Call it election time rationing or return of the administered price mechanism regime, but the retail price of petrol may not cross the Rs 75 a litre-mark in Delhi, at least till the end of polling on May 19.
Official sources said that public sector oil marketing companies (OMCs) have been told in no uncertain terms to keep a check on the rising price transport fuels – petrol and diesel – even though rise in global oil prices and India’s daily pricing mechanism makes it impossible to control price rise.
OMCs have not been issued any written order on petrol prices, but the government being its largest shareholder has exercised its control to make sure that companies absorb a portion of the hike in retail prices and prevent consumers from paying abnormally higher prices, especially in the middle of election season.
“The 75 a litre-mark for petrol is a psychological level that does not affect the comfort level of the Centre. Anything beyond this, could have an adverse fallout for the ruling party during elections,” an official source said here.
When contacted, an official in a public sector oil company denied getting any directive from the government to hold petrol and diesel prices, but agreed that the retail prices of these two petroleum products have not been revised for the last few days.
“Retail price of petrol and diesel depends on a lot of factors and not just global movement of crude and product prices,” the official said.
In the wake of a spurt in global oil prices, the price of petrol in Delhi stood very close to the Rs 75 a litre-mark on Tuesday, at Rs 72.95.
The price may rise sharply in the coming week as the US decision to withdraw the waiver on Iran sanctions to major importing countries, including India, is keeping global crude oil on the boil with prices already touching $73 a barrel and rising.
The source said that to test the new scheme, OMCs would absorb any hike in the petrol price beyond Rs 75 only in Delhi. It could be extended to other parts of the country, if the global prices continue to rise.
The OMCs are already absorbing a portion of the hike. The price of petrol had remained unchanged nationally for 6 consecutive days between March 30 and April 4 even though the global price movement required an increase in retail prices.
Post April 4, the petrol retail price has remained unchanged between two to three days on numerous occasions till date.
The Finance Ministry is unlikely to cut excise duty on petrol and diesel in the middle of elections. In this situation, the best option available is to cap the increase in retail price of petroleum products.
OMCs are hoping that the oil market would correct itself, which would ease the situation on prices and price controls could be withdrawn later.
State-run fuel retailers Indian Oil Corp, Bharat Petroleum Corp and Hindustan Petroleum Corp switched to daily price revision from a fortnightly pricing system in June 2017 as the government sought to further the pricing reforms in the sector.
The system, however, has now become a big headache as constant increase in global prices are pushing up retail petrol and diesel prices daily.