Indications are that 24 Akbar Road — the Congress party’s command centre — has taken over the affairs of the central government. What began with Congress scion Rahul Gandhi dictating terms to the government by publicly tearing off the ordinance on convicted politicians has now culminated into diktats on economic issues from party biggies being implemented swiftly by ministers.
Another decision which shows that the Congress party is overpowering the government for electoral benefits is Sonia Gandhi asking the commerce ministry to look into demands of the gems and jewellery sector on lowering the import duty on gold. The North Block mandarins are now working on curtailing the duty by 2 per cent.
As desired by Rahul, petroleum minister Veerappa Moily gave the go ahead to increase the number of subsidised LPG cylinders from 9 to 12 — a move that will cost the government an additional Rs5,000 crore. On Thursday, the cabinet gave its nod to the proposal.
The decision to impose a cap of 6 subsidised cylinders annually was arrived at after inter-ministerial deliberations in 2012. However, it just took an opinion from the political boss for Moily to keep aside his economic logic. The catch is that the government has withdrawn the unique-identity linked transfer of subsidy directly into the bank accounts of consumers.
When Moily was asked about increasing the cap on subsidised LPG cylinders two weeks ago, he cited several fiscal reasons against the move. Sensing the mood in the Congress’s review meeting after the electoral debacle in four states, finance minister P Chidambaram advised Moily on relaxing the cap. The final seal came when Rahul urged PM Manmohan Singh during the AICC meeting on January 17 in New Delhi to relax the cap.
A cabinet note was drafted after the meeting. Those who have consumed their nine subsidised cylinders for the current year will get only two more cylinders over the next two months. This means, this year, the government will give only 11 subsidised cylinders to consumers.