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Petro Shock: Anatomy of Petroleum Prices

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Petrol Price

Modi Govt may have been blaming the rising international crude prices for the current rise in the prices of Petrol and Diesel but anyone who is familiar with how prices move up and down in the international market would say that the government has only to blame itself because it failed to see the looming crisis while reaping rich dividends on account low crude prices.

Undoubtedly, the current surge in the prices of petrol and Diesel is on account of falling rupee against the US dollar and also the rising international crude prices but at the same time it is important to ask why the government failed to take any corrective measures in order to insulate the consumers from this unexpected fluctuations of weak Indian rupee.

It’s time to ask our Prime Minister as why he let his government rest smugly and claim efficient fiscal management while knowing all along that it was a result of cheaper oil prices worldwide? Why his government raise excise duties on petroleum products 12 times in last over 4 years and why it was kept out of the goods and services tax (GST)? After Modi became Prime Minister in May 2014, the excise duty on petrol has gone up by 211.7 % and on diesel by a staggering 443.06 %.

In 2014, the excise duty on Petrol for each litre was 9.20 Rs which increased to the present 19.48 Rs. Similarly, the excised duty on Diesel was 3.46 Rs in 2014 but after 4 years it climbed to a massive 15.33 Rs. If today, Modi Govt decides to bring the excise duty at par with 2014 level, the average drop in the prices of Petrol will be 10.42 Rs and 12 Rs for every litre of Diesel.

According to an estimate, the central Govt has collected a whopping Rs 11 lakh crore in tax from Petrol and Diesel in last 4 years between 2014-15 and 2018-19.BJP Govt came at the centre when the international crude was at all time low and Modi Govt not only took the advantage of the soft oil prices but on contrary it adopted a predatory policy on oil prices.

We are hearing various arguments from the leaders of ruling party as why suddenly the prices of petroleum products are touching the roof. Perhaps, the weirdest explanation came from a union minister who said that fuel prices in India are rising because of the high international crude prices .This is farthest from the truth and Prime Minister Modi is brazenly trying to fool people on this sensitive issue of petrol and diesel prices.

Let us have the reality check about the international crude prices. Since BJP came to power in 2014, the price of crude oil in the Indian basket fell from $109.05 per barrel in June 2014 to $46.56 per barrel in June 2017, a fall of almost 57%. Subsequently, it again it rose to $73.83 per barrel in June 2018.

This data comes from Petroleum Planning & Analysis Cell (PPAC) which falls under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. Therefore, the prices have, as a matter of fact, dropped by about 32% since Modi government came to power. India still imports her 80% requirement of petroleum products through imports.

But there is more than meets the eye. The lies of spin-masters of Modi government is further exposed by the fact that international crude oil prices have little to do with what an average consumer pays for it. The prohibitively high taxes on Petrol and Diesel are the real villains which are something, government should control but strangely it has kept silence on these vital issues.

On contrary, it is hell bent on proving that all this will be ultimately beneficial to the people because Govt will have more fund at her disposal to pay for the welfare programmes. This could have been true, had the government have been spending the money for the benefit of the people.

But, if we see the track record of this government, we find that there have been cutbacks in almost all central welfare schemes over the years in the last 52 months with paucity of resources given as the main excuse. So, the argument of passing the benefit to people falls flat since the centre doesn’t seem to be redirecting the windfall from oil taxes to any public good.

Almost 46% of the retail price of petrol is made up of taxes charged by the Central as well as the state governments. If we look at the figures, in 2014-15, Modi government was making apprx Rs.1,22,200 crore from taxes that it levied on oil which by 2017-18, increased to more than double at Rs. 2,80,000 crore, a gigantic increase of 129%.

BJP Govt also seems to be passing the buck to the state Govt by saying that it is state governments who are actually responsible for the spiraling of oil prices. As far as state taxes are concerned, it has seen a 32% increase during the past four years. But if we calculate the total taxes collected by states, the figure comes out to be Rs.1, 86,000 crore on fuel which is nowhere near the princely amount of Rs.2, 80,000 crore, which is going to centre’s kitty.

