Category Archives: Law

Don’t S[PIL]L the Fuel!

I am on my way to the business capital of India: Mumbai and I am supposed to reach on 31st May which had been called on for a Bharat Bandh by the opposition parties. I was more worried because the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) is currently led by the supporters of the strike hence eliminating the option of even BEST public buses. I have ordered an Easy Cab but I’m still skeptical yet hopeful of them to ply, of course I don’t see any other option available.

Coming back to the topic, the strike was called in protest of the recent steep hike in the prices of petroleum products. on 30th, I came across an order of Bombay High Court wherein it had asked the Central Government and the petroleum companies namely IOCL and BPCL to file an affidavit in reply to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by one Rajendra Phanse, general secretary of a group called ‘Dharmarajya Paksha’ in Maharashtra. The bench of Justices R Y Ganoo and N M Jamdar ordered the respondents to explain their stand on increasing the price. [Times of India, Hindustan Times]

There is nothing odd with filing PILs. But with all due respect to the Court and with an opinion that it may have issued the order only when it was pertinent to do so after dealing with the petition, I happen to notice certain peculiar issues in the PIL. I shared a status on my Facebook Page Law School Tips which stated:

A PIL has been filed in the Bombay High Court asking it to term the hike in petrol prices to be ultra-vires of the Constituion as its not backed by the mandate of the Parliament.

Guess what? Court has asked the Central Govt. to file an affidavit in reply!

It was aimed at the unconventional nature of the PIL challenging an economic policy decision. Supreme Court has continuously observed that “it shall not interfere in financial and economic policy decision matters are they are the exclusive domain of the executive and the legislature.”

Facebook Status gone wrong: The status caused a stir when a just became lawyer, ridiculed the status claiming that all the law student who either liked or shared the status were stupid and they do not understand that the Central Government was elected by the people. Just as this came up, some others termed the said lawyer himself as being stupid. Later on few chose to delete their comments. Though I share the same emotions over the hike, I do not share the same view on the petition.

How I see the Hike: The best way to drive people crazy with inflation is to increase the rate of petroleum prices. Not only do the fuel prices increase, the prices of those products which involve transportation get affected, grocery items and vegetables being the worst victims. Though no government would deliberately with an intention to irk its people would stir the prices yet this has to be understood that the UPA Government has failed to control the prices. If we say that the conversion rate of USD-INR has increased we cannot ignore that the prices of crude oil have gone down. Rather, I am not at all getting into the submitting of Indian Government to United States while ruining its relations with Iran. Mr. Jai Ram Ramesh suggested completely doing away with the subsidies which I still can’t get over with. People in India have adjusted to these subsidies for ages. If they are removed then I wonder if people will come on streets rioting. State may tax at some place and may subsidies prices at some other place, but such statements may make a common man puzzled.

Supreme Court has already made it clear on numerous occasions that it does not consist of experts on economy matters in this modern age of specialisation to question them. I am no expert on Constitution can still garner some views:

Issues in the PIL:

Totally Illegal: It has been stated that the hike does not have approval of the Parliament. Examples were given of the past increase in postal and telecom services which were mandated in the budget. However I feel that there remains a difference in both. Petroleum prices are now regulated by public sector players such as Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. unlike the previous situation where the Government had the major role to play, though the same may not be true with postal services. A comparison here will lead us to the a situation where tomorrow a PIL may claim the increase in call or SMS charges by public players like BSNL to be illegal.

Undemocratic: Of the people, by the people, for the people. This is equally true as the fact that no Government wants to turn its vote bank against itself. The prices increase only when it fails to control it on a different level. If this contention has to be believed then all those actions which do not make us happy are certainly all undemocratic.

Natural Justice: Petitioner said that the hike was against the principles of natural justice, as it is bound to affect the entire population of the country. Fact accepted but the logic? Come on, natural justice? Like seriously?

Ultra Vires to Constitution – Violative of Art. 14: Article 14 of the Constitution of India provides for equality by State (State as per the definition of Art. 12) and this may therefore include public sector companies like IOCL and BPCL. It has been claimed in the PIL that the prices of petroleum products are different in different regions of the Country hence being a geographical discrimination in contravention of Article 14. I try a lot but still fail miserably to concur with this view. Difference in prices is due to different rate of Value Added Tax or VAT applicable in different states and not because Central Government has some ulterior motive in keeping prices different in different states. As I already pointed out different products may be taxed differently in different places, basic aim being the same i.e. revenue collection. If they leverage one item they may ask higher tax for some other item.

For example, Uttar Pradesh has a high rate of VAT applicable leading to a high price of petrol in UP. Samajwadi Parry had declared in its election manifesto to reduce the rate of petrol after coming into power, however ironically they have now refused to do so and yet are participating in the Bandh and more so it still remains a part of UPA.

Its 7 am and the free unwanted speaker in the train has indicated that the breakfast shall be served soon. I feel good as I am hungry and need to re-fuel myself.

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