Petrol and diesel prices may increase sharply soon after new government comes to power at the Centre with oil companies looking to raise the retail price of the two transport fuels between Rs 3-5 per litre in phases and make up for losses they incurred by keeping the prices at artificially low levels in the run up to elections 2019.
Government sources said that oil companies sold petrol at almost Rs 5 per litre discount and diesel at Rs 3 per litre discount in March and April when average crude oil price of Indian basket hit a high of about $ 67 a barrel and $ 71 barrel respectively. At this level of crude oil prices (of over $70 a barrel), petrol was priced at over Rs 78 a litre and diesel over Rs 70 a litre in August, 2018.
It is, however, priced at around Rs 73 and Rs 66.66 per litre now respectively suggesting that oil marketing companies (OMCs) losing again heavily on retail sale of the two products.
"Oil PSUs have avoided hiking oil prices in tandem with global crude rates for almost two months now and the pattern may well continue till the end of May when elections gets over. So, it would not come as a surprise if domestic oil prices witness a sharp spike after the election season comes to a close unless the new government issues fresh advisory to stagger the required hike to prevent a public outrage," said an energy sector expert of a global audit and consulting form who did not wish to be named.
OMCs have been soft on increasing petrol and diesel prices since the beginning of 2019 but it has become more pronounced from March when election dates were announced. Since March, there have been numerous days when both petrol and diesel prices have remained static despite sharp movement in global oil prices.
While experts term this a big loss for oil companies, officials in leading oil sector PSUs said that as the retail price of petrol and diesel are determined on the basis of global oil prices in trailing 15 day period and also as prices are determined on the basis of movement of international petrol and diesel prices and not crude oil, retail prices could remain static even through crude prices move.
While oil companies have built losses on sale of petrol and diesel by not carrying forward the requisite hikes during election time, they have not shied from passing any cut in retail price of the auto fuel when international crude price has shown some softening in the month of May. Petrol price has been cut by almost 7 paisa and diesel by 5 paisa since May 4.
"We have to remember companies like Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum, and Bharat petroleum are all government run companies. So even if petrol and diesel prices are, so called, freed from any administered control, government still continues to use its hold over the companies to get prices that they feel is right for a particular time," said an official source.
This is not the first time that government has controlled the price of petrol and diesel. During Karnataka state elections last year, petrol and diesel prices remained unchanged for a 19-day period despite rising global crude oil prices. And soon after polls, there was a non-stop 16-day hike period, resulting in an overall rise of approximately Rs 3.5 in both petrol and diesel rates.
The same trend was observed during the Gujarat elections in 2017 when oil PSUs had stopped revising/increasing fuel prices 14 days prior to polling.