Moreover, BJP is either on its own or in coalition with other parties is ruling government in 21 states; hence the onus to lower the exorbitantly high taxes is more on them than the opposition ruled states. Only yesterday, has Rajasthan, one of the BJP ruled state government has reduced the tax, but that is more because of political compulsion than anything else as the state is likely to have the Assembly elections in a few months.

While the common man is reeling under the pressure of high Petrol and Diesel prices, the corporate houses appears to have no such issues as the government seems to be more than generous with them. The big business houses, despite having a poor credit score have been indiscriminately given loans which they are now refusing to return.

It’s a strange coincidence that such bad loans given from public money collected through taxes have reached over Rs.11 lakh crore, the same amount which Modi Govt collected through tax on petroleum products in last 4 years. It raises a pertinent question-are the consumers of Petrol and Diesel in India paying for the profligacy of delinquent corporate houses.

If we see the pricing pattern of petroleum products like Petrol, Diesel and LPG, it appears as if the government has resorted to extortion towards the common people of this country in order to satisfy the greedy appetites of business houses. The government needs to understand the basic fact that these petroleum products are used not just by the rich or middle class people but also used for the irrigation purposes by the farmers, for transporting the essential commodities across the country and is directly connected to the prices of everyday products. These abnormally high prices of Petrol selling at almost Rs 90 for a litre and Diesel at Rs 77 per litre rob the people of their hard-earned money and no amount of lies by this government will assuage the anger of common man who is forced to undergo through this daylight robbery.

Disclaimer: These views are solely of the author.

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Influencers manipulating social media in India, Indian IT Act silent

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Sting operation: Bollywood celebs

New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) If the Cobrapost investigation which revealed that several Bollywood celebrities were willing to pass views of political parties as personal opinion for money shook your conscience, but there is not much that you could do to restrict them from doing so because the relevant Indian law is silent on this matter.

The investigation revealed that more than 30 Indian film and TV industry actors/artistes agreed to spread the propaganda of political parties through their social media accounts for money.

“Taking money for tweeting on behalf of political parties is definitely unethical, but it is not illegal. The Information Technology Act, 2000 is completely silent on this,” Pavan Duggal, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts, told IANS.

What the investigation unearthed was just the tip of the iceberg. The rise in popularity of social media platforms actually opened up a relatively new advertising economy driven by “influencer marketing”.

Marketing firm Mediakix estimated that influencer marketing on Instagram alone could reach $2 billion by the end of this year from $1 billion in 2017.

While Instagram has over a billion monthly active users globally, its parent company Facebook has over 2.3 billion monthly active users and over 16 million people log in to Twitter every day. WhatsApp is another powerful platform which has over 200 million users in India.

The kind of reach that these social media platforms have can offer some idea about how big the influencer marketing business could be. Important here to mention is that it is not just celebrities who are the stars in this game.

While celebrities with huge following running into millions on social media are known as macro influencers, even some people with small number of followers can earn big sum of money as influencers. They are known as micro influencers.

With a wide array of social media analytics tool available online it is not even difficult to spot the right influencers for their advertising programmes.

“In the starting, celebrities were used as influencers for brand endorsement and marketing purposes, however, after social media, now everyone is a celebrity and everything is business including politics,” social media expert Anoop Mishra said.

In countries like the US, it is mandatory to put proper disclosure on paid posts. But only a few follow the rules.

In India, due to lack of user awareness, it is even more difficult distinguish between a paid post and personal opinion.

With the elections coming, political parties are not complaining much. A top WhatsApp executive recently even warned political parties against abusing its platform.

“More than 10,000 official WhatsApp groups have been created by a leading political party to slam its rivals on social media,” Mishra said.

