“In 1973, when I was studying in Delhi (university), I had, I think, a Lambretta scooter and petrol cost Rs 1.25 a litre. I calculated the rise in petrol prices at an interval of seven years since then. I found that in the seven years of the Modi government, the price of petrol has increased less than the increase in any previous seven years,” Puri told the Times Now Summit 2021.
He said the UPA had freed up petrol pricing in 2010 and the Modi government deregulated diesel pricing in 2014. “In March 2020, (oil) price crashed to $19. Today it is $84-85 (per barrel). Fuel prices are rising because of the market conditions,” he said.
Asked if the timing of the excise cut was dictated by the forthcoming assembly election in UP and it could have come earlier, Puri said there was always some election somewhere in the country.
He explained that the duty cut could not have come earlier because the economy was hit by the pandemic and the government needed money to fund vaccination as well as welfare measures such as free food for the poor. Money was also needed to pay for the oil bonds floated by the UPA government to subsidise fuels earlier.
“Now the focus has shifted on livelihood and the economy is firing on all cylinders. Consumption (of fuels) is higher than the pre-pandemic period. Revenue collections have stabilised. There is confidence (to cut duty)… The (Modi) government has always had its heart in giving relief to consumers. It (duty cut) is an excellent move by the PM and finance minister that will create pressure on states to reduce VAT,” he said.
On the fairness of last year’s excise duty hike, Puri said, “The economy had shut down and the focus was on life.” Excise duty has been fixed. But states charge VAT as per cent… there is a killing (made) there.”
On the strategic sale of Air India, he said the national carrier was financially sick in spite of being a “first-class asset”. “The debate was simply whether to sell or close down the airline,” Puri said. Describing the nationalisation of Air India and Bharat Petroleum (among others) by the Congress government (under Indira Gandhi), Puri expressed happiness that even the second bid for Air India was higher than the reserve price, which proved detractors of the disinvestment wrong.