West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been finding novel ways to drive home the LPG price hike issue in the state.
Days after she hit the road with thousands of women in Siliguri to protest the steep rise in prices of LPG cylinders and fuel, Trinamool candidates and leaders carried out protests across the state on this issue.
Price of domestic cooking gas, LPG, has doubled to Rs 819 per cylinder in the last seven years, Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha.
Pradhan said the retail selling price of domestic gas was Rs 410.5 per 14.2-kg cylinder on March 1, 2014. This month, the same cylinder costs Rs 819.
In her speech in Siliguri on Sunday, Banerjee had reminded her audience that the price of LPG cylinders was “about to touch Rs 1,000”. “Those running the country have not made any move so far to arrest the hike. We provide food grains free of cost and, in a similar manner, cylinders should be distributed free among the people,” she said.
On Monday, state fisheries minister Chandranath Sinha, who is the Trinamool candidate from Bolpur, rode a bullock cart as part of a protest march in the town. The minister wore a poster of a cylinder on his chest asking people to protest against the BJP’s policy to raise the price of an LPG cylinder to Rs 845.
Small price hikes over the past couple of years have eliminated subsidy on cooking gas as well as PDS kerosene.
Meanwhile, Pradhan in the Parliament said the price of domestic subsidised LPG has been raised during the last few months. It cost Rs 594 per cylinder in December 2020 and now is priced at Rs 819. Similarly, kerosene sold to the poor through the public distribution system (PDS) has risen from Rs 14.96 per litre in March 2014 to Rs 35.35 this month.
In Howrah’s Uluberia, around 50 women led by Trinamool district president and party’s Uluberia South MLA Pulak Roy protested against the LPG cylinder price rise by cooking on wood-fired ovens.
Petrol and diesel prices too are at an all-time high across the country. The rates, which vary from state to state depending on local sales tax (VAT), are currently at Rs 91.17 a litre for petrol and Rs 81.47 for diesel in Delhi.
With taxes accounting for the bulk of the retail selling price of petrol and diesel, the minister said tax collected on the two fuels was Rs 52,537 crore in 2013, which rose to Rs 2.13 lakh crore in 2019-20 and swelled further to Rs 2.94 lakh crore in the first 11 months of current fiscal year.
The government currently levies Rs 32.90 per litre excise duty on petrol and Rs 31.80 a litre on diesel, he said adding that excise duty on petrol was Rs 17.98 a litre in 2018 and Rs 13.83 on diesel. The central government’s total excise collection from petrol, diesel, ATF, natural gas and crude oil has increased from Rs 2.37 lakh crore in 2016-17 to Rs 3.01 lakh crore during April-January 2020-21.
Between November 2014 and January 2016, the government had raised excise duty on petrol and diesel on nine occasions to take away gains arising from plummeting global oil prices. In all, the duty on petrol rate was hiked by Rs 11.77 per litre and that on diesel by Rs 13.47 a litre in those 15 months.
The government had cut excise duty by Rs 2 in October 2017, and by Rs 1.50 a year later. But, it raised excise duty by Rs 2 per litre in July 2019. It again raised excise duty in March 2020, by Rs 3 per litre each. In May that year, the government hiked excise duty on petrol by Rs 10 per litre and on diesel by Rs 13 a litre.