PM non-committal on LPG relief to State

PM non-committal on LPG relief to State

22 October 2012
The Daily Excelsior
Neeraj Rohmetra

Jammu: In a major set-back to the State Government, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh today remained non-committal on providing relief to the State Government on the issue of raising cap of the subsidized LPG cylinders or providing any financial support for the same despite the demand being raised by State Government at different levels. This became evident when a high level State delegation of senior Ministers led by Deputy Chief Minister, Tara Chand met the Prime Minister in New Delhi. The group of Minister, representing the coalition partners included Minister for Public Enterprises, Peerzada Mohammad Syed (Congress) and Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Minister, Qamar Ali Akhoon along with Industries Minister S S Slathia (both from National Conference). The group of Ministers presented a memorandum to the Prime Minister expressing the hope that Centre would positively accede to their demands. Sources stated that though the Prime Minister gave a 'patient hearing' to the delegation, there wasn't any categorical assurance from Dr Singh on the issue. Sources stated that the Prime Minister also refused to give an 'assurance' to consider providing any financial support to the State Government to bear the subsidy cost in case the State decides to increase the cap in LPG cylinders from six to nine in a year. Finance Minister, Abdul Rahim Rather had recently stated that it would cost the State more than Rs 500 crore to bear this expenditure pertaining to the subsidy of cylinders. Political experts also consider this as 'major embarrassment' for the Congress party, which is part of the coalition in the State and is also heading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre. Most of the Congress-ruled states across the country have chosen to raise the number of subsidized cylinders from six to nine under direction from UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi. Two days back Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah while pleading the cause of consumers of the State had emphatically stated that the Central Government couldn't treat J&K at par with other States of the country on the LPG cap issue in view of the sub-zero temperatures during winters. Minister for Public Enterprises, Peerzada Mohammad Syed while talking to EXCELSIOR about the meeting stated that the delegation met the Prime Minister on the directions of the Chief Minister. 'We wanted to bring into the notice of Dr Manmohan Singh as to how adversely the State would be affected in view of the cap on LPG cylinders'. 'We submitted before him that several far-flung areas of both Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh region remain cut-off from the rest of the country in winters and the people wouldn't be able to survive in absence of adequate LPG supply. The Central Government has been helping the State in all areas and in this case also they should be liberal in dealing with this economically backward State', he added. 'The J&K was also power-deficit State and in the absence of power, people are totally dependent on LPG for various needs. Several areas of the State face harsh winters and even now the Kashmir had started freezing', he added. Asked how several Congress-ruled States were able to increase the cap of subsidized cylinders from six to nine, he quipped, 'States like Maharashtra have resources to meet the subsidy expenditure while Jammu and Kashmir is an economically backward State. We are dependent on the Union Government for several of our needs'. When questioned if the delegation intends to meet UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, Mr Peerzada stated that there was no such proposal under consideration as of now. 'We have also requested Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy and former Chief Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah and Union Health Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad to take up the issue at highest level. They represent the State in the Union Cabinet and have assured to help the State', he added. Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CA&PD), Transport Qamar Ali Akhoon told EXCELSIOR that the delegation appraised the Prime Minister about the problem that had arisen in the State after the announcement of the cap on subsidized LPG. 'Dr Manmohan Singh gave us a patient hearing and listened to our woes. We told him that the capping on LPG will add to the miseries of the people of State', he said. 'The delegation informed him that due to geographical and topographical conditions, severe lengthy winter season leads to frequent closure of Jammu-Srinagar National Highways besides Srinagar-Kargil-Leh road and unbearable chilly days in the State due to which the people of the State are already facing tremendous hardships', he added. All the members of the delegation, he stated, had urged the Prime Minister to consider the State a 'special case' and take some early decisions to remove the hardships of the people. Asked if the delegation would be meeting Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas, Jaipal Reddy in this context, he said, 'the Union Minister is out of the country'. Mr Akhoon had met Mr Reddy on October 15 in New Delhi and apprised him about the problems of the State. Minister for Industries and Commerce, S S Slathia said the delegation had submitted a Memorandum dwelling in details about the woes of the people after cap on subsidized cylinders. 'We had urged him to take a sympathetic view in view of the adverse climatic conditions of the State and also in view of Jammu and Kashmir being economically backward State'. 'While no decision had been taken in the meeting, we hope that the Centre would accede to the justified demand of the people of State. The delegation apprised the Prime Minister that the issue was of prime importance to the State and the populace were solely dependent on LPG for various need due to the topography of the State', he added. Finance Minister, Abdul Rahim Rather, while responding to the adjournment motion moved jointly by opposition during the recently concluded Assembly session had stated that the demand of Legislators that State bear the burden of LPG cylinders subsidy would put tremendous strain on the cash-strapped 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 percent of the 15 lakh consumers in the State are using less than six cylinders per year', he said on the floor of the House. The State Assembly on October 3 had passed a resolution, calling upon the Centre to take a sympathetic view on Jammu and Kashmir and relax the cap on number of subsidized LPG cylinders in view of the adverse conditions of the State.