The West Bengal government on Sunday became the fourth state to reduce taxes on petrol and diesel, reported The Times of India. The taxes were reduced by Re 1 and will be effective from February 22 in the poll-bound state.

State Finance Minister Amit Mitra said the move would provide some respite to people affected by the rapidly-increasing prices of fuel, reported PTI. “To reduce the common man’s burden, the state government has decided to allow rebate of Re 1 per litre on sales tax payable on sales of petrol and diesel w.e.f. [with effect from] the end of midnight of 22nd February, 2021 till 30th day of June, 2021,” he tweeted.

In the past few days, fuel prices have skyrocketed with petrol costing over Rs 100 in some areas of the country. However, there was no change in fuel prices across the four metropolitan cities on Monday.

In Kolkata, petrol cost Rs 91.78 a litre, while the price of diesel was Rs 84.56 a litre. Petrol price stayed at Rs 90.58 in Delhi, while diesel was priced at Rs 80.97 per litre. In Chennai, petrol cost Rs 92.59 and diesel Rs 85.98 a litre. Petrol price was Rs 97 per litre in Mumbai, while diesel cost Rs 88.06 per litre.

Meanwhile, Mitra alleged that the Centre had imposed a cess to avoid sharing it with states, which is “against the characteristics of federalism”. “The Centre earned Rs 32.90 per litre in taxes from petrol [on February 20], while the state got around Rs 18.46 only,” he said. “In case of diesel, the central government’s earning was Rs 31.80 per litre as against about Rs 12.77 for the state.”

Besides Bengal, three other states have reduced taxes on petrol and diesel. Rajasthan was the first state to reduce Value Added Tax from 38% to 36% on January 29. Assam, which is also going to polls later this year, on February 12 withdrew an additional tax of Rs 5 imposed to fund the fight against the coronavirus last year. Meghalaya has provided the biggest relief of Rs 7.4 on petrol and Rs 7.1 on diesel.

However, the central government has refused the cut excise duty it had raised by Rs 13 on petrol and Rs 16 on diesel a litre between March and May 2020. At the time, the price of crude oil had fallen to Rs $19.9 a barrel (approximately Rs 1,443.93 per barrel).

Shiv Sena, Congress target Centre over rising fuel prices

The Shiv Sena’s youth wing, Yuva Sena, on Monday put up banners in severalpetrol pumps in Mumbai, targeting the Centre about rising fuel prices, reported Mumbai Mirror.

“Are these the good times?” the banners read, taking a dig at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s 2014 elections slogan “good days are about to come”.

The question was followed by a comparison of fuel prices in 2015 and 2021. According to the comparison, the price of diesel and petrol ranged between Rs 50 and Rs 65 in 2015 and the corresponding prices in 2021 were close to or have already crossed the Rs 90-mark.

The banner also highlighted the price of liquified petroleum gas that was increased from Rs 572 in 2015 to Rs 719 in 2021.

Meanwhile, entrepreneur and husband of Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Robert Vadra, rode a bicycle in Delhi to protest against the rising fuel prices, reported ANI.

“You [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] must come out from air-conditioned cars and see how people are suffering and perhaps then you’d reduce fuel prices...All he does is blame others for everything and moves on,” Vadra said, attacking the prime minister.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also criticised the government about the fuel prices. “While putting fuel in the car on the petrol pump, when you look at the fast-rising meter, you must remember that the price of crude oil has not increased but has decreased,” he said in a tweet. “Petrol is Rs 100/litre. The Modi government is doing the great job of emptying your pockets and giving it to his ‘friends’ for free.”

Oil minister blames international market for hike

Union Petroleum and Natural Gas and Steel Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Sunday blamed the international market for the rise in fuel prices, reported ANI.

“There are two main reasons behind the fuel price rise,” he said. “The international market has reduced fuel production and manufacturing countries are producing less fuel to gain more profit. This is making the consumer countries suffer.”

Pradhan said that the government had been continuously urging the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and OPEC plus countries that it should not happen. “We hope there will be a change,” the oil minister said.

He also justified the tax levied on petrol and diesel, citing the coronavirus pandemic. “We have to do various development work,” the minister said. “For this, Centre and state governments collect the tax. Spending on development work will generate more jobs. Government has increased its investment and 34% more capital spending will be done in this budget. State governments will also increase spending.”

Hike in fuel prices ‘not too much’ overall: Haryana CM

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar claimed the increase in fuel prices was “not too much” overall, reported ANI. “Fuel prices increased by around 10% to 15% in the last 4 to 5 years,” he said. “Overall, it is not too much but the government is keeping an eye on it.”

Khattar said revenue collected by the government will reach people eventually. “Whatever revenue is collected by the government, it is used for people,” the chief minister said. “The value-added tax in Haryana is comparatively lower than other states.”

Assam Congress protests against fuel hike

The Assam unit of the Congress on Sunday launched protests across the state against the rise in fuel prices, reported NDTV. The party accused the Bharatiya Janata Party government of “looting” the public in the name of fuel taxes.

Congress leaders, led by former Union minister Mukul Wasnik, carried cooking gas cylinders on their shoulders, wearing garland of onions and protesting at fuel stations across the state. The protest was held ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the state on Monday.

“Will the BJP government clarify whom it is busy levying tax for,” Leader of Opposition in the Assam Assembly Debabrata Saikia asked. “Who is this government favouring at the expense of making people suffer so much?”