RISE AGAINST LOOT BY DIESEL-PETROL-GAS PRICE RISE

S V Singh //

“Two crore jobs to youth every year, pucca houses to all by 2022, black money worth several lakh crore rupees to be brought back from Swiss banks resulting, eventually, in deposit of Rs.15 lakh to each and every account and no one needs to pay taxes for several years, better medical facilities to all, EK BHARAT SHRESTHA BHARAT..bla bla bla..”  The shrieking words still echo in psyche as the frenzy created before 2014 Lok Sabha polls while these promises were made every day in every meeting that too at deafening ferocious pitch with equally aggressive body language and rhythmic hand-eye movement with superlative performance. Gullible masses, tired of massive corruption during UPA regime and riding on the high tide of nationalistic jingoism, thronged the polling stations in hordes and surprised even the BJP with the election results. Frenzy was at this level that any voice of caution from any quarter that this is a plot hatched by the big ticket Corporate- money to turn to Fascism as a last resort to overcome the terminating crises of the capitalist system loaded with several comorbidities, was ridiculed and jeered. The net outcome of the ‘6 high performing years’ is before the nation. Examination of this ‘performance’ of the ‘nationalistic government’ on the front of petrol-diesel-domestic gas front is the subject matter of this write up.

Crude Oil At Its Lowest, Petrol-Diesel At Its Highest

Quite unbelievable is happening in the volatile world these days. West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the world oil price benchmark fell below zero for the first time in history closing at -$37.63 a barrel on Monday, 27th April 2020. Deadly pandemic novel Covid-19 has turned the world economy upside down and the severity of crises led prices of crude fall into negative!! Markets down, no demand whatsoever and ensuing oil price war among OPEC led by Saudi Arabia, Russia and US resulted in over supply of over 10 million barrels per day throwing the storage capacities haywire, eventually, resulting in unprecedented negative rates which means ‘you take possession of the oil and also take money’!! Can anyone believe this!! And see, what’s happening here in incredible India? Prices of diesel, petrol and cooking gas are rising almost daily. Crude oil price graph of last 74 years makes very interesting reading. Even if we ignore that never before nose drive oil price in April 2020, the average crude oil prices in the international oil market are at unbelievably low levels. “The Indian crude oil basket, consequently plunged to a multi-decade low of just $19.9 per barrel for the month (of May) from $33.36 in March and $64.31 in January”, writes Indian Express. Even then, government justified huge hike in excise duty in the month of May. In case the rulers have succeeded in regimenting the thought process by sustained programming by the cocktail of communalism, fanatic national jingoism and obscurantist non sensical ideas, anything can be justified!! “The king can get it’s failures celebrated if the subjects are stupid” sarcastically commented Harishankar Parasain, a distinguished litterateur and celebrated satirist. This, exactly, is the reason that present government is trying it’s best and investing a lot of resources to keep the toiling masses at that level, away from the hard, cruel reality and they have succeeded in that design to great extent up to now at least. This is the reason why Ram Mandir frenzy is not allowed to subside. This strategy cannot, however, succeed all the times and the rage of the masses will multiply and will get unbearable to the tricksters once masses get awakened and come to know the hard reality, that goes without saying. “No one can fool all the people all the time”. Sometimes it is the tiniest spark that lights the biggest fires. 

We Are Paying The Highest Tax On Fuel In The World

Tax component in diesel petrol prices confirms that present NDA government has made over Rs.14.66 lakh crore during 6 years of its rule by taxing people for diesel and petrol alone while crude oil prices have reached unprecedented low levels. Cost of petrol including ocean freight + refinery processing + refinery margins + OMC margin + freight cost + logistics, ready to be sent to petrol pumps comes to Rs. 32.98 per liter and cost of diesel after similar deductions comes to Rs. 31.83 as on 1st July 2020. Market price exceeds 250% of this. Please see, how the loot goes on:

