New Delhi: The Trinamool Congress (TMC), which has threatened to withdraw support to the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance government (UPA) at the Centre over a recent increase in fuel prices, backed down on Tuesday in the face of an aggressive stance taken by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The Prime Minister told TMC leaders there would not be any roll-back on the price increase, according to a person familiar with the development. “Not only that, he said if the international prices (of crude oil) go up, we will have to face another price increase. And he also indicated that there would be decontrolling of more prices,” said the person, who did not want to be identified.
A day after state-owned oil companies increased petrol prices by Rs1.80 a litre, Banerjee on Friday demanded a roll-back on the increase. Her announcement came after 23 of the 25 members in the TMC parliamentary party passed a resolution in favour of pulling out of the Union government.
Voicing concerns: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Photo: PTI
Singh also pointed out to TMC leaders that an empowered group of ministers headed by Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has a pending proposal related to capping the number of subsidized domestic liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders a consumer can avail in a year. A task force on direct cash transfers has suggested the politically sensitive decision to limit the number of cylinders in the first phase, followed by a direct subsidy transfer.
TMC leaders said they will convey the details of the meeting to their leader and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
“We have expressed our concern over the price rise. We have categorically told the Prime Minister that we will not take it very easily if there is any more decisions (of increasing the prices of petroleum products),” Sudip Bandyopadhyay, a TMC parliamentarian and a minister in the UPA government, told reporters after a 45-minute-long meeting with Singh.
Banerjee in Kolkata reiterated her threat. In an interview with the Star Ananda TV channel, Banerjee said members of Parliament (MPs) from her party issued an ultimatum to the Prime Minister that the party will quit the UPA if there were further increases in the prices of cooking gas, kerosene or diesel.
“We don’t want to take any decision in haste and act irresponsibly, but we are committed to the people,” Banerjee said in the interview.
Banerjee’s threat comes at a time when the UPA government is facing criticism on spiralling inflation and corruption charges. TMC’s 18 lawmakers extend crucial support to Singh’s coalition government in the Lok Sabha.
Other allies of the UPA including the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Nationalist Congress Party ruled out quitting the government over the increase in petrol prices.
Banerjee, on the other hand, has demanded a Rs19,000 crore bailout package from the Centre for West Bengal, according to a report in the Hindustan Times on Tuesday.
The state has a debt of Rs2.2 trillion. Banerjee has asked Mukherjee for a moratorium on interest repayments for the next five months, said a state finance department official said, who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The state government in its annual financial statement has budgeted for interest repayments of Rs13,000 crore in the current fiscal year.
Mint’s Anuja and Utpal Bhaskar in New Delhi and Romita Datta in Kolkata contributed to this story.