New Delhi, Feb. 26: When it comes to diesel, the poor man’s fuel, private-car owners pay Rs 11.50 less per litre than those who travel by bus.
On January 18, when diesel prices went up by 50 paise for retail consumers, the corresponding rise for bulk consumers such as road transport undertakings was Rs 12 per litre. Bulk consumers also include the railways and the defence sector.
While state road transport undertakings have knocked on the Prime Minister’s door for relief, road transport minister C.P. Joshi has written to Veerappa Moily. “I have approached the petroleum ministry that since these buses serve a huge number of people, they should be offered relief,” Joshi said.
The issue rocked the Rajya Sabha today after the BJP and the CPM raised it. But finance minister P. Chidambaram maintained that it was a policy decision to keep diesel subsidy at a manageable level. “This is a policy decision taken by the ministry of petroleum and natural gas that diesel will be subsidised only to certain classes of people who are described as retail consumers,” he said.
“For bulk consumers, diesel will not be subsidised, diesel will be sold at the cost price. The state road transport corporations are indeed bulk consumers.”
There are 55 state road transport corporations that run 1,47,000 buses and ferry 70 million passengers every day.
Of the 55, only three — in Maharashtra, Bangalore and Karnataka — have been able to keep afloat. The rest are in the red, Bengal and Bihar being the worst off.
“We will have to shell out Rs 4,000 crore per annum for diesel if diesel companies continue to supply the fuel at this rate to us,” said P.S. Ananda Rao, executive director of the Association of State Road Transport Undertakings.
“Here the subsidy is working for the rich while the poor and the middle class who travel by buses will be adversely affected,” Rao added.
Overall, the diesel price for bulk consumers has increased by 40 per cent in the last six months.
In Bengal, the government gives a subsidy of Rs 600 crore annually to five state transport corporations — the Calcutta State Transport Corporation, North Bengal State Transport Corporation, South Bengal State Transport Corporation and the West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation.