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MR. SPEAKER: The time allotted for this discussion is two hours and you have taken 25 minutes.

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SHRI SOMNATH CHATTERJEE (BOLPUR): Mr. Speaker, Sir, it is quite important and significant as well that one of the major discussions, that this House is at the moment in, relate to an extraordinary decision which had been taken on the 3rd of October this year when this Government was not in existence in its new avtaar. It was taken by the earlier Government with the same Prime Minister and the same Finance Minister. The extraordinary situation of deciding to increase the price of diesel at such a rate has really not only created a serious problem but also today there is almost a near deadlock so far as the transport of goods in the country is concerned.

Sir, I could not have imagined -- having had the opportunity of being a Member of this House and seeing the functioning of many Governments in the past -- that on the last date of polling in this country when a new Government was to come within a week or ten days, a decision of this nature is being taken by a caretaker Government. If Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was so sure that he was coming back to power, then propriety and morality demanded that he should have waited for the next House to be constituted, the next Government to be formed and then he should have discussed it with the Opposition leaders and taken them into confidence. All the tall promises about the poor and the vulnerable sections of the community were thrown to the winds. They arrogated unto themselves a power which no caretaker Government, I believe, in the past would have done. If they were not sure about coming back to power, then they should have waited for the next Government to come in. They should have done either of these two things.

Now, the whole explanation has been given by my good friend, Shri Ram Naik. In fact, he has to support something indefensible. He has given certain figures and I am only depending on them for the purpose of my submission here. We have been told of hard decisions being taken. I think, they have recommended his name to be the Finance Minister -- has been saying on the television, even before the new Government was constituted, even before this House assembled,

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This is the attitude. The Prime Minister, of course, has to go by the CII.

SHRI PRIYA RANJAN DASMUNSHI : Is it the CIA or the CII?

SHRI SOMNATH CHATTERJEE: No. It is the CII. Therefore, their mind was adamant that there will be no consideration. The Government takes a politically immoral decision, apart from it being economically unjustified for the country, and then it takes an attitude that at no point they would re-consider this matter. What sort of a Government is this? It is so insensitive to public misery and public opinion and they seem to be totally unconcerned.

Truck operators are on strike and prices of essential commodities are rising. Obviously, it is now spreading all over the country. The West Bengal truck operators who kept their decision in abeyance till the Pujas were over have also joined the strike. Now the entire country is facing problems. Truck operators' strike is going to have its effect on everything including the public sector organisations like the Railways, as rightly pointed out by Shri Vaghela. And this Government says, `Nothing doing'.

Sir, the Minister has been good enough, objective enough, to mention certain decisions which were taken on 1st September, 1997 which say that the basic selling price of diesel would be fixed on the principle of import parity and shall be revised at intervals of every 30 to 60 days. I would like to know from the Government whether there was any such exercise done. Sir, we have got certain publications, and I believe you have also got them, which say that the price rise was Rs.3210 in February, 1999 when the earlier Government -- under the same Prime Minister, with the same Finance Minister but not the same Petroleum Minister though, was in power. Then there was a revision. In March-April there was another revision. Then, Sir, price became Rs.4800 in April. In April there was no revision done. Why not? Why was it not revised when it went up to Rs.4940? It was because they knew that they would have to face the election that were yet to come. In June, there was an increase but no revision was done. There should have been a gradual increase so that the Government had the opportunity to look into its effect on the market and on the people.

Sir, if you kindly go through the chart they have given, you will find that from September, 1997, till April 1999, the price really increased by a few paise and there have been six or seven continuous revisions. In Mumbai from Rs.11.53, it went up to Rs.12.23. That means an increase of seventy paise over a period of two and a half years. Now they wait, they wait in April, they wait in May, they wait in June, and they wait in July. In July it went up to Rs.5730 from Rs.3210. Why did they not do it then, if they were so much concerned with the decision of September, 1997? When the parity method was already in operation, why did they not implement it? Why did they do it in August when it went up to Rs.6250?

Sir, everybody knows the importance of the 3rd of October. That was the last day of polling. This is a Government which deliberately kept things back from the people of this country. They kept back from them this decision that they were going to take. What else is it but political chicanery playing with the people of this country and misusing the authority of the Government? There is no explanation given anywhere by anybody as to why they had not revised the price between February and August during which prices had doubled.

