BJP attacks Congress over lack of support to 'Bharat Bandh'
The BJP Monday defended the rise in oil prices, attributing it to global factors, and accused the Congress and other opposition parties of resorting to violence during the 'Bharat Bandh' as people did not support their call.
Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad acknowledged that the people were facing "momentary difficulty" due to increasing petrol and diesel prices and said they understand that this was due to factors beyond the control of the central government.
"We are standing with people in their problem. We are trying to redress the issue and will do that," he told a press conference.
Citing the death of a three-year-old girl in Bihar as she could not get medical help in time due to pro-Bandh protesters allegedly stopping an ambulance, he asked if Congress president Rahul Gandhi will take responsibility for this.
Normal life was hit in some states Monday with offices and educational institutes closed and vehicles off the roads during an opposition-sponsored 'Bharat Bandh', which was largely peaceful, barring some incidents of violence.
The ruling party in a first extensive briefing on the rise in oil prices highlighted the government's expenditure on a number of welfare schemes, in an attempt to show that the revenue it has earned from taxes on petroleum products has been used for "pro-poor" measures.
Prasad said the government spends over Rs 1.62 lakh crore on subsidized food, lakhs of crores of rupees on building national highways and rural roads, and has given over one crore houses to the rural poor.
It has also spent thousands of crores on rural employment guarantee schemes among others, he said.
He also dismissed allegations levelled by Gandhi against the government, saying the country is most worried when the Congress president speaks.
Referring to global factors behind the oil price rise, he cited the decision of several oil-producing countries to reduce supply, the political instability in Venezuela and the US sanctions on Iran.
Asked if the government can cut down on excise duty to bring down the prices, Prasad said it was done last year.
He said states can also cut down taxes levied by them, but added that it should be left to their wisdom as they also spend money on welfare schemes.
Oil prices, he said, had also gone up during the UPA government's rule with the cost of a litre of petrol going up from Rs 39 to Rs 71.
Government sources said the price of petrol had gone up by 20.5 percent between May 2004 and May 2009, the UPA's first term, and then by 75.48 percent in the next first years of its rule.
They added that its cost during the Modi government's rule has gone up by only 13 percent as it moved from Rs 71.41 to Rs 80.73. These prices are of Delhi.
The Congress has, however, said oil prices rose during the UPA as international crude cost was much higher than what it is during the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
Prasad said the NDA government has brought down the inflation rate to 4.7 percent from the 10.4 percent it was during the UPA.
He also challenged Manmohan Singh, who was prime minister between 2004 and 2014, for a debate on the country's economy in Parliament.
Responding to Singh's criticism of the government's economic policies, he said the Congress leader should leave the job of making stray remarks to Gandhi and engage in a constructive debate with him.