Criticising the Narendra Modi government over its “callous negligence” on the issue of price rise, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram today demanded that the Centre should immediately announce a substantial reduction in prices of petrol, diesel and LPG, review import duties and reduce GST rates on goods that are mass-consumed.
Chidambaram, addressing a briefing at the AICC headquarters in Delhi, said the NDA government has continued to pretend that the concern about price rise is a false concern. “The Congress party condemns the callous negligence of the government on the issue of price rise,” he said.
The former finance minister said the issue of inflation will be raised by the opposition parties in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. He said the Congress will demand a full discussion on the subject as well as substantial relief for the people in the forthcoming session.
He pointed out that while consumer price inflation has breached the upper limit of six per cent and is at 6.26 per cent, core inflation has moved up in a month from 5.5 per cent to 5.8 per cent.
“Will the government please tell the people what they should eat, how they should light their homes and how they should go to work?” Chidambaram said. He noted that inflation, even in a normal time, would be intolerable, and is affecting people more at this juncture because the pandemic has resulted in jobs being axed and incomes being cut.
“In such a situation of widespread distress, inflation has broken the back of the people, and we hold the central government under Shri Narendra Modi directly responsible for the high inflation,” he said, also accusing the government of exploiting the helplessness of the people.
He also noted that the inflation has not been caused by a spurt in demand or by excess liquidity or too much money in the hands of the people, but by the “wrong policies of the government and its inept management of the economy”.
He said the sole reason for the “exorbitant prices” of petroleum products is the levy of cesses by the government. “When crude oil price was USD 125, the UPA government was able to provide petrol at Rs 65 a litre and diesel at Rs 44 a litre,” he said, adding that the total cesses levied by the present government on petrol and diesel are Rs 33 per litre and Rs 32 per litre, respectively. “Through these cesses alone the central government collects approximately Rs 4.2 lakh crore every year and keeps all that money to itself,” he said and described it as “exploitation and greed of the worst kind”.
Chidambaram held the Prime Minister mainly responsible for the price rise, saying that all decisions are taken by him and it is immaterial as to who is the finance minister. Taking a dig at the Modi government, he said that amongst Modi’s cabinet colleagues, only Nitin Gadkari has the courage to raise his voice. “But even he is muted now. He should unmute himself.”
On the issue of COVID-19 vaccine supply, Chidambaram said the government’s claim that there are enough vaccines is false and its assessment of vaccine availability is exaggerated. He said the former Health Minister Harshvardhan was not in sync with the people’s requirements, choosing to be “his master’s voice” and was ultimately made the fall guy. He said he expected the new health minister to be more forthcoming about actual figures of production, import and supply of vaccines.