Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Hardeep Singh Puri | Image: Republic
Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, responsible for the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, slammed the Opposition for politicising the recent reduction in LPG cylinder prices, asserting that the latter's criticisms are "without merit". He also pointed out that the government's decisions were driven by the welfare of the citizens and the larger goal of providing affordable essentials.
Speaking to Republic in an exclusive interview, Puri addressed the controversy surrounding the recent LPG price reduction. He remarked, "The petrol and diesel prices have not been increased in the last two years... In 2014, we had 14 crore connections. In 2023, we got 32 crore connections. We have increased from 14 crore to 32 crore. In 2014, we did not have the Ujjwala scheme. The scheme was introduced in 2016, then the usual idea was to give eight crore beneficiaries gas cylinders and the entire paraphernalia that goes with it. They're allowed to draw n number of cylinders."
In response to the pandemic's impact on citizens, Puri detailed the government's efforts to provide relief, stating, "During this pandemic period, we gave three free cylinders to those beneficiaries… for some months from now, we have been giving Rs 200 direct payment into their accounts. Today 9.6 crore people have joined that subsidy."
REPUBLIC SUPER EXCLUSIVE with @shawansen— Republic (@republic) August 30, 2023
Petrol and diesel prices have not increased for 2 years. Earlier, we did not have the Ujjwala Scheme, it was introduced in 2016. A gift on the occasion of festivals is a very powerful gesture by PM Modi: Union Minister @HardeepSPuri #LIVE… pic.twitter.com/H2DsTRU0gw
Challenging the Opposition's claims of political motives, the minister asserted, "This is a very far-sighted decision. They said it is a 'Jumla' because of elections. We are the world's largest democracy. At any given point in time, some elections are going on." He substantiated his argument by citing the Himachal and Karnataka election results as evidence of the stability of the BJP's vote share.
Puri took issue with the Opposition's handling of state policies concerning petrol and diesel excise duty. "When the Centre reduced excise duty on petrol and diesel by Rs 13 and 16 respectively, the BJP-ruled states reduced their VAT. But the non-BJP-ruled states did not," he asserted.
The Union Minister provided historical context to the government's approach, stating, "When I became the petroleum and natural gas minister, I actually had studied data about how international prices fared from the time when the issuer came up. I did a seven-year analysis starting from 1973 that every seven years how much the price changed. The increase during Modi's time has been the lowest compared to any seven-period."
Criticising the UPA government, Puri questioned their response to similar challenges. "You were in power from 2004 to 2014. Even you faced challenges, what did you do? A very learned and scholarly Finance Minister of theirs, who still comments today, what did he do when he faced an adverse external environment—decided to raise oil bonds. The oil bonds that were floated, well if I remember correctly- 1.41 lakh crore. We're having to pay back 3.5 lakh crores," he noted, labelling the oil bond move as "irresponsible."
Puri further explained the intricacies of the government's initiatives, "Today when the PM brought the price of cylinders down by 200, the price has reduced to Rs 700 for beneficiaries such as EWS or BPL as they were already getting 200 in their bank accounts. The oil companies did take a beating. They incurred a loss of Rs 28,000 crore. But the government compensated them with Rs 21,000 crore... The consumer is benefitted, the oil companies make a haircut but they are compensated, and the government reduces its own excise duty."
Highlighting recent actions, Puri indicated the disparities in fuel pricing among states. "On May 2022, the central government reduced its excise on petrol and diesel by 13 and 16 rupees. The BJP-ruled states reduced their VAT but the non-BJP-ruled states did not reduce their VAT... Today you have an interesting situation. The high decibel level state is West Bengal, there the petrol and diesel are ten rupees more expensive than even a non-BJP-ruled state... I find the articulation of Opposition entirely without merit," he said.