Actually, the petrol price increase raises two other issues. One, we can expect to finally see the extent of the increase pared down by Rs 2-3 per litre. The protests from allies has already started acquiring a high decibel level. By Wednesday evening, both Mamata Banerjee and Karunanidhi had voiced their displeasure over the increase. SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, who is being courted assiduously by Congress as a counter-weight to Didi, also expressed his opposition to the price hike. Ditto for RJD’s Laloo Prasad Yadav. So, once all these protests reach a crescendo, and acquire some kind of a shrill heft, we might expect to see the Congress top brass relenting and “rolling back” the hike partially. My bet? By Rs 2-3 per litre.
Even The Economic Times is betting that the price rise might finally be tempered somewhat (read here), though for a different reason. Their take: oil prices in the Singapore bulk market have been cooling off a bit.
But, ironically, BJP and CPI(M) have been misleading the public from every forum. By the way, isn’t it strange how the right and left get into bed conveniently when they want to squeeze out the centre? Their beef: petrol price hike has a cascading effect and is likely to have a spiralling impact on inflation. That’s a load of nonsense. Here’s why. Petrol has a negligible weightage (1.09%) in the wholesale price index and its ability, therefore, to bump up headline inflation remains marginal. Also, bulk goods movement –such as essential commodities — are moved by modes of transport that use diesel as fuel (think trucks) and not petrol.
Are there any reasons to protest against the petrol price increase? Of course, shiploads of reasons to crib about the price rise, but certainly not on account of its impact on headline inflation. The current hike comes on top of the existing inflationary pressures weighing down the middle class. And, this current episode of high inflation and inflationary expectations has its roots in the survival strategy crafted by the government in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial freeze, but let it stay on for far too long. In short, this lifeline to the economy should have been withdrawn much earlier. Plus, of course, the government has been loath to either cut down on wasteful subsidies, or re-align its expenditure strategy which is actually ending up further fuelling inflation. And, let’s not even get started on this business about governance deficit. So, of course there’s plenty to cry about, but not because a petrol price increase will lead to inflationary pressures as the voices from the right and left are asserting.
The government should have increased prices of diesel along with petrol prices if it really wanted to bring down the current account deficit and stabilise the rupee value. A diesel price hike might certainly be seen as inflationary, but at least these high prices would’ve curbed demand for the commodity. In return, it might have squeezed the import bill a bit, checked the runaway current account deficit and pulled up the falling rupee.
It is well known that fuel prices needed to be increased, and even the Reserve Bank governor’s statements have alluded to the fact about how domestic fuel prices lagging international prices does lead to a build-up of inflationary expectations.
But, guess why diesel prices cannot be increased immediately, though news reports suggest the government will be meeting tomorrow to consider the possibility? The answer: it’s summer in this part of the world and, with kharif sowing to begin soon (in the next 30-45 days), pols can’t afford to get farmers cross about high diesel prices. In many parts of the country, farmers will need to run their pumps at full tilt, even though we’ve been told to expect a normal monsoon.
If there was any reason to carp, the grouse should have been why the government didn’t spend on improving irrigation infrastructure in the 60 years since Independence. And guess what MPs and MLAs are mostly concerned about? Getting a red beacon on their cars!