Blaming the states for fuel price rise tootext_fields
The remarks made by the Prime minister about the rise of fuel prices at the meeting of chief ministers convened in the context of resurfacing Covid infections, were quite unbecoming of a person in his position. The rise in fuel prices and consequent surge in prices of essential commodities are throwing people's lives across the country out of gear. And their protest against it are getting aired too. What a responsible government has to to do in such a context is to take steps to check the price rise. But there are no signs of any moves in that direction by the Central government. Instead there are ministers who ascribe different reasons with their own individual sophistry. It is amidst this that the prime minister made his statement putting the blame on the states. The comments he made are inappropriate in several ways. First, he broached the subject of fuel prices, quite unrelated to the subject of Covid prevention measures for which it was specifically convened. The PM said that certain states are not doing anything to arrest the rise in fuel prices, pointing an accusative finger specifically at the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Jharkhand. The common factor of these states is that they are all ruled by non-BJP parties. And that is the second impropriety of a prime minister making comments with a political tinge at an official meeting.
The third factor is the extent of factual correctness in what the prime minister said. Right on Wednesday, the states that he mentioned came out against the prime minister's remarks. Kerala finance minister KN Balagopal held a news conference highlighting the factual errors in what the PM said. The chief ministers of Maharashtra and West Bengal also retorted to the comments on Wednesday itself. Chief minister of Kerala Pinarayi posted a Facebook note on Thursday answering the prime minister's allegations in detail. Kerala has not increased the fuel levies for the last six years. Balagopal was asking how something that was not hiked could be reduced. The reason for higher petroleum product prices is the increase made by the Centre in the cess and surcharge levied on them - two components in which the states have no role. And further, the Centre does not part with the states the revenue from those components. Since 2014, the central government has increased levies on petroleum products 14 times; and surcharge and cess come on top of that. Thus the ratio of Centre's revenue from surcharges and cess has risen to 15 per cent of its income. As per the Constitution, revenue so generated need not be shared with states. If the prime minister still states that the reason for fuel price rise is the states not reducing taxes, that is strange.
There is a political dimension behind this: the BJP policy to end the financial self-sufficiency of the states. They have come past the first step for that by implementing the Goods and Services Tax (GST). This put the states in a situation whereby they cannot raise their own revenues and have to show the begging bowl to the Centre for any income. In addition, the Centre has been making inordinate delay in passing the states' share of GST too. It is on top of all this that the blame for higher prices is also being put on the states. It is a fact that the unbridled surge in fuel prices and the resultant rise in prices of essential commodities has severely affected people's lives. Life of the common man is being squeezed to a large degree. A stagnation is also visible in production and industrial sectors. But the Central government, and the ruling BJP are convinced that none of this will affect it politically. They have mastered through experience certain other means of winning elections. They hope that whipping up anti-Muslim hatred and inciting communal sentiments will make the majority community forget factors like price rise; and they have achieved success in this path too. That being so, who should they be answerable to about shooting fuel prices?