Congress mounts pressure on Kumaraswamy to roll back fuel price hike

H. D. Kumaraswamy gestures to the gathering as he arrives to be sworn in as Chief Minister of Karnataka, in Bengaluru on Wednesday | AP H. D. Kumaraswamy gestures to the gathering as he arrives to be sworn in as Chief Minister of Karnataka, in Bengaluru on Wednesday | AP

Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy has come under mounting pressure from the ruling coalition partner Congress to roll back the hike in petrol and diesel prices announced in the budget last week.

Ahead of Kumaraswamy's reply to the debate on the budget in the assembly on Thursday, senior Congress leader Siddaramaiah said he had written to the chief minister, requesting him to withdraw the hikes as it would affect the common man.

Siddaramaiah pointed out that the Congress was protesting against the BJP government at the Centre over the fuel price hike and had made it a major issue. "At this juncture, your decision to hike petrol and diesel prices may affect the common man," Siddaramaiah, who is the Congress-JD(S) coordination committee chief said in the letter released to the media.

In the coalition government's maiden budget last week, Kumaraswamy, who holds the finance portfolio, had proposed hike in the price on petrol and diesel by Rs 1.14 and Rs 1.12 per litre respectively as part of resource mobilisation efforts following the farm loan waiver, which is expected to cost the exchequer Rs 34,000 crore.

He had also announced a reduction in the rice quota issued to BPL families by two kg and decided to supply only five kgs per month to an individual under the 'Anna Bhagya', a flagship scheme of the previous Siddaramaiah government.

In his letter, Siddaramaiah also sought reconsideration of the decision to reduce the supply or rice.

Expressing "surprise" over this decision, Siddaramaiah said the subsidy amount that his government had earmarked was Rs 2,450 crore and by reducing rice supply by two kg, Rs 600-700 crore can be saved.

But reduction in the quantity may increase the burden on the poor, he said, adding that he came to know from party leaders and activists across Karnataka that people have opposed this move.

In his budget speech, Kumaraswamy had defended the fuel price hike, saying the government needed to augment resources for the welfare needs and that it was a modest increase.

Karnataka Food and Civil Supplies Minister B.Z. Zameer Ahmed Khan too has written to Kumaraswamy, asking him to restore supply of seven kg of rice under the 'Anna Bhagya' scheme.

According to sources, the issue was reportedly a major point of discussion in the Congress legislature party meeting on Wednesday.