Calcutta, Nov. 18: The CPM today announced plans to launch a campaign for a rollback of the prices of petroleum products but skirted the question why they were heavily taxed in states run by the party.
A day after Union finance minister P. Chidambaram urged the states to slash taxes they had levied on petroleum products, CPM leaders said they would press for the rollback at the November 24 meeting of the coordination committee of the United Progressive Alliance. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to attend the meeting.
'It is better if they agree to roll back oil prices. Otherwise, we will take on the government on the floor of Parliament during the winter session, beginning December 1,' CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury said in Nadia's Chakdah, about 60 km from here.
'If the Congress-led government (at the Centre) wants our support, they will have to consider our demands' Otherwise, we have to reconsider our decision to back the government,' he warned.
The CPM-led front, which is in power in Bengal and Tripura, today attacked Manmohan Singh's United Progressive Alliance government for high prices of petrol, diesel and cooking gas while turning down Chidambaram's suggestion to slash state-level taxes.
In Calcutta, state finance minister Asim Dasgupta slammed the Centre for the high prices of petrol, diesel and LPG cylinders.
Dasgupta, who is credited with taxing oil consumers in this state more than any other finance minister, said he would seek the Centre's explanation regarding oil companies' profits from price hikes, the size of the Centre's earnings on this count and from excise, customs and other duties.
'I have reasons to believe that the Centre has been levying huge taxes and duties on these products,' Dasgupta said. 'Instead of asking us to slash taxes, which constitute small portions, they should effect cuts at their end to give some relief to common people.'
A finance ministers' meeting has been called on November 30 to discuss ways to introduce value-added tax (VAT).
At a programme to mark the anniversary of the November Revolution, Yechury rattled the sabre. The CPM would not 'hesitate to reconsider' its support to the central government if it did not roll back prices by minimising taxes, excise and customs duties, he said.
Articulating the state government's stand on the issue, Dasgupta made it clear that Chidambaram's call to slash sales tax and cess did not bother him.
Oil prices are running high, he said, because of a 36 per cent excise duty, in addition to customs duty and cess. He added: 'Moreover, they (the Centre) have given the oil companies a free hand to make profit. So, the prices of petroleum products are rising in our country when they are coming down in the global market.'
Yechury said the Left has already forced the Centre to bring down the prices partially, but 'it is not sufficient'.
The decision on fuel price hike, the leaders said, was taken in haste.
Yechury said: 'We had asked them not to increase the price. But the ministers said it was becoming unbearable to contain the situation as the international price had skyrocketed to $56 a barrel. But after the US elections, the price per barrel has come down to $40. Now there should be a matching slash.'