With the Centre refusing to budge on forcing bulk buyers of diesel, such as defence, railways and transport corporations, to pay over Rs 10 more per litre, it took the clout of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to force the Oil Ministry to remove fishermen from that category.
On Wednesday, a pressure group of fishermen led by the National Fishworkers Forum met Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Oil Minister Veerappa Moily, demanding subsidised fuel, but there was no forward movement.
Perhaps with an eye on its political fallout, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan took up the issue with Rahul. The Gandhi scion, according to sources, called up Moily, after which the latter blinked. A subsequent statement issued by the Oil Ministry said, “Supply to the fishermen would be treated as retail supply and will be supplied at the price applicable for the other retail outlets of the oil marketing companies, with immediate effect.” The Oil Ministry acknowledged that fishermen were agitated and had stopped lifting supplies from dedicated outlets since January 18.
Addressing the press, Moily, however, remained firm on forcing other bulk buyers to pay more.
The Oil Minister said he had heard of states like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu asking its public transport fleet to refuel at retail petrol pumps instead of buying diesel from oil firms directly as is the current practice. “This is being done with a view to avoid paying the market price mandated for them. We need to look into that issue,” he said, adding that when rules were formulated there were always people who found ways to circumvent it.
Instead of buses being asked to refuel at petrol pumps, the states should cut high local sales tax or VAT on diesel, Moily added.