 Tax in Nov 2014Tax in Aug 2017Tax in July 2020
Excise duty on PetrolRs.9.20 per litreRs.21.48 per litreRs.32.98 per litre
Excise duty on DieselRs.3.46 per litreRs.17.33 per litreRs.31.83 per litre
VAT on basic price on Petrol20%27%30%
VAT on basic price on Diesel12.5%16.75% + 25 paise cess30%

Diesel is a basic fuel and any hike in its price has a certain cascading effect at almost all items consumed by the poor people.  All India Study on Sectorial Demand of Diesel & Petrol provides details of Sector wise diesel consumption  in our country. According to this, sector wise consumption is like this; Goods transport vehicles consume 37.88%, agriculture 13.00%, gen sets 10.51%. Except 13.15% of the total consumption which is the total share of cars and private utility vehicles, all other items of consumption have direct bearing on prices of essential commodities that is the reason we are witnessing continuous surge in price rise across the board. Goods transport and public transport by train, bus, naturally and necessarily follow suit whenever diesel prices are increased even a bit. Here, we witness that the diesel prices have shot up more starkly than even petrol prices. There used to be a gap between diesel and petrol prices of about 12-15 rupees per liter. Both of these are selling at the same price now! 

The cost comparison of these fuel products with even our neighboring countries uncovers the real face of Modi government. How ruthlessly are they fleecing the people they claim to care?

What Our Neighbours PayFor One Litre Of Petrol
PakistanINR 57.83
Sri LankaINR 64.12
NepalINR 68.30
BangladeshINR 73.06

As per India Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISLFTA) -1993, India exports Petroleum products and other items to Sri Lanka at duty free basis. As per information provided under RTI Act 2005, Government of India is exporting refined petrol to 15 countries at Rs. 34.00 while refined diesel is exported to 29 countries at Rs.37.00 per litre. So, government of Sri Lanka is purchasing petrol @Rs.34.00 and diesel @37.00 per litre even than it is sold petrol @64.12 per litre there!!

Resorting to the same OIC (Opportunity In Calamity) Rule, Government snatched an amount of Rs.1.6 lakh crore in a single stroke from the pockets of the common people by hiking excise duty on petroleum products on 6th May 2020 in the thick of the deadly pandemic of Covid-19. It is to be noted here that they had fetched Rs.43000 core by increasing excise duty on 15th March 2020 also. India under Modi, although, claimed to make India a Vishwaguru in economic development, technological advancement, glory and failed miserably on each and every parameter of human development. It is climbing down drastically on every parameter of needs of the toiling masses like hunger, public health etc., eventually, attained number one position in squeezing maximum taxes from the hungry and destitute people by way of tax hike on petroleum products. India has the highest tax on fuel in the whole world. Modi government has increased taxes on fuel five times since it came to power in 2014 and justified the slogan Modi hai to mumkin hai (anything is possible if Modi is there).

Air Turbine Fuel: Government has slashed price of ATF by 23% in accordance to the fall in the rate of crude oil in international market! The fuel used in the airplanes is costing one-third of the price of petrol used in two wheelers!! Poor of India are paying for petrol 3 times more than the rich!! See, how much these ‘nationalists’ care for the poor!! NDA government wholeheartedly cares for those who travel by air. Nation witnessed this during the historic migration too when hungry and destitute migrant workers were marching from one corner of the country to the other on foot and dying on the way while special flights were arranged for those struck up abroad.

Petrol Cess: Since no one in the country is taking any notice of this extortion and people seem to have been ‘digesting’ the shock as they are not coming out on the road to force the government to stop this blatant loot in the name of diesel petrol prices; state governments are also out to hunt and load fuel cess over anything in their command. No one is caring for any other consideration but to fleece the people at whatever rate governments want. For example, Haryana Government is loading Rs.955 over an electricity bill for domestic consumption of Rs.19000.00.

