Sept. 13: Mamata Banerjee today announced she would hit the streets against the Centre’s decision on diesel prices and cooking gas subsidy, saying she would have been “happy” to withdraw support on the issue.
The chief minister will lead a march on Saturday from Raja Subodh Mullick Square to the Gandhi statue in Mayo Road demanding a rollback of both decisions.
“Ei siddhante amraa akhushi, asantushto ebong ami nije ashchorjyo hoyechhi (we are unhappy and dissatisfied, and I personally am surprised, at these decisions),” Mamata said. “They have to withdraw the decisions. People should get to buy LPG cylinders under the existing system.”
This will be the second time in less than four months that Mamata will be participating in a street protest against a fuel price hike. On May 26, she had walked from Jadavpur police station to Hazra crossing.
“If people didn’t mind, I would have been happy to withdraw support. It’s a matter of a few seconds. I had withdrawn support once in the past and the people misunderstood me,” Mamata said, alluding to her dumping of the NDA after the 2001 Tehelka scam and subsequent defeat in the Assembly polls.
“If I withdraw support now, other parties will come forward to give support and blame us if the government collapses. We shall hold talks within the party about whether we can stay with this government.”
Mamata repeated a familiar charge: “We are not consulted or informed before such decisions are taken.”
She said the decisions would hurt the people badly. “Prices of essentials have gone up.... There are families that need four-five LPG cylinders a month. Smaller families too need two-three cylinders. If they have to pay Rs 1,400 for three cylinders each, what are they going to eat?”
Without subsidy, the ordinary 14.2kg domestic cylinder would cost Rs 747 at current prices while a 19.2kg commercial cylinder costs Rs 1,403 in Calcutta now.
Trinamul sources said that immediately after the decision was announced, Mamata asked railway minister Mukul Roy to lodge a protest. Trinamul activists have been asked to hold meetings and rallies at the block level from Friday evening till Sunday.
“We would have held the protest march tomorrow but the President is coming here and we are giving a civic reception to him,” Mamata said.
Later at night, in a Facebook post, she said: “I am shocked.... This decision is anti-people, as it will severely affect the interest of farmers and common people.”
The Samajwadi Party, which supports the government from outside, demanded “immediate withdrawal of the hike”.
“The government wants to squeeze every drop of blood out of the common person,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said. He demanded a discriminatory diesel price regime under which “the rich who squander diesel on their SUVs... will have to cough up more than those who work trucks and buses”.
He said the poor tend to have larger families, so the cap on subsidised cylinders should be raised from six to 10.
CPM general secretary Prakash Karat warned: “The UPA government has taken another anti-people step.... (It) will have to face the political consequences.”
CPM sources said the party was chalking out a protest programme to re-connect with the masses.