The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress piles oil pressure

New Delhi, June 10: The Prime Minister today kept up the pressure on the Left and the Opposition with four other Congress-ruled states following Maharashtra’s lead in moving to slash sales tax on petrol and diesel.

But despite the announcements by Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, the Left refused to follow suit in Bengal and Kerala, terming the Congress’s move mere “tokenism” and “diversionary tactics”.

This was echoed by the opposition BJP, Janata Dal (United) and the Janata Dal (Secular), as well as UPA allies Samajwadi Party and DMK, who between them rule nine states.

The Prime Minister has reportedly asked petroleum minister Murli Deora to increase the pressure on non-Congress states ' especially Bengal and Kerala ' to cut the tax burden on petro products.

But the Congress seemed unsure if the plan was good enough to blunt the Left and BJP attacks over the fuel price hike, and looked worried about the political implications of needling the Left too much.

Party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi indicated there could still be a rollback ' as demanded by the Left 'but added this could be done only after all states had lowered sales tax so that the overall situation became clearer and more uniform.

“The situation has improved. But it will be reviewed after all the states have implemented it (sales tax cut),” Singhvi said.

The Congress has told party functionaries not to try and score political points against the Left but confine their attacks to the BJP.

The issue, however, would figure in the UPA-Left coordination committee meeting on June 13, party sources said.

The Left continued to lambast the Centre. CPM chief Prakash Karat said: “It is the Centre that has increased the price and it has to slash them and then the state governments will follow.”

Almost using the CPM’s words, the BJP accused the Congress of “trying to divert attention from the real issue of high taxation” by the Centre.

Andhra will lower its tax on petrol and diesel by 1 and 0.75 per cent, causing their prices to fall by 40 and 22 paise per litre, respectively.

The prices should drop by Re 1 and 65 paise in Maharashtra, which agreed yesterday not to tax the hike margin of Rs 4 for petrol and Rs 2 for diesel.

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