UPA allies force govt to hold back on LPG issue

A meeting of EGoM headed by Finance Minister on limiting the supply of subsidised LPG was deferred at the last minute.

New Delhi: UPA`s major constituents -- Trinamool Congress and DMK – on Friday forced the government to hold back any moves to cut back on supply of subsidised LPG even as they joined opposition parties in criticising the hike in petrol price and demanded its roll back.

A meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on limiting the supply of subsidised LPG was deferred at the last minute after objections from Trinamool Congress and DMK.

Official sources said the meeting was called off "due to non-availability" of certain members of the panel and no new dates have been notified.

The EGoM was to consider limiting the supply of subsidised LPG cylinders to 4-6 per household in a year to cut down the government`s subsidy outgo by over Rs 12,000 crore.

This could have led to the price of non-subsidised gas cylinders pegged at over Rs 700 per cylinder.

DMK leader and Fertiliser Minister MK Azhagiri decided not to attend the meeting to show his party`s opposition to the proposal, DMK sources said.

Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Trivedi dismissed reports that he was not willing to attend the meeting saying actually it would have given him an opportunity to put forward his party`s opposition to it.

On yesterday`s decision to increase the price of petrol by Rs three, Trivedi said the party wants it to be rolled back.

Stating that the hike would put an additional burden on the common man, Trivedi strongly opposed the possible hike in LPG prices. "It is not a luxury but an essential for common man and should not be raised further," he told reporters.

Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee conveyed her opposition to the hike when she met Union Minister Ambika Soni in Kolkata.

"This morning when I met the Chief Minister, she expressed the concern of her party and herself over the increase in prices of petrol. She asked me to convey her party`s views on the issue to the Prime Minister and I said I will do it," Soni told reporters in Kolkata.

The Union Minister, however, added that the Congress party was equally concerned over the issue of prices and that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was himself extremely sensitive to the issue.

DMK, the second largest ally of the Congress in Centre, also demanded the rollback of petrol prices.

"The hike in petrol prices will affect the lower and middle income groups and the poor. Government should not reduce the subsidy. The increase would have a cascading effect," DMK party spokesman TKS Elangovan said in Chennai.

He also opposed any moves to introduce dual pricing of gas.

Opposition parties BJP and CPI(M) attacked the government on petrol price hike and demanded its immediate withdrawal. "Congress allies should stop merely criticising the price increase. They should also force the government to withdraw the hike," BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain told reporters.

On the proposal for increasing cooking gas prices, he said it had already gone up Rs 50 per cylinder and if it is further increased, the party would oppose in Parliament and on the streets. He maintained that the government`s economic
policies have failed.

CPI(M) termed the government`s move to hike petrol prices as "callous" and demanded immediate roll back of the hike and restoration of the administrative regulation of petrol pricing. The party Politburo said this was the third increase this year which "comes at a time when inflation is touching double digits and the people have no respite from the price rise of essential commodities. This callous move will only have a cascading effect on inflation and price rise."

“The people can see that the Congress-led government is itself responsible for stoking price rise and inflation by such measures," the CPI(M) said.

Party General Secretary Prakash Karat said the repeated increases in petrol prices "shows how callous the UPA government has become".

"The deregulation of petrol prices is already having a cascading effect while the UPA government has been consistently refusing to rationalise the tax structure on petroleum prices," he said.

On the hike in petrol price, Mukherjee said the decision was taken by oil companies.

"So far petrol price is concerned, petrol has been deregulated. It is oil marketing companies` review," he said. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, however, saw the decision to raise petrol price in a different light.

"What has happened (fuel price hike)... on that front it is a good news. I regard that as a vindication...(and) an increase in credibility of basic part of the reforms strategy," Ahluwalia told reporters here.


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