|The face of Sushmita Sen may mirror what many felt about Moily’s petrol curfew but the actress was actually running into the arms of singer Usha Uthup (above) in Kerala’s Kochi on Monday.(PTI)
New Delhi, Sept. 2: Oil minister M. Veerappa Moily today said the suggestion to restrict petrol pump operations at night had come from the public and not his ministry, as the government backed off from what a veteran politician called a “Tughlaq-like” plan.
Rivals Left and Trinamul Congress both ridiculed the unprecedented 8pm-to-8am curfew the minister had hinted at in Bangalore, while an industry veteran pointed out the likely ramifications of such a move.
Moily, who had clarified yesterday that no decision had been taken yet to keep pumps shut at night as part of efforts to trim the oil import bill, insisted the proposal had not come from his ministry.
“We have already made it very clear it is not our idea. It is an idea, which is coming from the public and others. We have not taken any decision (on the suggestion). No decision will be taken to keep petrol pumps dry in any part of the country. I have not mooted this proposal at all,” he told reporters in Delhi.
“We are toying with the ideas (on conserving fuel) that have come to us. That doesn’t mean we have accepted them or are enforcing shutdowns,” he added.
The minister had yesterday been quoted as saying that “various options” had been floated and shutting pumps at night was one of them.
The oil ministry too released a media statement, saying: “There is no proposal under consideration of the government to allow sale of petroleum products from the retail outlets (petrol pumps) only during certain hours.”
The statement and Moily’s comments came amid criticism from industry and the Opposition. “Will Veerappa Moily’s call for shutting petrol stations at 8PM really reduce consumption? No. What about job losses because of this?” tweeted Biocon chairman Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw.
BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, a former Union finance minister, said it would only hurt the country. “Why is the government making such suggestions? This will only worsen the situation in the country.”
Trinamul MP Derek O’Brien said the government was making a “laughing stock” of itself. “Since this is such a bizarre suggestion (to close down petrol pumps), let me make another bizarre suggestion. Why don’t they instead shut down government offices for half the day, they would be saving billions of rupees because this is such a corrupt government,” he told reporters outside Parliament.
The sharpest dig, perhaps, came from Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav, who compared the reign of the Congress-led UPA to that of Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq. “It is like Tughlaq’s rule. We had heard about Tughlaq’s style of functioning. Now we are witnessing the same,” Sharad said outside Parliament.
“This decision is preposterous. This is like a pre-economic emergency crisis. We condemn this. The government should take oil from Iran,” said CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta.
In a note to the Prime Minister last week, Moily had suggested increasing oil imports from Iran, which accepts payment for its crude in rupees to avoid sanctions imposed by the US.
Moily explained the government’s efforts to narrow the current account deficit and reduce the impact of the rupee’s depreciation, which has skidded 23 per cent against the dollar in this financial year. The oil ministry plans to launch a massive fuel conservation drive from September 16 to cut demand by 3 per cent and save an estimated $2.5 billion in foreign exchange outgo.
Moily said he wants to make people aware that the country imports 80 per cent of its oil needs and fuel should be conserved because India couldn’t afford to keep shelling out billions of dollars year after year. India paid about $144 billion for oil imports in 2012-13.
“We are coming with a mega conservation campaign, which will be launched on September 16. Before that, we are considering ideas about how this can be done. If the BJP has some brilliant idea, they are most welcome to send it to us. We will certainly consider it,” Moily said.
“If we are successful in cutting the import bill by up to $25 billion, I would be contributing 1 per cent of the GDP.”