Govt mulls scrapping or rollback of fuel cess amid backlash

Thiruvananthapuram: The budget proposal to impose a social security cess of Rs 2 on every litre of petrol and diesel sold in Kerala has given rise to a severe backlash from the public and parties across the political divide.

Considering the immense political pressure even from left parties the Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government may consider revoking the proposal for the fuel cess altogether or reduce it.

It is highly likely the Pinarayi Vijayan regime may slash the fuel cess by Re 1, and an announcement in this regard may be made in the legislature, sources said.

Kerala would soon have the highest fuel prices in India along with Telangana and Andhra Pradesh as per the budget proposal to impose a social security cess of Rs 2 on every litre of petrol and diesel.

Even the LDF constituents seem displeased with the move to slap cess that is set to increase the burden on the public amid increase in almost all taxes and fees in the latest State Budget presented by Finance Minister K N Balagopal on Friday.

While they stop short of publicly rejecting the cess, the LDF constituents feel the move to increase petrol and diesel price has resulted in considerable public resentment.

“Let the Government study the issues,” LDF Convener E P Jayarajan responded.

Even former Finance minister Thomas Isaac refused to justify the fuel cess. Similarly, CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury’s response to a query of media persons on cess was to “ask the Kerala leaders”.

CM, CPM chief hold talks
CPM State Secretary M V Govindan held a hurried meeting with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in Kochi on Saturday. Finance Minister Balagopal too held discussions with Finance Ministry officials in the evening as the protests against the Chief Minister continued on Saturday.

The development comes even as Govindan was set to lead the CPM’s state-wide rally to prep the party ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. Though the rally is against the Centre’s policies, the party leaders have realised that the fuel price hike proposed in the budget may land the Government on the back foot.

Govindan reportedly discussed with the CM the public protests and the Opposition's plan to intensify the stir against the Left Government.

"What was announced in the budget was only a proposal. A final decision will be taken only after holding consultations. The Centre is responsible for this much hike (in the financial burden of the state). It is yet to provide Rs 40,000 crore due,” Govindan stated.

CPI too upset
While CPI State Secretary Kanam Rajendran issued a press release favouring the additional tax proposals by the Government, a majority of the party members doesn’t agree with him. They want the party to apprise the CPM about the public disenchantment, sources said.

K P Rajendran, the Kerala State General Secretary of the All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), demanded the withdrawal of the cess proposal. AITUC, the largest trade union in the country, is affiliated to the CPI.

Anger on social media
Meanwhile, social media is rife with varied expressions of protests against the fiscal measure with a barrage of negative comments appearing under the posts of chief minister and ministers.

The CPM's cyber wing, too, is not keen on defending the move.

Even without the cess, the petrol price in Kerala is higher than many other states. Kerala, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh top the list of Indian states imposing the highest tax rates on fuel, with Telangana in the first position with a tax of 35.20%.

UDF mulls protests
The Opposition United Democratic Front would hold a meeting of its constituent party leaders to discuss about protests to be held against the fuel price hike, its Convener M M Hassan informed.

Congress observed a Black Day on Saturday. The Mahila Congress held a march to the Secretariat, while the Block Congress committees too held protest marches at the local level. The Congress will siege Collectorates on Tuesday.

The Assembly is set to witness an uproar over the issue on Monday.

The BJP state council, which met in Kochi, too has planned an array of protests against the cess move.

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