“Political discourse is going to be impacted by social media influencers. There is no two opinion about it,” Duggal said, adding that the consequences of this can be very serious as social media platforms are being used to create a highly-polarised atmosphere in the country.

Just as social media companies have come up with transparency rules for political ads, they should have similar features for influencers so that people can distinguish between commercial space and personal space.

“Manipulation of social media platform for personal gain must be brought under the ambit of law without putting barriers on free speech,” Duggal added.

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Manipur student activist released on bail by Imphal court

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Veewon Thokchom

Imphal, Feb 19 (IANS) A court here on Tuesday granted bail to Manipuri student activist Veewon Thokchom, who was arrested from Delhi on charges of sedition.

The court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Imphal west, where Thokchom was produced after brought from Delhi, turned down the police plea for his custody and released him on furnishing a bond of Rs 30,000.

Thokchom’s lawyer Meihoubam Rakesh said that his client, who was preparing for examinations in Delhi, was arrested on February 15 by a combined Delhi and Imphal police team. According to his family members, he was not even given time to wear his slippers.

A former president of the Manipur Students’ Association Delhi and now an adviser, Thokchom had opposed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which had been passed by the Lok Sabha on January 8. Recalling the mass agitations in Manipur on June 18, 2001 during which 18 persons including a woman had died, he had contended in a Facebook post that if the bill is passed by Parliament, the state’s people may renew demands for self-determination.

There had been demands from various students’ bodies to release Thokchom or face intensified protests from the students and people.

Some time back, the BJP-led state government had arrested Kishorechandra Wangkhem, an anchor with a local cable channel, on charges of sedition.

A local court was of view that that the offence he was charged with was not seditious and ordered his release. However police arrested him at the court’s door and detained him under the National Security Act for one year.

Massive protests from the media circles in India and abroad have been of no avail.

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Pulwama Attack: Terror gets a quantum Jump in Kashmir Under Modi

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suicide attack in Kashmir

In one of the most barbaric and brutal attacks, 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed in a car-bomb explosion triggered by a lone wolf named Adil Ahmad, also known as “Adil Ahmad Gaadi Takranewala” and “Waqas Commando of Gundibagh” in South Kashmir’s Pulwama on Thursday, 14 February.

The ferocity of the terror attack far exceeded even the Uri attack of 18 September 2016, in which four heavily armed terrorists targeted an Army brigade headquarters, killing 19 soldiers. This was clearly, the worst ever terror attack in lat twenty years in the Kashmir valley.

Both the Uri and Pulwama attacks were said to have been carried out by Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has subsequently taken the responsibility for this heinous attack on the CRPF convoy in Pulwama. This was one of the most audacious attacks and it established the fact that the Jaish-e-Mohammed is still very active and holds the capability of carrying out an attack of such a scale. It also reflects the failure of Modi government’s Kashmir policy much more than even the Uri strike.

While carrying out much criticised demonetisation on 8th Nov, 2016, Mr Modi cited checking terrorism in Kashmir valley as one of its objectives . But that never happened. On contrary, the terrorism received an unprecedented fillip post demonetisation. Modi Govt in a reply to the Lok Sabha admitted that terror incidents in Jammu and Kashmir have increased by 261 % in the last five years – from lowly 170 incidents in 2013 to a mind-boggling 614 incidents in 2018.

There were two key moments related to major spikes in terror incidents: In 2016, when Hizbul Mujahedeen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani was gunned down in an encounter and again in 2018 when the no of local youth joining the terror outfits surpassed the record level from 16 in 2013 to 191 in 2018, an increase of nearly 1093%.

Now let us find out where Modi Govt went wrong. The problem lies in the way it tackles this decades old problem not as a political, but as a battlefield for some kind of ideological war. The BJP’s policies on Kashmir are guided by its desire to fulfill its ideologue Syama Prasad Mukherjee’s unfinished mission of establishing their rule in the Valley.

