Consumers may have to burn a larger hole in their pockets to keep their vehicles running as retail prices of petrol and diesel are set to hit all-time high levels all over again soon. Rising oil prices and the reluctance on the part of the government to cut taxes are two factors responsible for the certain spike in auto fuel prices.
The retail price of petrol in Delhi is Rs 76.61 a litre now. Going by the price rise of up to 20 paisa per day over the last week, petrol would breach record high level of Rs 78.43, touched on May 29, in about 10 days.
Diesel is within the sniffing distance of all-time high of Rs 69.31 a litre, again recorded on May 29. Diesel is retailing at Rs 68.61 a litre in Delhi.
Uncertainty in global oil markets has increased post US sanctions on Iran and call for its strict compliance by president Donald Trump. The price of benchmark Brent crude was hovering over $75 a barrel, while the Indian basket was just a tad lower at $73 a barrel last month.
“But prices are rising now with expectation that it could even breach $100 a barrel post-November 24 when energy sanctions on Iran kick in. This could take petrol and diesel prices to new highs with the auto fuel even breaching Rs 100 a litre mark,” said an oil sector analyst, who did not wish to be named as he was still completing his calculations.
The government’s reluctance to cut excise duty on petrol and diesel has become a bigger worry for auto fuel consumers. This has made retail prices higher even with lower levels of crude oil prices.
Petrol breached its previous all-time high level recorded on September 14, 2013 (when it stood at Rs 76.06 a litre in Delhi) in May this year when crude oil prices were around $80 a barrel. Interestingly, crude oil was at $109.47 a barrel level in September 2013.
With crude reaching closer to $100 a barrel mark soon, retail price of petrol, which has already reached Rs 84.33 a litre in Mumbai, would easily cross Rs 100 a litre mark, making history.
“This is insane as the government is letting consumers suffer even though it has pocketed higher revenue from the sector with the understanding that this will come to their rescue when oil prices rise. If this is not the right time for excise duty cut on petrol and diesel, then one fails to understand what would be one,” said a former oil secretary asking not to be named.
The government’s fiscal concerns have prevented any duty cuts on petrol and diesel. With rising inflation and slowing factory output, revenue from the oil sector is key for the centre and states. This is also probably the reason why petroleum products have yet not been included in GST.
Prices of petrol and diesel rose to all-time high levels in the last week of May this year after oil companies resumed daily price hikes of the two products post Karnataka assembly elections. During elections, oil marketing companies kept petrol and diesel prices untouched for a record 19 days.
The daily increase in petrol and diesel prices again is higher now as OMCs are regularly holding the price line for few days under government instructions to prevent a public backlash.
Even though crude oil prices are rising again, they are still well off the highs of September 2013, when retail prices were at all-time highs. At that time, the price of the Indian basket of crude oil had shot up to $110 per barrel, almost 44 per cent more than what it is today.
“The need of the hour is to immediately cut excise duty on petrol and diesel not by mere Rs 2 per litre as was done on October 3, but to provide full relief to consumers by effecting a Rs 4 per litre cut in duties. This would rob the government of over Rs 50,000 crore in revenue but would save the country from higher inflation and demand squeeze,” said another oil sector expert who wished not to be named.
As per government estimates, India’s import bill could rise by up to $50 billion, impacting the current account deficit severely, if the present surge in oil is maintained. This would take oil import bill to about $140 billion in FY19, up from $88 billion in FY18.
The expectation for continuation of higher oil price this year has gained ground due a series of global developments, including continuing production cut by Opec and Russia, and forthcoming public offer proposed by world’s largest oil producer Saudi Aramco.
The BJP-led NDA government has increased basic excise duty on petrol and diesel nine times ever since it came to power (between November 2014 and January 2016) that more than doubled government’s excise mop-up to Rs 2,42,000 crore in 2016-17 from Rs 99,000 crore in 2014-15. In all, duty on petrol was hiked by Rs 11.77 per litre and that on diesel by 13.47 a litre. It has been reduced only once — in October, 2017 — by Rs 2 a litre.
In February, the government reduced basic and additional excise duty on petrol and diesel by Rs 8 per litre but re-imposed a new road cess of Rs 8 per litre, negating any advantage.