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Fuel price hike rocks Cabinet
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, July 2
Under public attack from their allies for raising petrol and diesel prices, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee sought to mollify them by explaining the compulsions, which led the government to take this “unavoidable” decision when this issue cropped up at the Union Cabinet meeting this evening.

The matter was raised by Trinamul Congress leader and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and DMK ministers, who felt that the hike was far too high and that it would have serious poliitcal repurcussions.

Earlier in the day, the two UPA allies had joined the other parties, including the Left parties, in attacking the UPA government in the Lok Sabha for effecting such a steep hike and demanded a rollback. Mamata , who is waging a successful battle against the Left front government in West Bengal, is particularly worried on this score as she feels that any such unpopular decision could give an edge to her political opponents.

Realising the importance of the Trinamul Congress leader, whose 19 MPs constitute the largest block in the ruling combine, the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Home Minister P Chidambaram gave a detailed explanation for the government’s decision to raise the price of petrol by Rs 4 a litre and diesel by Rs 2.

Both Manmohan Singh and Mukherjee said the spiralling international crude prices had left them with little choice but to resort to such a tough measure. Any further delay, it was pointed out, would have done irreparable damage to the oil companies which are finding it difficult to sustain themselves. Placing all the facts and figures on this issue before the Cabinet , the two leaders said nothing prevented the state governments from reducing the sales tax on the increased price in order to lessen the burden on the common man.

Chidambaram, who was also called upon to take similar tough decisions in his earlier avatar as the Finance Minister, pointed out that the hike in fuel prices would have been much steeper if the government had put off this decision now. He recalled the earlier occasions when the government had even reduced the prices by a whopping amount of Rs 10 when global crude prices had declined.UPA sources said the two allies appeared to have been convinced with the explanations.

The UPA partners were also upset that they were not consulted before the official announcement.



LS on the boil over fuel price hike
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 2
On the boil following fuel price hike announced by the government late last evening, the opposition today forced four adjournments of the Lok Sabha, steering it back to old times and giving Speaker Meira Kumar the first taste of House proceedings.

While she kept shouting, “Kripya baith jaiye (please sit down)”, almost all day, the opposition remained unrelenting in its demand of a rollback of petrol and diesel prices. They had for company both the UPA allies, the TMC and DMK, who urged the UPA to reconsider its decision, with DMK’s T.R. Baalu going an extra mile to remind the government of its collective responsibility.

“It is an alarming situation where a coalition government headed by Dr Manmohan Singh and supported by us has imposed such a major decision on the people without consulting its allies. I hope this does not recur,” said Baalu, his tone laced with caution.

The DMK even joined issues with the Left, which accused the government of gross parliamentary impropriety for announcing the hike hours before the House was to meet. “The government could have made the announcement in the parliament. This is contempt of the House,” said CPI and CPM leaders Gurudas Dasgupta and Basudeb Acharia, who denounced the move as anti-people. The UPA, however, defended the hike, with Petroleum minister Murli Deora saying it was necessary to offset the impact of global crude price rise.

JDU’s Sharad Yadav threatened to disrupt the House until the rollback happened, while RJD’s Lalu Yadav and SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav put the ball in the court of UPA chief Sonia Gandhi, needling her “wrong advisors”.

Outside the parliament, there were murmurings all day of how the government, with its petrol hike, might just have succeeded in deflecting attention from the controversial Liberhan Commission report, with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee again indicating that it would not be tabled in this session.

Inside the Lok Sabha, however, members kept decibel levels high, with the House united in its demand to get the government to withdraw the hike. The charge was led by CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta.



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