Spiralling Prices Of Cooking Gas

In 2014 when Modi Government usurped power driving the people into dreamland of making India a mighty power to lead humanity to pinnacle of glory. Hungry and destitute people got hypnotized as the claims were orchestrated day and night and marketed via sold out electronic media at high pitch leaving even the Goebbels far behind. When all slipped into slumber, their jobs were emptied. The un-subsidized domestic cooking LPG gas cylinder was costing Rs.220 in Delhi in 2014 when Modi government took oath to ‘serve the nation and uphold the constitution’. BJP government had before that launched several protests in whole of the country against that ‘unbearable’ cost by taking empty cylinders on their head. The same cylinder is now costing a cool Rs.858.5 in Delhi but luckily for BJP, no one is protesting as hysterically as they were doing. Cost of LPG gas cylinder is increased so many times since 2014 that it is not possible to keep track and count the number.  

Protest Mass Movements Against This Brazen Loot

India: ‘Bleed India’: Kochi in Kerala witnessed a unique movement against fuel price hike, very appropriately termed as ‘Bleed India’. “The continuous price hike of petrol and diesel is breaking the back of the common people. Though its impact is visible across every sector, all are silently bearing the pain. Until we mark our dissent, nothing is going to change”, said U. S. Aashin, coordinator of the movement in which people donated blood at 150 blood banks under IMA. All Kerala Wheelchair Rights Federation (AKWRF), an organization of differently abled people too organized a dharna at Rajendra Maidan. Protest movements are taking place across the country in spite of the deadly pandemic of Covid-19 but these are nowhere at the level required to force this insensitive government to roll back the hike in petrol, diesel, gas prices. Modi Government has developed total immunity to such protest movements of public feelings and going ahead unabated with tightening the screw every day pursuing its favorite slogan TCIO ‘Turn Calamity into Opportunity’. There was a massive ‘Tractor March’ in Ludhiana against diesel price hike.

Diesel-Petrol Smuggling Within States

It is not that only the central government alone is looting the people by continuously increasing the VAT on diesel-petrol prices. State government are out to milch the people as much as possible. Petrol pump dealers in Punjab are going on strike on 29th July. They demand that Punjab government has levied more VAT than neighboring states resulting in smuggling of diesel and petrol from low tax states into Punjab. It is virtually free for all, squeeze as much as you can. State governments already on the brink of bankruptcy because of introduction of GST are hunting on the masses to get their salaries paid. Actually, this is the main reason that no bourgeois party is launching any movement against this open loot as they are also doing the same wherever they are the ruling party. This situation has uncovered the hypocrisy of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as well. State VAT in Delhi is no less than that is in Haryana or UP. This is stopping them to create a drama of protest movement against exorbitant fuel prices in UP, Haryana & Punjab. Even the Left Front government in Kerala is not left behind in increasing the VAT on diesel, petrol prices. Petrol is costing Rs.80.9 per liter in Kerala where as it is costing Rs.77.39 in Haryana. So, with what face, CPI & CPIM can unleash strong mass movements against this gross injustice when their own hands are drenched in dust of looted money?? These ‘communists’ also did not exercise option to mobilize masses against unjust GST that empowers union government to keep state government at their mercy and not to loot them. As per report published in The Hindu dated July 29 2020, finance secretary has told the parliament committee on GST that they shall not pay state government’s share from the GST collections. When parliament committee members from the opposition parties cried, ‘will the central government renegade’ the finance secretary replied coolly, ‘there is a provision in the GST law itself that the central government can refuse to pay the state’s share of GST if GST collections fall below threshold level’. All the parliamentary parties including CPI, CPIM had supported GST bill which was declared in the midnight with banging of bigul!! No bourgeois or social democratic party who aspire to serve bourgeoisie can, therefore, launch any genuine mass movement over this issue now. They can only put up a show of protest to hoodwink the masses. Toiling people are getting crushed because of this reason. Revolutionary forces are scattered, demotivated if not demoralized and seem to be in ‘let these times pass mood’. They are failing to find a mechanism to come together under a platform nation- wide. Ruling class is upbeat and hell bent to take advantage of the situation to the maximum. This is the real tragedy.

