New Delhi: Slammed over a proposal to shut petrol pumps at night to taper fuel demand, Oil Minister M Veerappa Moily Monday beat a hasty retreat, saying there is no move to limit petrol and diesel sales at retail outlets.
Moily, who over the weekend had indicated that austerity measures, including a night curfew at petrol pumps, are being considered, said his ministry is planning to launch a massive conservation drive from September 16 to cut oil imports.
"We have already made it very clear it is not our idea. It is an idea which is coming from public and others. We have not accepted those suggestions. There is no proposal before us to close down petrol pumps from 8 pm in the evening to 8 am," he told reporters here.
Despite the challenging geo-political situation that has affected global oil prices, the government is geared up to continuous supply of auto and cooking fuels, he said.
"No decision will be taken to keep petrol pumps dry in any part of the country," he said.
Asked if he had done a u-turn because the proposal was widely criticised, he said, "When we have not conceived any such proposal, there is no question of backtracking."
Opposition parties had poured scorn on the proposal, saying it was tantamount to imposing economic emergency.
Shutting petrol pumps at night was an idea mooted ahead of the ministry's plan to launch the massive fuel conservation drive to cut fuel demand by 3 percent and save an estimated Rs 16,000 crore or USD 2.5 billion in forex outgo.
The Oil Ministry also issued a press statement saying, "There is no proposal under consideration of the Government to allow sale of petroleum products from the retail outlets (petrol pumps) only during certain hours."
Moily said he wants to make the people aware that the country imports 80 percent of its oil needs and fuel should be conserved because the country cannot afford to keep shelling out USD 170 billion year after year.
"We are coming with a mega conservation campaign, which will be launched on September 16. Before that, we are considering ideas about how this can be done. If BJP has some brilliant idea, they are most welcome to send it to us. We will certainly consider it," Moily said.
"We are toying with the ideas (on conserving fuel) that have come to us. That doesn't mean we have accepted them or are enforcing shutdowns," he said.
Moily wants to trim the oil import bill to help narrow the current account deficit, which is the excess of a country's imports of goods, services and transfers over all exports. The depreciation of the rupee since last year has increased the cost of oil imports.
"If we are successful in cutting the import bill by up to USD 25 billion, I would be contributing 1 percent of the GDP," he said.
The minister said the Petroleum Conservation and Research Association under his ministry will launch the six-week campaign aimed at saving petrol, diesel and LPG.
Moily had written a detailed note to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on shaving off up to USD 20 billion of the USD 144.3 billion oil import bill of 2012-13.
The August 30 note, which does not talk of shutting petrol pumps at night, provides details of the conservation campaign and a plan to cut the import bill by purchasing oil from Iran, which can be paid for in rupees as the US and western sanctions have blocked other payment routes.
Moily said many austerity measures are being planned and urged the people to save fuel.