000,
Chandigarh, India



Oil bill’s impact on economy

THE Indian economy could hardly come out of the deep recession it was faced with last year. At one point of time things had started improving. Direct foreign investment has started trickling. Then came the bolt from the blue. OPEC countries met in March, 1999, in Switzerland. The cartel decided to reduce the production of oil.

The law of inverse proportion started operating. The oil prices rose exponentially from $11 to $32 per barrel. All the countries thought that it was a sudden spurt and prices would stabilise at $22 per barrel. But no! India had to pay Rs 33,000 crore additionally to Arab countries for the same amount of oil during 1999-2000.

This money can purchase back 55 million tonnes of Indian wheat. In other words, 55 million tonnes of wheat went free to Arab countries. Strangely enough, none of the under-developed countries whose economies were being sapped by this new phenomenon made any noise at any of the international fora. Only the USA called OPEC again and asked to increase their production by 3 per cent.

Again these credulous governments thought that the prices of crude oil would come down to $20 per barrel. But no! This false belief was rudely shaken when oil prices touched an all-time high peak of $33 per barrel on August 15. Now nobody knows what to do. To hold the price line, the Ministry of Petroleum says that oil prices are to be increased (The Tribune, Aug 20).

If the money circulates in the country, the price rise is not so harmful. But the extra cash flow to Arab countries will totally squeeze the already squeezed national economy. This heavy outflow of foreign exchange will further depreciate the Indian rupee.

Already it is 45.9 to a dollar. Depreciation in the value of the Indian rupee (Rs 44 to 45.9) will further increase the oil pool deficit by Rs 2500 crore. India was lucky to get crude oil at $11 per barrel during 1998-99 and paid Rs 24,000 crore. The prices hovered around $29 per barrel during 1999-2000 and it paid Rs 57,000 crore (58 million tonnes crude oil amounting to Rs 40,000 crore plus finished products of 16.5 m.t. valuing Rs 17,000 crore) for the same amount. This year the import is anywhere between 75 million and 78 million tonnes, and the bill may go up to Rs 76,000 crore.


While crude oil imports are increasing, imports of kerosene and LPG are declining. Fortunately, there may be no imports for diesel or it may be exported. According to an official of the Petroleum Ministry, a hike of $1 per barrel in the price of crude leads to an increase of $600 million in the import bill. The international prices for various products last year were crude $27.5 per barrel, LPG $299 per tonne and kerosene $245 to $280 per tonne.

The national prices are Rs 125 per LPG cylinder and Rs 5.27 per ltr. of kerosene. Petrol and aviation turbine fuel, on the other hand, are priced above the international price in order to cross-subsidise the kerosene and LPG prices. With no major oil finds in recent years and the existing fields ageing, the indigenous output of crude is falling. The rate of growth, though, is highest in the world because of the car culture.

The figures show that the oil import bill has put an unprecedented strain on the Indian economy. It threatens to touch $19 billion in case oil price remains $33 per barrel, assuming that the total demand of crude will be 112.83 mt with the indigenous production at 30 mt. Can the country bear an additional cash outflow of $19 billion annually (the total foreign exchange reserve is $29 billion)? Ours is a sleeping nation. The increase in the oil import bill by Rs 33,000 crore last year itself, in my opinion, was the most devastating news. A rise of another Rs 20,000 crore is still most pernicious to the nation’s economy. Still there is no noise either in Parliament or outside.


Pension & income tax payees

All those who pay income tax are supposed to be the earning members of society, and contribute to the government’s finances with the sweat of their brow. They continue to do it either willingly or otherwise until they remain fit for the work they are engaged in.

But what happens when they cease to be the earning members or are rendered jobless due to one reason or other? Will the Income Tax Department pay unemployment allowance or old age pension to them? Has the Finance Ministry ever thought of making such a provision in the system?

In case the Finance Ministry makes such a provision, the number of income tax payees may increase substantially.


J & K dialogue unavoidable

I read Mr Salman Haider’s “Indo-Pak dialogue: clogged lines of communication”         (August 28) and feel that chances of an Indo-Pak dialogue on the vexed Kashmir issue are dim. Yet the communication lines have to be unclogged. With a number of resolutions on record in the United Nations, Kashmir cannot be viewed as just a domestic problem like the one in Punjab and in the North-East. It is nearly an international problem and has to be tackled as such.