Iran: Ayatullah Khomeini Government of Iran declared its new Fuel Policy in Nov 2019 under which a strict rationing was imposed on fuel consumption and prices of petrol, diesel and gasoline were hiked by 70%. This enraged the masses and they unleashed country wide militant protests. Besides calling the government to take the unjust price hike back, another prominent slogan was, “We don’t want Islamic Republic, don’t want, don’t want”. Government of Iran resorted to brutal power as every fascist government does. Security forces who had taken position on the top of buildings in Teheran were ordered to open fire upon the protesters without warning, to kill them. As many as 230 protesters were killed in the gruesome attack. Most of the dead had bullet wounds in their head. Instead of holding killer security forces accountable for genocide, what the religious fanatic, fascist Iran government did was mind numbing. It held three protesters, Amirhossein Moradi, Mohammed Rajabi and Saeed Tamjidi responsible for inciting protests and arrested them on the charges of mass killings. Courts, displaying their class character held trial in camera, convicted them and awarded death sentence. The Supreme Court too upheld the death sentence and the execution is with held in view of mass anger the world over at this kangaroo trial. #do_not_execute hashtag is used by people of Iran 50 lakh times.

France: The most sustained, organized and wide spread protests against fuel price hike along with other austerity measures taken by Macron Government were witnessed in France. These protests were named ‘Yellow Vest’ and ‘gilets jaunes’ as the protesters used to put on yellow vests as these vests are widely used by French motorists in order to use gilets jaunes fuel for their cars which is less heavily taxed. These protests commenced on 17.11.2018 and continued on every week end since then. At least 4 protesters have died and thousands have been injured and arrested but the protest continued and is still continuing. This, ultimately, forced the French government to take back the tax hike over fuel in France.

Chile: “It’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years” slogan took this Latin American country by storm of mass protests against subway fare hike and hike in fuel prices. It means that it is not a meagre 30 peso (Chilean currency, equivalent to $ 0.03) price hike in subway fare that we are protesting but it is the 30 years of neo liberal policies that we can’t tolerate and want to overturn. Chile had not witnessed such a massive wave of protest since the bloody days of dictator Pinochet. Chilean President, Sebastian Pinera who had shortly before this social unrest declared his country “an oasis of stability” declared state of emergency and imposed curfew. Protesters defied curfew heroically and forced the government to roll back the hike. People’s anger was still not calmed as they demand complete roll back of the neo-liberal policies. Protests started in Oct 2019 and continued in 2020. It is this pandemic of Covid19 that came to the rescue of Pinera Government. Alejandra Parra of Environmental Rights Action Network described that Chile’s Citizens Movement foiled the scheme that “was formulated in the middle of the dictatorship and designed to place in private hands public services such as health, education and pensions and basic rights such as water.”

Ecuador: Public anger against the hike in fuel prices in Ecuador in Oct 2019 was so ferocious that all the streets in national capital were shut down and protesting people stormed the National Assembly building and President Lenin Moreno had to move his government out of the capital after declaring emergency. At least 7 persons were shot down by the security forces and 1152 were injured but the government was forced to reduce fuel prices.

Fuel Trade War Led To Present Us-China Trade War

The capitalist crisis is getting aggravated and unresolvable by each passing day. No markets are left to be explored. Capitalist vultures are left to fight each other for the remaining market to sell their produce and ironically, for capitalism, production capacity is increased manifold by the technology. More than half of the world’s 7.8 billion population is pauperized by the inherent rule of capitalism so the core DIG (Disposable Income Group) is getting smaller and smaller by each passing day at the cost of handful of capitalists-imperialists who are sitting on the mountain of capital. Avenues of investment are evaporating. A look at India’s Wealth Pyramid  makes an interesting reading. We have a very thick bottom. Among 83.49 crore of total adult population of our country, earnings in a year of 77.07 crore Indians which is 63.1% of the total population is less than $10000. On the other hand, total 760 individuals of our country own an average of $100 million. This means that this segment of 63.1% is virtually out of the market for the corporates purpose except some agricultural commodities that are essential to keep them alive.

