India drops plan to shut fuel pumps at night


NEW DELHI — India’s government denied Monday it was considering shutting filling stations at night to reduce oil imports, a widely ridiculed measure reportedly under discussion to tackle a deepening economic crisis. Oil Minister Veerappa Moily sparked the speculation Sunday when he told a local news agency that “shutting petrol pumps during (the) night” was one of several austerity measures being assessed to cut the imports bill. News of the proposal, a throwback to India’s pre-liberalization past when the government tightly regulated all parts of the economy, sparked feverish debate on television and Twitter. It also apparently took the rest of the cabinet by surprise, leading to a formal denial issued via the information ministry.

“The ministry of petroleum and natural gas has clarified that there is no proposal under consideration of the government to allow sale of petroleum products from the retail outlets only during certain hours,” said a statement. Moily also later denied the plan, saying other measures were in the pipeline to rein in India’s oil import bill. “I am doing the brainstorming on the measures. I have not finalized this and it is at the very initial stage,” he told CNN-IBN on Monday, adding he was likely to unveil the measures on Sept. 16. “But this closing of the pumps (fuel stations) is not part of the proposals.” Political parties including the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made fun of the plan. “Won’t the people fill their car fuel tanks in the morning? This is a strange move by Moily,” BJP spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain said. The regional Trinamool Congress party, which withdrew from the coalition government last September over planned pro-business reforms, described the measure as “bizarre”. “They are making a laughing stock of themselves… this is such a bizarre suggestion,” lawmaker Derek O’Brien told reporters. India imports around 80 percent of its oil needs and its import bill has risen dramatically because of high global prices and a plunging rupee, which has hit record lows in recent weeks. “For every one-rupee depreciation to the dollar, I lose about 80 billion (rupees) (US$1.2 billion). That means (a fall) from 58 rupees to 68 rupees, I lost 800 billion (rupees) and that’s a matter of concern,” Moily said.