New Delhi, May 25: The government Friday refused to immediately rollback the sharply hiked petrol prices but promised to take a definitive view soon under pressure from the opposition and even allies.
With the Trinamool Congress and DMK, which are in the government, and the friendly Samajwadi Party seething with anger, Petroleum Minister S. Jaipal Reddy said the government was “conscious of a sense of disturbance among consumers after the petrol price hike”.
“All political parties including my own party (Congress) are populist… (but) we cannot run the country on populist sentiments,” the minister told the media after cutting short his visit to Turkmenistan.
“I will come back to you with a definitive view in a few days,” he added.
Reddy’s comments, two days after state-run oil companies hiked petrol prices by an unprecedented Rs.7.54 a litre, failed to dampen the anger in the opposition and allied ranks as well as the middle class.
In Kolkata, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee took the unprecedented decision of leading a procession of supporters Saturday demanding a rollback.
This is the third hike in petrol prices in a year.
On Thursday, thousands of Trinamool activists marched through Kolkata, the protest led by Railway Minister Mukul Roy.
Another key ally, the DMK, has vowed to hold protests in Tamil Nadu May 30. The Samajwadi Party, which gives legislative support to the government, has called for a strike in Uttar Pradesh May 31.
The Samajwadi protest will coincide with a day-long all-India shutdown called by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Left parties and Odisha’s ruling Biju Janata Dal.
Sensing the national mood, Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said Friday: “The petrol price hike has burdened the common man. We hope the government will find a way to reduce this burden.
“It was not a political decision,” he added.
Reddy, who discussed the issue with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, said he would consult state governments to explore if taxes could be cut to reduce the petrol price.
He insisted that the decision to hike the price was taken by the oil marketing companies and the government was not involved in it.
Reddy blamed global developments for the problems in the oil sector. “This is a national problem created by global developments.”
He said the oil sector in India was confronting a double disaster: a sharp decline in the value of the rupee and rise in crude oil prices in the international market.
The rupee hit a record low of 56.40 against a dollar this week. It has depreciated by almost 12 percent since the beginning of this financial year.