These products are somehow produced by them either by themselves on their tiny piece of land or by selling their labor time in the market. Even that is getting difficult as hunger is spreading fast not only in countryside but even in slums in cities. This is the solid proletariat class from whom everything has been squeezed by the capitalist system of production but it lost 63.1% of their market simultaneously. The Indian DIG able to purchase other than essentials, therefore, is only 6 crore. Similarly, 70% of the world population earn less than $10000 an year surviving somehow on bare essentials or meeting their slow death. Human body is such that it strives for survival. Even if a person is half hungry, he/ she will not die instantly but meet a slow death after falling sick and life span will be shortened.

The most tragic part of the whole story is that capitalism too is unable to survive even after driving 70% of the human population to hunger and destitution. The more the hunger spreads the lesser gets the size of the market for capitalist vultures to earn profit. This sinister process is getting aggravated by each passing day and that is the reason we witness bitter trade wars, danger of actual bloody war like in previous century is also looming large. It is only that the measure of destruction may get unimaginably catastrophic, may engulf the whole earth now as almost all the countries of the world own nuclear weapons, that is holding back this planet from total destruction.

“If Oil Supplies Are Cut Off; How Much Oil Does China Have?”, reads cover page of the June 15, 2019 issue of China Petroleum & Petrochemical reports Centre for Global Energy Policy. Present all out trade war between US & China is preceded by the World Oil Trade War. Dangerous arms built up in South China Sea is result of that. US has a nasty record of arm twisting the unfavorable countries to submission by blocking oil supplies in sea routes by using brute naval forces in sea around the world. China fears the same as its domestic oil production is not adequate to fulfill its needs.  US imperialists know that China has put a formidable challenge to their world hegemony. US also stands exposed and the whole world witnessed the recklessness of its public health system. Their handling of the pandemic has been the worst. In the election year, Trump desperately needs a scapegoat.  Chinese ‘communists-turn-capitalist-imperialists are shrewder and more ruthless in exploiting labor power as they are keeping the cover of communism intact. China has turned itself into a furnace type of society where owners of the means of production are also owners of the trade unions. Workers in China are subjected to the worst type of exploitation resulting in the cost of production to minimum. No other country can keep the prices at their level. It is only the fuel trade where China can be cornered and US doesn’t want that leverage slip out of its hand. Both US and China are breathing fire in the South China Sea and no one should be surprised if actual war breaks out in Asia. 

Fuel Price Hike Burnt Down Several Brutal Regimes To Ashes

Modern economies depend on fuel to such an extent that it has become a vital commodity that has decided fates of the governments. Protests against fuel price hike have uprooted well entrenched rulers in past also. Thirty two year old dreaded regime of a bloody dictator, butcher of millions of innocent people of Indonesia, a mass killer of communists, a hated human right violator, responsible for the deaths of 2,00,000 East Timorees, Suharto came crashing down on 21 May 1998 as a result of heroic protests against oil price rise in Indonesia by the university students over there. On 12 May, 1998, four students were shot dead at Trishakti University during a peaceful demonstration against whole sale corruption and fuel price hike and this proved as a spark that ignited a volcano. Students came out in great numbers from all over the country, flying flags half-mast and saying prayers for their dead comrade. The fire, then, engulfed the whole nation which led to the fall of the most cruel and hated regime humanity has witnessed till date. Saffron Revolution (named after saffron color robes worn by Buddhist monks) of 2007 was a series of economic and political protests and demonstrations that took place during August, September and October 2007 in Myanmar. The protests were triggered by the decision of the national military government to remove subsidies on the sale price of fuel. Entire subsidy on fuel was withdrawn resulting in increase of diesel and petrol prices by 66% to 100% and the price of compressed natural gas by 500% in less than a week. Country wide protests were led by students, political activists comprising large number of women and also by Buddhist monks that became campaign of non-violent resistance. While the protesters remained non-violent, the brutal military regime resorted to firing upon the peaceful demonstrators resulting in at least 35 deaths and grave injuries to thousands of people. This fueled the public anger and the so-called almighty military dictatorship came crashing down which ultimately led to elections and Aung Sang Su Chi came to power. She, although, was subjected to the long periods of jail terms by military junta but is now pursuing the same course.

