With the fuel price hike bringing almost the entire opposition together, Congress and the government today put up a brave face accusing it of indulging in "political expediency" and "hypocrisy". "This is political expediency which should not prevail over sound economic policies," party spokesman Manish Tewari told PTI.
He said in 2002 it was the then NDA government which recommended the dismantling of the Administered Price Mechanism of petroleum products.
"The NDA, before befooling the people by calling for a Bharat Bandh should first explain that it has one standard when it is in government and another when it is in opposition," Tewari said.
The spokesman said that the reasons as to what necessitated the hike as already been explained by the government, like an increase of 30 dollar per barrel on crude oil for the Indian basket.
Rebutting Opposition criticism of the June 26 decision to raise petrol prices by Rs 3.50 a litre, diesel by Rs 2 per litre, LPG by Rs 35 per cylinder and kerosene by Rs 3 per litre, Oil Minister Murli Deora said the government was "compelled" to raise fuel prices by "bare minimum" to save public sector oil firms from precarious financial situation.
"The NDA government raised price of PDS kerosene from Rs 2.52 per litre in January 1998 to Rs 9 per litre in March 2002. This hike was 258 per cent even though crude oil prices rose by just 147 per cent during the period," he said.
"What we did was bare necessity. We were compelled to do so because oil PSUs were faced with Rs 74,300 crore under recoveries (revenue loss on fuel sales this fiscal)," he said. "The opposition is being a hypocrite in its criticism." BJP-led NDA and Left parties have separately given call for a nation-wide strike on July 5 demanding a rollback of the hike on fuel prices.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has rejected the Opposition's criticism of the government's decision to hike fuel prices, saying the move to free petrol and diesel rates was "much-needed" reforms and that there should be no "excessive populism". PTI