Oily Govt fleeces people

The Narendra Modi regime has exhibited remarkable avarice, duplicity, and brazenness in the area of fuel prices. The retail price of petrol soared by Rs 6 in the last month, almost 10 per cent increase. This has resulted in a three-year high in retail prices. Even as global crude oil prices have persistently remained low since Modi’s ascension, his government has relentlessly squeezed money from the pockets of common people by keep the retail prices high. The shamelessness continues: Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has refused to reduce the high tax burden the consumer faces.

That the government has chosen to fatten its kitty on the crash of global crude in the last three years is an indisputable fact. The Prime Minister keeps telling the world that he cares for the poor, the man on the street, etc.—his government, however, fleeces the people. A news story of Livemint (August 30) points out that “the ratio of prices of petrol to crude, which was well under 2 during the UPA years, hit a high of 5 in early 2016. The number has now stabilized at around 3.3.” So much for achhe din.

In June, public sector oil companies discarded the 15-year-old practice of revising fuel rates on the 1st and 16th of every month; they shifted to daily price revision. There was a drop in the first fortnight. But since July 3 there has been a steady rise in petrol and diesel prices. The result is that since August 2014 petrol prices have gone up by Rs 6.08 a litre in Delhi and diesel prices by Rs 3.65. But the government’s greed for revenue from petroleum products is unabated. As Pradhan said, the “situation has not come where we should relook at tax structure.”

It is not that the government is just relentlessly fleecing the people; it is also being duplicitous in the extreme. It ordered that any reduction in the goods and services tax had to be passed on to the consumer. For this purpose, it even set up the National Anti-Profiteering Authority (Napa)—whose very existence is the negation of what economic reforms are all about. The GST Act says, “Any reduction in rate of tax on any supply of goods or services or the benefit of input tax credit shall be passed on to the recipient by way of commensurate reduction in prices.” Otherwise, the Napa will act against them. The penalties range from fines to the shutting down of the enterprise.

But from the government’s perspective what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander. So while the private enterprise is prohibited to benefit even minutely from the new tax regime, the government and the companies under it can profiteer to the extent of lakhs of crore—and they have in the last three years.

In a television debate on Thursday, a ruling party representative, when accosted, had the cheek to assert that the huge revenues earned by the government are used to improve the country’s physical and social infrastructure. Perhaps like Mumbai’s and Delhi’s drainage system! And Gorakhpur’s hospitals!

For how long will the Modi government continue to fool the people of India?