Adding fuel to fire, protests triggered in Punjab

Chandigarh, October 11: Adding fuel to fire over the simmering discontentment on the issue of comparatively higher petrol and diesel prices in Punjab than neighbouring States, the farmers, transporters and petrol pump dealers have hopped on the protest wagon before setting a month’s deadline for the Punjab Government to bring down the VAT rates — highest in this part of the country.

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The ultimatum, accompanied by massive protest warning, came as the state continued to apply brakes on any move to bring down the prices. On the other hand, the Punjab Government is yet to arrive at any decision regarding bringing down the fuel prices after the Centre reduced Rs 2.50 on both petrol and diesel, and appealed the states to follow its footsteps.

Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh was earlier scheduled to meet the Finance and Excise-Taxation Departments to decide upon bringing down the fuel prices, its ramifications and other aspects has been deferred twice in two days. The next date of meeting is yet to be decided.

Coming together on a common platform, the representatives of state’s petrol pump dealers, farmers and transporters held a meeting on the issue of rising prices of petrol and diesel in Punjab, asking the State Government to bring down VAT rates at par with the neighbouring states.

As per Tuesday’s prices, petrol is Rs 10.63 per litre and Rs 7.79 per litre expensive in Punjab at Rs 88.35 as compared to Chandigarh and Haryana respectively. As far as diesel is concerned, it is Rs 3.96 per litre and Rs 1.87 per litre costly in Punjab at Rs 74.75 as compared to Chandigarh and Haryana respectively.

In Punjab, the current rate of VAT on diesel is 17.25 percent, and 36.85 percent on petrol — highest among the northern states.

Only recently, the Central Government had reduced fuel prices by Rs 2.50 per litre, followed by similar reduction in VAT by several states, including Haryana, Himachal, Jammu and Kashmir, Chandigarh, Rajasthan — all sharing borders with Punjab.

Setting the deadline, Bharti Kisan Union (BKU) president Balbir Singh Rajewal pointed that maximum 35 percent of total consumption of diesel is done by the farmers for farming or irrigation purposes, transportation of produce from villages to cities, generation of power, harvesting of produce, among other things.

“And now with the National Green Tribunal’s orders against burning the paddy stubble, the cost of production per acre would go up by Rs 3,000 due to extra consumption of diesel,” he said.

“Farmers, who are the biggest consumers of diesel in Punjab, have to pay up to Rs 3.96 per litre extra as compared to their counterparts in Chandigarh, Haryana and other states which would put an extra burden on their already meagre finances,” he added.

Mohali District Petroleum Dealers’ Association president Ashwinder Singh Mongia said that the massive rate difference in prices of petrol and diesel of Punjab with neighbouring states is leading to flight of consumers resulting in reduction of volumes and revenue of Punjab.

He said that Punjab’s petrol pumps are losing its sales to other states resulting in gain in revenue to the other states and colossal loss of revenue to Punjab Government. About 1200 petrol pumps are situated in border areas and highways adjoining other states.

“These petrol pump owners are suffering huge losses, and in current scenario, they would soon meet their end if immediate steps are not taken. It is do or die situation for Punjab’s petroleum trade,” he said.

He said that huge price differential in prices of petrol and diesel is encouraging illegal activities like smuggling leading to loss of revenue for Punjab Government too.

Mongia added that bulk diesel consumers like the farmers, transporters, industry “have and would shift their purchases to Chandigarh or neighbouring states and the borders are so vast that it is practically impossible to control the trade shift”.

Citing figures, he said that till 2008, prices and taxes on diesel in Punjab were lowest in the entire country and the farmers and common man were being benefited with Punjab ranking above in sales and revenue from the two products.

“However, from 2008 to July 2015, the Government gradually increased the taxes on diesel from 8.8 percent in 2008 to 17 percent in July 2018…with this, Government’s revenue from petroleum products also increased at a steady rate from 2013-2017 which was 72 percent mainly due to steady increase in VAT,” he said.

Mongia further pointed that the revenue collection in 2017-18 witnessed a dip by Rs 175 crores “due to decrease in consumption by 10.5 percent as compared to 2016-17 despite steady increase in petroleum prices over the year which have increase by Rs 19.24 in diesel and Rs 17.86 in petrol”.

Source Daily Pioneer

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