New Delhi: The Congress on Wednesday said it is "economically anti-national" to fleece Indians of Rs 1.4 lakh crore by raising taxes on petrol and diesel, and urged the Centre to share 75 per cent of this revenue with states so that people are not burdened further.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi termed the rise in petrol and diesel prices as "unfair" and said when the fight against COVID-19 is causing economic hardship to all, instead of reducing prices the government has raised them.
He demanded immediate rollback of the increased prices on the fuels.
"The ongoing battle with coronavirus is causing severe economic hardship for our crores of brothers and sisters. At this time, instead of reducing prices, the decision of the government to raise prices of petrol and diesel by Rs 10-13 per litre is unfair and should be withdrawn," he tweeted in Hindi.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said when the entire country is fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and its poor, including migrants, shopkeepers and small businessmen, were virtually penniless, the government of India was "fleecing" 130 crore Indians by insurmountably raising prices of petrol and diesel.
"In times of this corona pandemic, as also the economic crisis that prevails across India, to fleece people of India in this fashion is economically anti-national," he told reporters at a press conference through video conferencing.
He said the manner and fashion in which the "illegal and forcible" recovery is being made from the people of India, is an example in itself, which has shocked the conscience of each one of us.
Surjewala termed the imposition of taxes by the central government as "inhumane, cruel and insensitive".
"The government should transfer 75 per cent of this money so collected through raise in taxes to states. This will ensure there is no further burden on people of India, by way of more taxes on petroleum products by states," he said.
He said the issue was discussed at a meeting of the chief ministers of Congress-ruled states with party president Sonia Gandhi, where everyone besides former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi expressed deep concerns.
The Congress leader said this increase itself will lead to a recovery of Rs 1 lakh 60 thousand crores annually from people of India. He had earlier stated the money so collected is Rs 1.40 lakh crore.
"Will anybody explain the logic or rational behind it?...Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government explain why is oil that is costing Rs 11.14 per litre in India, is being sold at Rs 71.26 per litre for Petrol and Rs 69.39 per litre for diesel... Who is profiteering out of this insurmountable and inhuman taxation," Surjewala said.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also criticised the government for raising taxes on petrol and diesel and said when the poor, middle class and farmers were not benefitting from the money collected by the government from the fall in oil prices, why was it collecting that money.
"The public should benefit from the steep fall in crude oil prices. But the BJP government has taken all this benefit by filling its own suitcase after repeatedly increasing excise duty," she alleged in a tweet in Hindi.
"The public is not getting the benefit of this fall and the money so collected is also not being spent to help the labourers, middle class, farmers and the industry.
"After all, who is the government collecting money for?" she asked.
Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram also said state governments must borrow to meet their deficits and not impose higher tax burdens when economic activity has come to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic.
New or higher taxes are justified only when the economy is booming, the former finance minister said, dubbing the imposition of taxes as "cruel".
Tax burdens on the middle class and the poor is actually taxing distress, he said in a series of tweets.
"Governments should give money to the people in times of distress, not squeeze and take money from the people," Chidambaram said.
"We have been pleading for cash transfers from the government to the bottom half of the people/families. Instead, governments are doing a reverse transfer of money from people to the government! cruel," he said.
New or higher taxes will impoverish families further, Chidambaram asserted.
"Governments must borrow to meet their deficits, not impose higher tax burdens when economic activity has ground to a halt," he said.
Surjewala also said that between 2014-15 up till the year 2019-20 in a period of six years, the BJP government at the Centre has increased taxes on petrol and diesel 12 times and collected Rs 17 lakh crores, and asked where has this money gone.
"On whose benefit has this money been utilised? We ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come forward and answer these questions," he said.
Their remarks come after the central government hiked excise duty and cess on petrol by Rs 10 per litre and on diesel by Rs 13 a litre.
Retail prices of petrol and diesel have, however, not been impacted by the rise in excise duty and cess as oil companies will adjust them against the recent fall in international crude oil prices.
Petrol prices in the national capital were hiked by Rs 1.67 a litre and diesel by a steep Rs 7.10 per litre after the Delhi government raised local sales tax or value-added tax (VAT) on the two fuels.