Occupy Nigeria is another example that took Nigeria by storm on Sunday, 1 January 2012. Trigger was the same, removal of fuel subsidy in a stroke by Federal Government of Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan. Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa. President Goodluck decided to remove subsidy and increased cost of 1 liter of gasoline from 65 naira to 141 naira virtually overnight as a new year gift on 1st January 2012 but this decision proved to be a bad luck for the President Mr. Goodluck. Feyi Fawehinmi, an accountant and analyst, told CNN, the government’s abrupt move was like having a “tooth pulled without a plier” Furious Nigerians first occupied the streets on 9th of January 2012 and refused to be scared by the presence of armed forces in large number. It followed the same pattern that happens everywhere in bourgeois democracies. Mercenary armed forces were ordered to fire upon the unarmed, peaceful demonstrators that resulted in unnumbered casualties and injuries. This aggravated the protests further and the government was forced to take back the fuel price hike. “You have not removed subsidy, you removed our trust in your government” protesters cried in chorus. Reuben Abati, spokesman for President Goodluck Jonathan, told CNN the money saved from removing subsidy will fetch 1 trillion naira ($6.13 billion) which will be spent on improving public amenities and build much needed infrastructure but protesters refused to be hoodwinked, stood their ground firm and kept occupying the Nigerian streets till prices were rolled back.

Unleash Nation Wide Massive Protest Movements Against Atrocious Price Hike In Diesel, Petrol & Gas Prices

Modi Government has, during its tenure of 6 years, increased Petrol prices from Rs.65 to Rs.80 per liter, Diesel prices from Rs.60 to Rs.80 per liter and cooking gas prices from Rs.200 to Rs.855 per cylinder. The crude oil prices during this period are down by 300%. It has imposed highest taxes on fuel in the whole world and snatched Rs.14.60 lakh crore as tax on diesel, petrol from the pockets of the poor and destitute people. The loot continues unabated. Even after GST was implemented in whole of the country on all commodities the government refused to include diesel and petrol under GST in order to impose VAT at the rate it likes. State governments are also inclined not to bring these vital fuel commodities under GST regime. This is being done clandestinely with the sole motive of extorting maximum possible taxes any time at will. Last month, fuel prices were increased every day for more than 20 days continuously. How much of this Rs.14.60 lakh crore money has been spent on public welfare is evident before the nation as Corona virus infected patients are dying on the roads. Infected cases have crossed 16 lakh and more than 35000 have lost their lives. There are no safety equipment available to the doctors resulting in hundreds of doctors themselves dying of Covid-19. Hordes of pigs are roaming in the hospitals. There are no resources to bury the dead with even minimum dignity, 4-5 dead bodies are dumped in a pit as the incident captured on camera in Karnataka. Even the salaries of the doctors are not paid for last 3 months at some hospitals. People are dying of hunger all around. There is absolutely no concern or sensitivity towards crores of people dying of flood in Assam and Bihar. Flood water are flooding the hospitals in Bihar. Six years is a fairly reasonable period to judge any government. No investment is made to augment basic health care infra- structure. Entire money earned out of fuel price hike, it seems, has gone to the tax relief, write off of bad debts and other incentives to the corporates. Another part of the tragic story is that no bourgeois or social democratic party is sincere in mobilizing masses to launch any movement. Token protests, rituals of shouting slogans and flashing the pictures on the social media are not going to make any difference to this most insensitive, anti-people Modi government. Revolutionary forces are not as weak as is seen on the ground. Their problem is that they are scattered and are unable to find a mechanism to launch nation -wide joint movement. They have no option but to shrug off lethargy, rise to the occasion, create a national platform of resistance and unleash massive protracted ferocious waves of mass movements and force this anti people government to roll back this unbearable hike in fuel prices and liberate the people from yolk of exploitation.

Originally published in The Truth: Platform for Radical Voices of The Working Class (Issue 4/ August ’20)

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