LPG crisis rocks Assembly; Oppn MLAs stage walk-out

LPG crisis rocks Assembly; Oppn MLAs stage walk-out

3 October 2012
The Daily Excelsior
Fayaz Bukhari

Srinagar: The State Assembly today passed a resolution, calling upon the Centre to take a sympathetic view on Jammu and Kashmir and relax the cap on number of subsidised LPG cylinders in view of the adverse climatic conditions of the State. Not satisfied with the Government reply on the adjournment motion brought by the opposition parties and its decision to take up matter with the Central Government, People's Democratic Party, Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and National Panthers Party (NPP) MLAs staged a walkout from the Assembly in protest. Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD) Minister Qamar Ali Akhoon while replying to the adjournment motion of opposition parties on the issue of LPG crisis in State Assembly disclosed that Government will send a delegation of the legislators to Centre to impress upon the Union Government to relax the cap on the number of subsidized LPG cylinders in view of climatic conditions of the State. The Minister said 'After the Assembly session is over, we will send a delegation to the Centre to convince the Government of India to relax the cap for the State in view of the extreme winter conditions.' Akhoon said that Government has taken up the issue of the six-cylinder per year cap on supply of LPG with the Central Government and requested them to have a sympathetic view become of its peculiar situation and topography where people solely depend on the LPG. 'Government is in constant touch with the Central leadership and hopeful to get some relief for the consumers', he added. The CAPD Minister said that in order to enhance the stocking capacity of LPG to meet the additional requirements during the winter in Kashmir, the Government of India has agreed for upgrading the existing bottling plant at Pampore. He said as a long term measure, a separate gas pipe line from Gujarat to Jammu and Kashmir will be established. Aknoon said Government is aware of the problems faced by the consumers and every possible step will be taken for their welfare. He said the Government has already identified five blocks for setting up new gas agencies to improve the distribution network. The Minister said that to overcome the scarcity of LPG 65 new outlets will be established in the rural areas of the State. 'The LPG outlets will be opened in 65 blocks of the State with a population of 4000 and potential of 60 connections', he added. Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather, while responding to demand of legislators that State bear the subsidy burden up to another six cylinders per year, said it will put tremendous strain on the cash-strapped State Government. 'If we give subsidy on another six cylinders, we will be incurring a loss of Rs 520 crore per year and on three cylinders it will be Rs 260 crore. A major chunk of 44 per cent of the 15 lakh consumers in the State are using less than six cylinders per year', said Rather. He said that Government shared the concern of the people on account of LPG crisis but maintained that State Government has no role in increasing the LPG prices and diesel and it is fully a Centre's domain. He said that the State Government has already exempted fully LPG from payment of VAT, which was in its own hands. Earlier in the morning as soon as the house assembled, pandemonium broke out in the Assembly as opposition PDP, BJP and NPP demanded suspension of question hour to discuss the problems caused by the cap on LPG cylinders. The two opposition parties demanded an immediate roll back of the hike in fuel prices and increasing the cap on the number of subsidised LPG cylinders in the State. Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Mohammad Akbar Lone urged the opposition to allow the question hour proceedings after which the LPG crisis will be discussed. After PDP and BJP refused to relent, Lone suspended the day's business and allowed a discussion on the LPG crisis following an adjournment motion moved by several members, including some from the treasury benches. Speaking on the adjournment motion, leader of opposition Mehbooba Mufti warned that if the cap on the number of subsidised cylinders was not increased, it can lead to upheaval during the winter. 'There is a possibility of upheaval during the winter if LPG gets out of reach of the common people. They are already reeling under electricity shortage and will be left with no alternative for fuelling their kitchen,' she said. The PDP president asked the State Government to take cue from Congress-ruled States like Delhi and increase the number of subsidised cylinders. She also lamented that the verification process for LPG connections was tedious and resulted in unwarranted hardships for the people of the State. Mehbooba said it was surprising that the latest price issued by the oil companies after approval from Government for unsubsidised cylinders was Rs 100 more than elsewhere in the country. 'Why should the prices be Rs 100 higher in our State?' she asked. Mehbooba said that the increase in LPG prices is a matter of serious concern and there should be roll back keeping in view the difficult geography and topography of the State as compared to other States. She said that most of the areas in the State remain cut off during winters. 'Six LPG cylinders on subsidized cost per connection is not justified', She said. BJP MLA Ashok Khajuria while speaking on the adjournment motion urged the State Government not to implement the price hike on LPG and diesel in Jammu and Kashmir as people cannot afford it. He stressed for passing a resolution urgently expressing people's concern about the price rise on the essential commodities. National Panthers Party (NPP) MLA Harsh Dev Singh termed the price hike of LPG cylinders as unwarranted. He said the hike in fuel prices has resulted in price hike of all commodities and will put pressure on forests. 'People will look for alternative fuel and it will put pressure on forests. Once the price of diesel is hiked, it automatically increases the price of all commodities as transportation costs go up,' he added. Singh suggested that the State Government reduce the duties and taxes on LPG and diesel to provide some relief to the people of the State. MLA Balwant Singh Mankotia suggested measures for judicious use of funds which can be utilized for granting LPG subsidy to the consumers. He suggested that Government should stop the practice of darbar move which will save Rs 300 Crore annually and can be used for granting subsidy on LPG. Expelled BJP MLA Chaman Lal Gupta said the LPG cylinder cap should be at least 12 per year and the cost of unsubsidised cylinder should not be more than Rs 600. He said that imposing restrictions on the subsidized LPG cylinders will have adverse affect on the forests and misuse of electricity. He described the move totally unjustified and great burden on the common man. Engineer Abdul Rasheed said that Government should take immediate necessary steps to defuse the present situation arisen due to withdrawing of subsidy and re-verification of LPG connections, in the State. He said the common man particularly the poor people has been badly affected due to increase in price hike in the essential commodities and price rise in LPG. CPI(M) MLA, M Y Tarigami said while he was happy at the unanimity of the house on this crucial public issue, the debate should not end in the house. 'Concrete measures should follow to provide relief to the people,' he said. Tarigami said while the Government at Centre was providing tax holidays worth trillions of rupees to the multi-national corporations, it is hard-pressing the common man in the name of so called reforms. 'Why is the Government shying away from providing a subsidy of few thousand crores to the common man when it is waiving off taxes worth lakhs of crores for MNCs?' he asked. He said the price rise in international markets was a fiction and the oil companies in the country were not running in losses. Congress MLAs G A Mir and Vikar Rasool defended the reforms initiated by the Centre saying funds were needed for development and welfare programmes run by the Government. They, however, demanded that the LPG cap in the State should be relaxed in view of the harsh winter conditions in the State. Earlier in the morning, BJP and NPP MLAs staged a protest outside the assembly entrance against the LPG cap and hike in fuel prices. While raising slogans against the State Government, the MLAs demanded that Governor N N Vohra should dismiss the State Government.