Robbing Peter to pay Paul

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail the last time around when the government had hiked petrol and diesel prices in the country. I have updated the fuel prices in his figures to today’s numbers but have left the earlier figures of other products untouched: they still, by far, overtake petrol prices by huge measures even today.

This is the text of his mail:

“I cursed the government for its recent petrol price hike. But then I compared it with other common liquids and did some quick calculations, and I felt a little better.

To know why, see the results below – you’ll be surprised at how outrageous some other prices are!

Diesel (regular) in Bombay: Rs. 52.45 per litre

Petrol (regular unleaded) in Bombay: Rs. 74.23 per litre

Coca Cola 250 ml can: Rs. 25 = Rs. 100 per litre

Dettol antiseptic 100 ml Rs. 20 = Rs. 200 per litre

Radiator coolant 500 ml Rs. 160 = Rs. 320 per litre

Pantene conditioner 400 ml Rs. 165 = Rs. 413 per litre

Medicinal mouthwash like Listerine 100 ml Rs. 45 = Rs. 450 per litre

Red Bull 150 ml can: Rs. 75 = Rs. 500 per litre

Corex cough syrup 100 ml Rs. 57 = Rs. 570 per litre

Evian water 500 ml Rs. 330 = Rs.. 660 per litre
Rs. 660 for a litre of WATER???!!! And the buyers don’t even know the source (Evian spelled backwards is Naive.)

Kores white-out 15 ml Rs. 15 = Rs. 1000 per litre

Cup of coffee at any decent business hotel 150 ml Rs. 175 = Rs. 1167 per litre

Old Spice after shave lotion 100 ml Rs. 175 = Rs.. 1750 per litre

Pure almond oil 25 ml Rs. 68 = Rs. 2720 per litre

And this is the REAL KICKER…
HP deskjet colour ink cartridge 21 ml Rs.1900 = Rs. 90476 per litre!!!

Now you know why computer printers are so cheap? So they have you hooked for the ink!”

So, the next time you’re at the pump, my friend said, don’t curse our honourable petroleum minister – just be glad your bike/car doesn’t run on cough syrup, after shave, coffee or, God forbid, printer ink or even Evian water!

Now, I can understand the problems the poor people might have to face with the current policy to provide only six LPG cylinders per family per annum on subsidy. And I can understand the crib of the salaried classes, particularly the middle-middle class downwards, who might have to face several price hikes (like that of vegetables) owing to the hike in diesel prices.

But I just do not understand why owners of swanky cars should crib about paying Rs five more per litre of diesel when they possess the kind of cars that anyway drink up nearly 50 litres of petrol in just four days while the same amount lasts me at least two weeks on similar mileage. And I also do not understand why my tax money should go to subsidise the LPG cylinders at the homes of people the Ambani brothers whose electricity bills alone run into several lakhs per month.

I recall being outraged some years ago that the Maharashtra government had decided to categorise consumers into three groups: they reissued our ration cards with different colours. My mother ended up with a white-coloured one on which she was entitled to nothing – it was just a piece of paper for identity purposes. Her maid, however, got a yellow one and she could draw all her rations, including kerosene, at subsidised rates on her card. The middle group could get only kerosene; no subsidised food was made available to them at all on their ration cards.

On second thoughts, my outrage subsided as I realised that my mother’s maid needed those subsidies while my mother perhaps did not. But my mother was a modest-income senior citizen and I did not see why she should have to buy her rice and wheat at the same prices that the Ambanis did with millions of crores in their bank accounts.

So, perhaps, there is a case for restructuring our pricing suited to our incomes — though that might be both a financial nightmare and an unconstitutional classification of Indian citizens into different classes of people. Moreover, it could be akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul at some levels.

However, considering that even the NDA, which is now vociferously protesting the fuel price hike this week, had to raise petrol prices more than a dozen times in its six year tenure, I wonder what measures governments of the day might have to take to meet their deficits, keep the heads of oil companies above water, while at the same time ensuring that such hikes do not really make living in India such a difficult proposition (perhaps every time they hike petrol prices, they should also hike our travel allowances or lower our taxes by equivalent decimals).

My car loan has just about been repaid and I am not inclined to buy a swankier one too soon. My sister does not buy even a small car precisely for the fear of the kind of outgoings she might have to incur on fuel. My mother used to consume one LPG cylinder a month cooking for a family of five throughout her life. I and my sisters, all working women, hate to cook after a long day in office and commuting to and from work, so we consume only a couple of cylinders a year. That, then, is our only silver lining from this recent LPG policy.

But, then, we have to eat; so I guess we will still end up paying as much for the food on our table which we order out every other day. So, while our taxes continue to subsidise the rich and the poorer suffer more than ever, that silver lining then could also burn a great big hole in our pockets.

There goes our fine dining! I guess we will have to stay home and, well, sing for our supper!

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