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Talks today on petrol pump strike
- Breakdown & shutdown scare for state

Calcutta, Aug. 10: Sale of petrol and diesel across the state came to a near stop when more than 1,900 petroleum dealers downed shutters on Day I of the three-day strike that came into effect on Monday midnight.

The pump owners are demanding higher commission, trimmed sales tax and police protection against dacoits at gas stations, among other things.

But transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, who had yesterday given the strike legitimacy saying the demands were justified, today announced fresh talks. “We will ask them to come to an agreement. I hope they will call off the strike after talks tomorrow.”

West Bengal Petroleum Dealers’ Association working president Tushar Kanti Sen said: “We will attend the meeting but not climb down.”

The association wants a 5 per cent commission for both petrol and diesel, replacing the existing structure.

The pump owners’ commission was hiked in April. While the commission for diesel was increased from Rs 385 to Rs 425 per 1,000 litres, that for petrol went up from Rs 639 to Rs 707.

The oil companies expressed inability to increase the commission further, saying only the Centre could revise it upward. “We cannot do anything individually,” said general manager of Indian Oil Corporation Gautam Dutta.

The commission structure fixed by the Union petroleum ministry is being followed all over the country, Dutta said.

The transport minister said he has referred the demand to scale down sales tax to finance minister Asim Dasgupta.

But officials said the government was in no position to withdraw or reduce the existing cess. “A legislation allowed the levy of Re 1 as cess and sales tax on petroleum dealers. If we have to reduce the cess or the sales tax, the existing act has to be amended.”

The government charges 17.5 per cent sales tax for petrol and 25 per cent for diesel. The rate is lower than that in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai but the dealers cited Assam, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand, which levy less.

The popular mood today was grim. The mass transit system, though not paralysed on the first day, was strained.

A man on the street said the commission is an all-India issue concerning the oil companies and the payment of sales tax only burdens retail buyers, not dealers. “The strike is happening in Bengal because we do not resist such strikes.”

“Our commission depends on the volume of sales, which is lowest in Calcutta among all metros,” Sen said. “An average pump in Calcutta sells about 120 kilolitres a month as against the average monthly sale of 600 kilolitres recorded by an average pump in Mumbai.”

The dealers’ lobby claimed that the commission has further shrunk as bulk consumers like trucks increasingly purchase fuel in neighbouring Orissa, Bihar or Jharkhand which do not levy a cess or high sales tax on petrol or diesel.

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