Sir, if the matter of governance is a matter of ipse dixit, if the matter of governance is left only for the purpose of electoral politics, today the country is facing the serious problem of an increase of Rs.4 per litre of diesel which is of vital necessity for the country's economy. Sir, they say that hard decisions will have to be taken. These decisions are hard on the common people of this country. How many rich people, affluent people, wealthy people are concerned with this increase of Rs.4? None. It is the kisan who is concerned; it is the ordinary commuter who is concerned. These are the common people. I was listening to all the tall talk about `for the poor' and all that made in the Address of hon. Rashtrapatiji which was prepared by the Government.

Not one word is mentioned about it. No apology is tendered to the people of this country that on the day the polling ended, we did that and we are forced to do this for these reasons. Now it is very easy to say that "Well, what can we do?" A decision was taken in September, 1997 which they did not implement. As an item of excise duty, the railway freight and other things are in their control. If they are really concerned about the people, they could have taken away excise duty. What about the railway freight? You are totally unconcerned for the common people of this country. If saying something and doing something else is the hallmark of the Governmental functioning, then let us know that. Shri Shankarsinh Vaghela has read out. We are not surprised because sitting on the Right makes all the difference as power goes to the head. That is why, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee is put up as the embodiment of all the political sagacity in this country, all the political morality of this country. What sort of sagacity and what sort of morality was exhibited? When he was there, he strongly opposed it. He accused the Government of immorality, of impropriety. Is there no impropriety on the Government side?

According to us, it is a misfortune of this country that they have come to power. But we are accepting the people's verdict and we have wished them well. This is the mandate. I am accepting the mandate. There is no question of it. But you must govern and govern for the people about whom you are shedding at the moment crocodile tears. Therefore, diesel is not a matter which can be ignored or that. People can do with or without it. It is not such an item. It is not an item of luxury. Therefore, our very serious demand is, the country is agitated and the common people are agitated. There is a deadlock in the country which has to be resolved that it should be withdrawn. Let them hold consultations. Let there be proper discussion and debate. Let us know what can be done. The Prime Minister talks of consensus politics. Is this the way consensus politics is developed in this country? I told Shri Madan Lal Khurana that day "You have not got the Ministry. You have my regrets and you have my sympathies. I cannot help you." At least, you are now on the street. Shri Vijay Kumar Malhotra and Shri Madan Lal Khurana were holding their hands together in opposing bus fare. Now they are on the street opposing the bus fare increase. The diesel price has increased and it has a cascading effect, immediate effect, on the transport. Which Government wants that the bus fare should be raised? I know we are facing the problem in West Bengal and in the States where we are in power. People get annoyed because they find the State Government near them. They get annoyed with the State Government as the State Government are forced to increase the fare because the taxiwallas will not run and the buswallas will not run and nobody will run their vehicles unless they are allowed higher fare. Now they are instigating the people to go to the street to protest against the bus fare hike although it is all entirely caused by the diesel price hike here.

Sir, the threat is big. I have not heard it from any Minister up till now but I find the bureaucrats saying that ESMA may be utilised; or, misutilised, for that matter. I would like to know from the Government whether they are going to apply ESMA here and what is going to happen and whether they are at all thinking of any subsidy just to somehow minimize the rigours of it.

Never in the past has there been such a steep hike in one stroke. In Delhi from Rs.10.37, it has gone up to Rs.13.91; in Calcutta, from Rs.10.52 to Rs.14.20; in Mumbai, from Rs.12.23 to Rs.16.54. Shri Ram Naik is here. Now, he will not be using it for his Railways but he is now responsible. Shri Ram Naik, do not be a ciphor there, you assert yourself. ... (Interruptions)

I appreciate it. Have I not appreciated it at the beginning? Then, in Chennai, it has gone up from Rs.11.27 to Rs.15.24. There has been never in the past such a steep increase. This shows the political immorality. This is anti-people, anti-kisan, anti-everybody and anti-development of this country and we strongly demand that this should be immediately withdrawn. Let the Government take up a responsible attitude discussing with the Opposition, lay the cards on the table and let us find out what can be done in this respect.

Nobody is irresponsible enough to say that the country's economy should be ruined. But what is the country if the people's economies are ruined? We are told that we have a surplus of $ 33 billion as our foreign exchange reserves. It is very good but how much is the fleeting money? For what purpose do we have all this foreign exchange?

There is an obsession for privatisation and an obsession for passing on to the consumer all the liabilities. This is why, this Government, by the very first action of supporting the previous Government's decision, has discredited itself. This is nothing but a declaration of war on the common people of this country. Shri Ram Naik, you have to shoulder this, you have to explain this. I think, the people of this country will take their decision. We wish them to govern well but not misgovern and if they do that we will have to oppose and we shall oppose to the best of our ability. I want to tell the Government that the people of this country will never accept such decisions.

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