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The Hindu Editorial: Fuel Fractions

Mahendra Guru

Title: Fuel fractions 

(Both the Centre and States must bite the bullet to cut taxes on petrol and diesel) 

Context:- Last Wednesday, the public sector oil marketing companies cut the prices of petrol and diesel by one paisa a litre — the first reduction for a while in motor fuel prices that had been frozen for 19 days in the run-up to the Karnataka elections, only to creep up thereafter. 

§ Not surprisingly, the Centre, already under fire for persisting with high fuel taxes despite the rise in the global prices of crude in recent months, faced fresh flak(criticism) over this cursory cut. The same day, the Kerala government approved a reduction in the sales tax on motor fuel products to effect a ₹1 cut in prices per litre in the State starting June 1. 

§ For the BJP-led government at the Centre, gearing up for several Assembly elections this year followed by the general election in 2019, the pressure to check pump-level fuel prices is intensifying. Several formulations are said to be under consideration to soften the blow to the consumer, including a reversion to old-fangled ways such as asking oil producers to bear some of the burden. 

§ But there still remains great reluctance to consider the option of reducing excise duties that were raised nine times between November 2014 and January 2016 when global crude oil prices had gone down. It is in this context that Kerala’s decision to slash the sales tax on fuel changes the narrative of the debate as States have also been raking in easy oil revenue. 

§ An SBI research report reckons that prices could go down for diesel by ₹3.75 and petrol by ₹5.75, a litre, if only this tax-on-tax-included-price anomaly was fixed. Giving up easy money is never easy, but the recent robust collections from GST should embolden both the Centre and States to bite the bullet now. 

§ Rising crude prices spike inflation and the trade deficit, putting pressure on the rupee and GDP growth. Industry has warned that domestic oil pricing policies are hurting the nascent recovery, and global rating agencies are already slashing India’s growth expectations for this calendar year, citing the oil issue. 

Final Words 

§ Two years ago, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had said that the government was raising excise duties to protect the consumer. The logic: consumers could become vulnerable if exposed to low prices and feel a greater pinch when prices went up. The obvious corollary of that stance — that high taxes on fuel need to be cut when prices rise again — has been ignored so far.

Title: Fire without smoke 

(India is on track to curb cigarette use, but chewable tobacco is a health emergency) 

Context:- A report from the World Health Organisation on the occasion of World No Tobacco Day (May 31) suggests that India’s efforts to cut the prevalence of cigarette smoking are paying off. 

§ Between 2000 and 2015, this fell from 19.4% to 11.5%. By 2025, the report projected, it could drop to 8.5%, putting India well in line to meeting its 2025 target under a WHO global plan to tackle non-communicable diseases. While this is excellent news, it needs to be highlighted that smokeless tobacco is the bigger scourge in the country. 

§ The WHO report doesn’t model usage trends in this segment because of the paucity(अल्पता) of global data. Other data, however, suggest that India is lagging on this front. Even though there is a 2011 government ban on the sale of food items with tobacco or nicotine in them, the consumption of gutkha, khaini and zarda continues to be rampant. 

§ The Global Adult Tobacco Survey in 2016, for example, found that 29.6% of Indian men and 12.8% of Indian women were users. Children are victims of this lethal addiction too. The WHO report noted that 7.9 million adolescents, between 13 and 15 years, used smokeless tobacco in the South-East Asian region. 

§ Given that 66% of the world’s smokeless-tobacco users are in India, a sizeable chunk of this number would be Indian teenagers. Against this background, the drop in cigarette smoking rates gives India little cause to celebrate. 

§ Gutkha and other chewable tobacco items are equally, if not more, harmful compared to cigarettes. Surveys show that these products are sometimes mixed with carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines. 

§ This is why India banned their sale under the 2011 Food Safety and Standards Regulations. Why do they continue to be consumed, then? Experts blame their availability on loopholes in the law. The food safety rules target pre-mixed tobacco products, such as gutkha, which contains lime, sugar and other spices. 

§ This leaves unflavoured items, such as khaini or surthi, out of regulatory purview. Meanwhile, mislabelling of smokeless tobacco is common. Even when a product contains tobacco, it is passed off as being tobacco-free. 

§ Worse, one of the tactics of the tobacco industry is to use flavours such as cardamom and saffron to attract youngsters, triggering life-long addiction. The WHO report notes that as cigarette usage has fallen in high-income countries, the tobacco industry has targeted younger users to make up for the revenue shortfall. 

Final Words 

§ While this trend applies to smoking, there is evidence that children are also a target of the chewable tobacco industry. With its war against smoking seemingly on the right track, India must turn its focus to the smokeless tobacco segment. The challenge is bigger, but so will be the reward.

Vocabulary words: 

Bite the bullet (idiom) = Decide to do something difficult or unpleasant 

Creep up (phrasal verb) = To approach someone quietly 

Flak (noun) = Strong criticism 

Cursory (adj) = Hasty and therefore not thorough or detailed (सरसरी) 

Ad valorem (adj & adv) = (of the levying of tax or customs duties) in proportion to the estimated value of the goods (मूल्यानुसार) 

Reckon (verb) = Establish by calculation (अनुमान करना) 

Anomaly (noun) = Oddity, inconsistency (नियमहीनता) 

Embolden (verb) = Encourage, hearten (प्रोत्साहित करना) 

Pay off (phrasal verb) = Succeed, yield good result 

Prevalence (noun) = Spread, dispersion (प्रसार, फैलाव) 

Scourge (noun) = Calamity, disaster (विपत्ति) 

Paucity (noun) = The presence of something in only small or insufficient quantities or amounts (अल्पता) 

Rampant (adj) = Uncontrolled, unrestrained (अनियंत्रित) 

Lethal (adj) = Very harmful that can cause death (जानलेवा) 

Viable (adj) = Capable of working successfully, feasible 

Pertinent (adj) = Relevant or applicable to a particular matter (उचित) 

Diktat (noun) = A harsh settlement unilaterally imposed 

Imprudent (adj) = Unwise, injudicious (अविवेकी)

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