Monday, 12 November 2012

Oil Turmoil

Legend has it that there was a time in India, when you used to get change back from your rickshaw, that there was a time when fuel prices were closer to 50 than they were to a hundred Rupees.

Not to anyone’s surprise, but much to everyone’s annoyance the price of petrol was hiked once again and at the highest amount ever recorded. The BJP and its allies called for a complete shutdown, people once again flooded social networks with images that spoke of how much more we pay than everyone else {made up prices but when you’re pissed, you like everything that works in your favor} and that if no one re-fueled together for one day, the petrol companies would choke on their stock. As much as we’d like to do that, tanking up is not choreography so people will hit the pump when needed.  After all these activities and the fact that fuel prices have more than doubled in less than a decade, you would expect some serious impact. But what you see is a ruling party that is “considering” a roll back of 1.5 bucks. In a parallel universe we would have roll backs of 7.5 and then hikes of 1.5.

However, blame it on corruption or a lack of transparency it's our lack of self sufficiency that makes us a puppet in the oil world.
The biggest issue is that people say these constant hikes only affect rich car drivers who end up paying hundreds of rupees more at each refill. Let me explain to you my situation. I ride a motorbike for an average of 1000kms a month. Being a student means I have very little money at my disposal, but I have fewer responsibilities as well don’t I?

I get around Rs. 3000 a month in which I have to cover every expense I have. That includes fuel, bike services, my highway riding and of course every other regular college student expense. Despite the fact that I have been so good with savings to the point that I wonder if there is a Shah or Patel somewhere in my south Indian bloodline. At the end of the month I’m left with peanuts and this fuel price hike makes me sacrifice a thing or two.

Now imagine the situation of 90% of Indian two wheel riders. They come from moderate backgrounds, ride 100cc bikes that have such great fuel economy that it’s borderline perpetual, but earn about the same as I get.

Trying to get a house, look after your family of 4, pay taxes, get your kids a good school, medical expenses etc. This average a salary combined with such a massive amount of responsibilities means a hike of Rs 7.5 will be devastating. Every time a hike is announced it is this regular man who cues up outside petrol pumps for hours. We may think “how much can he possibly save by tanking up once?” But that one full tank could save him 1/5th of his salary.

What angers several people more is that they take the brunt while states like Goa reduce their price by Rs.11, months before the hike was even announced. Why aren’t diesel prices also increased? Well the goods transport sector is heavily dependent on diesel, so if it had the same price as petrol you can imagine how much more your groceries would cost.

In all honesty I don’t really understand the whole deregulation mumbo-jumbo but I do know for a fact that the government can’t just wipe its hands clean of the price hike by putting it on the oil companies. If the corporate big rigs called all the shots while we had to just stand back and take it why do we even need a government? Yes there may be legitimate reasons for the hike, but the issue was not brought up in the parliamentary session that took place mere days prior. The government has not consulted the opposition and worst of all they haven’t explained to the people why exactly the price went up! When the government’s behavior is so shady, you obviously won’t give them the benefit of doubt. More over after a few days of threats if they are ready to cut the price by 1.5, why was the price increased by 7.5? Wouldn’t the oil companies still suffer? If the oil companies can recover their losses so quickly, it doesn’t look like they were doing so badly after all.

India shells out a hefty amount on tax. People often register cars from Daman & Diu because they actually save quite a bit during registration. Particularly on high end cars you can actually save close to a lakh by the difference in road tax, octroi etc. The real crux of the issue is that motorists don’t get what they paid for. If we had good roads and driving conditions, I’m confident the people wouldn’t mind the amount we shell out for cars.

So what can you do to save on fuel? Apart from driving at decent speeds, you can do the simple things. Ensure your tyres are well inflated, avoid braking too much, get your services done on time and also get the underbelly of the car rinsed every time you hit the car wash. The dust and gunk that get lodged reduce your fuel economy by a few kilometers.  Tata is planning to create a car that actually runs on air but until that gets here, buckle up for more hikes because Rs.100 per liter doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.

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