This was quite evident in their attitude towards capturing power in the state. They initially pushed Mufti Mohammad Sayeed into a corner to force him for an alliance and later on showed the same brinkmanship to make his daughter and successor Mehbooba Mufti to fall in line. Eventually, she also walked out from the coalition which left Mr Modi no choice but to impose the President’s Rule in the state.

This was diametrically opposite to what Vajpayee government did. The actions taken by the then NDA Govt resulted in fostering a PDP-Congress alliance government led by Mufti Sayeed in 2002.This was said to be one of the few phases in the violent history of Kashmir when the state experienced a relative calm. The intransigence of BJP government under Modi has led to a disastrous Kashmir policy that has nullified whatever goodwill the New Delhi had achieved in Kashmir since 2002.

In the 2014 J & K assembly elections, the highest turnout in Kashmir in last over 25 years was recorded. The increase in voting was more perceptible in the South Kashmir constituencies that have historically seen low turnouts, mainly due to boycott calls by the separatists. The other element which added to this increase in voter’s turnout was the reaction of majority Kashmiri Muslims to the aggressive campaigning by the BJP in the Valley. Kashmiris were apprehensive of BJP’s intention of abrogating the article 370 and felt that their identity as a special status would be in danger if the BJP came to power in the state.

In fact, there were several voters in the valley who came out to vote for the first time since the 1987 elections, which were heavily rigged by most accounts. However, this anti-BJP mood in Kashmir was squandered by the PDP when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed opted to form a government in the state in alliance with BJP.

This must have given a huge setback to the local Kashmiris because soon after this coalition Govt came in power, the increase in local youth joining the ranks of militants began. It just can’t be a coincidence that the PDP’s areas of influence in South Kashmir shortly emerged as the main hub of militancy.

Most of the top militants of the past few years hailed from South Kashmir – Burhan Wani from Tral in Pulwama district, Riyaz Naikoo from Awantipora in Pulwama district, Saddam Padder from Heff in Shopian district and even Ali Ahmad Dar, who carried out fidayeen attack on the CRPF personnel, from Kakpora, also in Pulwama.

Most of the young men from South Kashmir who joined the ranks of militancy, hailed from pro-Jamaat-e-Islami families. Interestingly, in the past, Jamaat is said to have had a tactical understanding with the PDP. In both the 2002 and 2008 Assembly elections, Jamaat cadres were said to have ignored the boycott calls and came out and voted for the PDP but the alliance of PDP with the BJP ruptured the PDP’s traditional ties with Jamaat and alienated its supporters across the Valley. Therefore, when the extremely popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter in 2016, the PDP’s implosion accelerated dramatically.

Soon, a cycle of violence and mayhem began – protests, crackdown by security forces resulting in civilian casualties and sparking more protests. Every civilian casualty and pellet injury created further resentment from central Govt among an average Kashmiri which in turn resulted in more youth joining the militancy. The locals which earlier provided the helping hand to the security forces in its drive against militants stopped doing that and in process, PDP’s credibility nose-dived.
One of the crucial fallouts of this alienation deprived security forces of the human intelligence network almost entirely comprised of local Kashmiris. This breakdown in human intelligence is probably one of the reasons why security forces have become sitting ducks for attacks like the one we just witnessed in Pulwama on the Valentine ’s Day.

It appears, the government has learnt no lessons even after the Pulwama attack as most of its reactions are based on its flawed view of Kashmir. Take for instance MoS in the PMO, Jitendra Singh, who chose to attack NC and PDP, the mainstream political parties of Kashmir, which are perhaps the only set of well-wishers of some importance New Delhi has in Kashmir.

The problem of Modi government is it cannot differentiate between its political opponents and threats to national security. This is the reason; it has been unable to stop the rise of militancy in Kashmir in the past five years. The same is true for its inability to differentiate between Kashmiri civilians and the terrorists. It won’t be an understatement, if we say that armed forces personnel and the civilians in Kashmir are paying with their lives for this disastrous and flawed handling of Kashmir crisis by Modi Govt.

(DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.)

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