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Left trade unions on nationwide protest Oct 13 against oil price hike

By Ajit Sahi, India Abroad News Service, Saturday 7 October 2000, 8:25 PM

New Delhi, Oct 7 - Leading trade unions of the Left have announced a nationwide protest on October 13 against the hike in prices of petroleum products effected by the federal government last week.

"The hike was most unreasonable as it was made at a time when international oil prices had peaked and were about to fall," Communist Party of India general secretary A. B. Bardhan told IANS here Saturday. "Our protest is against the government's placing an unnecessary burden on the people," he added.

The protest action was announced despite Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee assuring an alliance partner just the previous day that he would take another look at the price increases in about two weeks.

Apart from the CPI-backed All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), others party to the stir include the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), affiliated with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), and the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS).

The unions would hold public rallies and also take out processions that day to protest against the hike in the prices of petrol, diesel, kerosene and cooking gas. But they do not plan to submit any memorandum to the government to press for a rollback, Bardhan said.

"International prices of oil had reached $30 dollars a barrel when the government announced the hike. But since then, they have fallen and are likely to stabilize around $ 26-27 a barrel. In this situation, the government's move was totally unwarranted," Bardhan added.

The CPI leader also said most of the states topped the basic price of the various petroleum products with a substantial sales tax, making them a very expensive proposition for the consumers.

"May be the states can be asked to reduce the sales tax to bring the prices down without affecting its efforts to reduce the oil pool deficit," Bardhan added.

Petroleum Minister Ram Naik raised the prices across-the-board September 29 to reduce a ballooning deficit in the government's oil budget, called the oil pool account, by Rs. 120 billion, almost half of its total deficit. Retail prices of petrol thus rose by around Rs. 2.75 per liter and of diesel by about Rs. 2.50.

Apart from a dissenting view by the Trinamool Congress, whose president, Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee resigned demanding a rollback, the other members of the federal coalition of the National Democratic alliance (NDA), did not protest the decision.

Even Banerjee withdrew her resignation Friday as Prime Minister Vajpayee assured her of a "relook" at the hike once he returned from Mumbai, after his knee operation, two weeks later.

The Left unions' stir would be the first public protest against the move throughout India since the price hike.