On Monday, while addressing the press in Kolkata, West Bengal Chief Minister and All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the central government’s revision of the fuel rates. Referring to the recent Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe of former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav, Banerjee demanded that all central agencies should be autonomous. Additionally, she alleged that the Centre’s revenue collection from excise duty was high enough, and that her government will not be reducing state duties on fuel.
“Central agencies should be given full autonomy so that they can act impartially. The government should only give them (a) salary. This should be the goal of new India. Only this autonomy can save India from disaster,” said the Bengal CM. She added, “The BJP-led central government is using the central agencies to interfere in the state affairs. It is bulldozing the federal structure of the country. There is a ‘Tughlaqi rule’ in force.”
She further reiterated that “agencies cannot work because there is no autonomy”. “The autonomy lay in the hands of two persons and the BJP. Such political interference was not prevalent during the time of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Benito Mussolini,” said the TMC supremo. While these remarks were made in the light of the recent CBI probe, Banerjee has accused the BJP-led government in the past, of using central agencies like the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to “harass” opposition party members in various states, including members of her own party.
Reportedly, the CBI is also investigating several cases of violence, rape, and smuggling, including the post-poll violence that erupted in West Bengal after last year’s assembly polls. Referring to the recent CBI raid on Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Yadav, and his family members, Banerjee also criticised the alleged demolishing of nine huts in Malda district.
She questioned during the press conference, “A team of police came from Bihar and demolished huts in bordering areas of Malda. You should have informed Bengal Police? What’s happening in the country?” According to officials, the Bihar police allegedly demolished nine huts and assaulted residents in West Bengal’s Malda, near the inter-state boundary.
Notably, former minister of education Partha Chatterjee, and current minister of state for school education Paresh Adhikari, both TMC members, are under investigation as the latter is an accused in the context of irregularities in school jobs, which the Calcutta High Court has referred to as a “scam”. TMC leader Anubrata Mondal has also been questioned by the CBI in a cattle-smuggling case.
During the press conference, the West Bengal CM also spoke about the recent government’s reduction of the excise duty on petrol by Rs 8 per litre, and on diesel by Rs 6 a litre, and the subsidy on cooking gas prices under the PM Ujjwala Yojana. CM Banerjee questioned, “They (BJP) do this before any election. Only a small portion of the BPL category is under Ujjwala Yojana. How poor people will buy domestic gas at a cost of Rs 800?” According to her, this scheme will only benefit a small number of people who are below the poverty line (BPL).
Subsequently, the CM also told the reporters about how these tax cuts would affect her state. “There is an automatic state tax deduction of Rs 1.80 on petrol and Rs 1.03 on diesel (in West Bengal). We have been providing a rebate of Re 1 per litre for both. Thus, the total rebate becomes Rs 2.80 on petrol and Rs 2.03 on diesel”. Additionally, she explained how the state is set to incur a total revenue loss of Rs 1,141 crores after spending around Rs 500 crores because of the Re 1 rebate.
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“The concession provided by the Centre to BJP-ruled states is not given to states governed by opposition parties. We are not getting our dues. The Centre is depriving us of what we are supposed to get,” alleged CM Banerjee. Currently, the West Bengal government levies 17 percent VAT on diesel, and 25 percent on petrol, and reportedly, the states do not get any share of the cess.
On the other hand, petrol pump owners in the state are set to protest, and said that they will not buy fuel on Wednesday. According to West Bengal Petrol Pumps Dealers Association joint secretary Prasenjit Sen, they have welcomed the step and believe that the government should further reduce the taxes for the common person, He said, “Retail pumps will be losing between Rs 4 and 22 lakh due to the price slash as there is no price protection mechanism for us.” Today, the dealers will protest by turning off the lights at 3000 petrol pumps across the state, between 7:00 pm and 8:00 pm. They will also maintain a policy of ‘no-purchase’ on Wednesday.