The Central government must talk in a calm and cool manner even when the Pakistani plants — the Hizbul Mujahideen, the Hurriyat, the Lashkar-e-Toijaba etc — insist on that country’s participation. Pakistan, the militants’ mentor, may be associated with the talks provided it stops the export of terrorism from across the border.

There is hardly any sense in taking to “hot pursuit” as suggested by the RSS. To the RSS, Kashmir is a piece of real estate. They do not care about the people of Kashmir, their history or their future , their fears, their sufferings and the fact that 30,000 misguided youth have died for “azadi”.

Now more seeds of discord have been sown. Dr Farooq Abdullah enjoys little credibility and Prime Minister Vajpayee, undeservedly, may be clubbed with him. The few voices of moderation will be stiffled. The Hurriyat would reject talks and more youth will take up militancy.

What is the way out of this ugly scenario? More autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir ? The demand for autonomy has many kinds. The DMK, the Akali Dal and the AGP have their own versions. All states, not only J & K, deserve and need more autonomy. The Centre has always been only too big, too interfering and too indifferent to the needs of the states.


Clinton’s preachings

Ironically, the very day US President Bill Clinton, while addressing the Nigerian National Assembly, was telling his hosts that “ethnic and religious differences were a source of strength rather than conflict” (Reuters, datelined Abuja, Nigeria, August 27), back home in Washington, King Jr, the son of the world famous slain African-American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, was appealing to the Clinton to put an end to the “pattern of police brutality on racial profiling” and other obstacles being faced by the minorities in the USA “at banks, in employment lines and in the court-rooms”.

This reminds me of an early nineteenth century British Prime Minister of whom it used to be said that he was a liberal abroad and a conservative at home. It seems the description suits Mr Clinton admirably. What you cannot or will not do in your own backyard, you start preaching others.



Congress poll row

The appointment of District Returning Officers (DROs) and Assistant Returning Officers (AROs) for the impending organisational poll of the Congress party in Himachal Pradesh has kicked up a row among the party leaders/workers in the state. It is widely alleged that the appointments in question have been made with group considerations in mind.

Given free and fair election, a DRO/ARO should be immaterial for the fate of a candidate. However, past experience in the matter shows that in the so-called party poll the voters at large seldom play an active role. Generally speaking, the poll is manipulated through DROs/AROs who, in a bid to please their mentors, brazenly and without the least compunction, reduce the exercise to a veritable farce.

Unless party president Sonia Gandhi rises to the occasion and orders recasting of the accursed lists so as to include neutral/impartial DROs/AROs, history is likely to repeat itself with a vengeance, further weakening the Congress in the bargain.

Ambota (Una)

Holiday resorts in trouble

With reference to the write-up “PTDC to close holiday home” (August 22), it is sad that the PTDC has not been able to handle a cow which otherwise yields much milk to better managements. Instead of growing, this club of just six locations is now sought to be further shrunk even after 14 years of operations.

I have had personal experience of the inept manner of functioning of PTDC resorts. In my letter to its M.D. in 1997 (which remained unacknowledged to this day) I had tried to wake up the management by pointing out the lack of even basic amenities at some of its resorts, but to no avail.

I wrote “... the A.C. did not function, electrical fittings had no bulbs, doors were without latches and the carpet on the floor was ragged, patchy and foul smelling. Curtains hung loose. One of the receptionists was too busy discussing personal affairs on the telephone — unmindful of the guests waiting for his attention.”

This was at Hoshiarpur.

Again, about another resort at Shimla’s Everest Holiday Resort, conditions were even worse. After climbing steep, narrow, tricky and exhausting stairs, the reception was found without attendants for nearly half an hour. They had to be fetched personally from the top floor for checking in. Here also electrical fittings were not complete. The towel for the bathroom had to be requested for. There was unavailability of even soap. Catering was not available — not even breakfast or a cup of tea in the morning. The manager was not available and attendants had often to be looked for on other floors.

If this is the way how holiday resorts (or for that matter any other public place) are managed, then nobody can help the PTDC.



Home | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Editorial |
Business | Sport | World | Mailbag | In Spotlight | Chandigarh Tribune | Ludhiana Tribune
50 years of Independence | Tercentenary Celebrations |
120 Years of Trust | Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |