Even as oil prices in the international market have picked up again after plunging initially following reports of the United States and other countries, including India, planning to release crude stockpiles in a coordinated effort to lower global energy prices, domestic price rise has raised anger against Union government policies in Kerala.
Following the call of the State Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), protest meetings and demonstrations were held in over 200 centres across the state on Tuesday and in around a dozen centres on Wednesday, demanding that the Union government lower fuel taxes and bring down the prices of essential commodities. Around 5 lakh people participated in the protests held in front of Union government offices in different parts of the state from 10 am to 6 pm on Tuesday.
In Thiruvananthapuram, the protest demonstration held in front of Raj Bhavan was led by CPI(M) acting State Secretary A Vijayaraghavan. Former Finance Minister Thomas Isaac led the protests in Kollam, and Central Committee member EP Jayarajan led the demonstration in Kannur.
Speaking while inaugurating the protest demonstration in front of Raj Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram, Vijayaraghavan held the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government squarely responsible for allowing the huge price rise in essential commodities that was punishing common people. Stating that the cess, surcharge, excise duty and special additional excise duty on Petrol and Diesel levied by the Union government amounted to a squeeze on the consumer not seen anywhere else in the world, Vijayaraghavan attacked the BJP for allowing the corporates to profit from the common people’s misery. Vijayaraghavan accused the Union government of using the high taxes on fuel to cover for the revenue deficit due to concessions handed out to the corporates.
People in the country were going hungry at the same time when record stock of food grains are being held in Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns, he added.
Inaugurating the protest meeting in front of the Chathannoor Post Office in Kollam, Isaac said that the hike in taxes levied by the Union government on Petrol and Diesel since 2014 had allowed them to collect around Rs 15 lakh crore in excess. This money was being used to shell out bad loans, tax waivers and production-linked incentives to corporate companies, he said.
While inaugurating the protest meeting in front of Kannur Head Post Office, Jayarajan accused the Union Finance Ministry of not releasing the Goods and Sales Tax (GST) dues legitimately demanded by the states. He said that all productive sectors in India, including the construction and manufacturing sectors, were in a crisis, and nothing was being done to check the price rise. Former Lok Sabha MP PK Biju led protests in Thrissur. Apart from speeches and rallies, folk songs and revolutionary poems were recited by the gathered protesters.
State Government promises moves to check price rise. Meanwhile, Minister for Finance KN Balagopal announced that the Kerala government would further strengthen the public distribution system in the state. Calling price rise the main issue being faced by all states, he asserted that the intervention of the Union government was necessary to check it. He had earlier alleged that the Union government was misusing Article 271 of the Constitution to curtail the federal rights of all states.
Minister for Agriculture P Prasad announced that steps are being taken to halt the uncontrolled rise in the prices of vegetables. He said that Kerala State Horticultural Products Development Corporation (Horticorp) and Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council Keralam (VFPCK) have been instructed to procure vegetables locally and from neighbouring states. He added that produce from vegetable clusters would be directly procured, and farmer-run markets would also be set up to check prices.
In his address to the protesters gathered in Thiruvananthapuram, Vijayaraghavan listed out the measures taken by the state government during the pandemic period for the welfare of the people, including distribution of grocery and ration kits, hike in social security pension and market interventions to control price rise. Remarking that Congress was also responsible for the rise in fuel price as it was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government that had led that first deregulated petrol pricing, he ridiculed the party for putting the onus of price rise on the Kerala government.
He reminded that the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in the state had not increased the Value Added Tax (VAT) on Petrol and Diesel in the last six years and that it was the Union government’s policies that were ‘stifling the state’. Vijayaraghavan, who is also the convenor of the Left Democratic Front (LDF), announced that the political front would be leading agitations against the Union government’s neglect of the state on November 30 and against the Sangh Parivar’s attacks against religious minorities on December 7.