Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan on Sunday acknowledged that the rising fuel prices were problematic. But, he claimed that the Centre could not bring the rates down because it was saving money for welfare schemes, reported ANI.

Fuel prices have been increased 23 times since May 4, with both petrol and diesel costing more than Rs 100 in some places.

Pradhan said that more than Rs 35,000 crore was being spent by the central and state governments on vaccines. He listed out other initiatives undertaken by the Centre to defend the NDA government.

“Just now the prime minister spent Rs 1 lakh crore to distribute free food grains for eight months under the Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Yojana,” he said. “Under PM Kisan [scheme], thousands of crores have been sent directly to the bank accounts of farmers. Just now, MSP [minimum support price] for rice and wheat was announced, keeping in mind the interest of farmers.”

Pradhan also questioned Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who has regularly targeted the Centre on the rising fuel prices. The Union minister said that Gandhi should answer about the high fuel prices in Congress-rules states such as Punjab, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. “If Rahul Gandhi is so concerned and worried about the poor, he should direct his Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to reduce taxes,” he said.

The prices of fuel differ from state to state as the incidence of local taxes such as value-added tax, or VAT, and freight charges vary. Rajasthan levies the highest value-added tax on petrol in the country, followed by Madhya Pradesh.

On Saturday, the price of diesel crossed Rs 100 in Rajasthan – a first in India. Petrol already costs more than Rs 100 in several areas. The rising fuel prices have triggered protests across India. The Congress has said it will organise a march in Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada District on Monday against the price rise.

On Friday, the Congress had held protests at petrol pumps across the country, demanding that the Centre roll back the rise in prices of fuel.

In Delhi, a litre of diesel cost Rs 86.98 on Saturday, while petrol hit a record of Rs 96.12. In Mumbai, diesel cost Rs 94.39, while petrol was priced at Rs 102.30 per litre. In Kolkata, diesel cost Rs 89.83, while petrol was priced at Rs Rs 96.06. The prices of diesel and petrol in Chennai were Rs 91.64 and Rs 97.43. In Bengaluru, the price of diesel stood at Rs 92.21, and petrol rate touched Rs 99.33.

The prices remained unchanged on Sunday.