It’s time India bites the diesel bullet
“81 rupees?” asked an astonished TV anchor when an irate Bengaluru-based consumer called in after the recent 7.5-rupee hike in petrol prices. Perhaps cars that run on milk are now needed, the anchor suggested — when the caller said the dairy product costs around 30 rupees a litre.
While milk-powered automobiles might be a distant dream, the reality remains that those relying on petrol vehicles will now need to do their budgeting again. If a falling rupee and high inflation were not enough, this steepest-ever rise in petrol prices will surely pinch.
The fact remains that petrol prices were decontrolled way back in June 2010. That move gave oil marketing companies (OMCs) freedom to revise prices and also gave the government some saving grace as ministers can now easily say that petrol prices are market driven.
Though the government cannot be blamed for this hike on paper, they do manage to influence OMC decisions. That is indicated by the fact that this hike comes after state elections and a day after the parliament’s budget session got over.
However, it is tough to understand why the government would allow OMCs to raise petrol prices, given the move will not help improve the fiscal situation as the government doesn’t subsidise petrol. It is the subsidy burden of other fuels that strains the government’s finances.
What was perhaps more needed at this stage was a revision or decontrol of other fuel prices, which could help boost the already weak economic sentiment.
But a decision to revise other fuel prices such as diesel comes with the increased risk of a political backlash given the fuel accounts for over 40 percent of India’s refined products consumption. The move will also hurt inflation in the near term.
The government perhaps knows by now that they will be criticised for every fuel price hike, irrespective of the fact whether the commodity price is controlled or decontrolled.
It is up to them now to bite the bullet of diesel price hike or decontrol, digest that criticism and send a strong signal that they are seriously considering improving the fiscal condition.
(Follow Aditya Kalra on Twitter at @adityayk )