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Sources say that the duty cut may be as high as Rs 8 per litre on petrol and diesel so that consumers are provided immediate relief.



International oil prices rose after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies (OPEC+) ignored India’s plea to ease production control. However, the government may surprise consumers with a sharp cut in excise duty on petrol and diesel to tame the rising prices of auto fuels in India.

Sources privy to the development said that the duty cut may be as high as Rs 8 per litre on the two fuels so that consumers are provided immediate relief.

“The revenue projection from the oil sector for FY22 gives the government room to cut excise duty on petrol and diesel sharply to provide immediate relief to consumers. This is being examined and a call may be taken soon,” a government official was quoted as saying by news agency IANS.

Brent crude, the most widely used benchmark, on Friday rose nearly 1% to $67.44 a barrel after the OPEC+ agreed not to increase supplies in April awaiting more substantial recovery in demand.

Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had in the run-up to Thursday’s OPEC meeting urged the producers’ group to ease production curbs to fulfil their promise of stable oil prices, citing that rising international oil prices were hurting economic recovery and demand. Earlier this week, Pradhan had said that India, where fuel demand is recovering to pre-pandemic levels, wants reasonable and responsible oil prices.

India is the world’s third-biggest oil importer and consumer, importing about 85% of its oil needs, and local retail rates in the country are benchmarked to international prices. India had supported the decision of OPEC+ to cut production last year in view of the oil demand collapsing due to the spread of Covid-19.

“At that point in time, the producers, especially OPEC, had assured the global market that by the beginning of 2021, demand will be coming back and production will be as usual. But I am sorry to say the production is yet to be normal,” he said. “If you do not supply properly, if there is a gap in demand and supply artificially (created), there is a price rise.”

The average price of crude oil India imports was less than $50 per barrel between April and December 2020 and comparable to the 2019-20 average rate of $60.47 in months thereafter. However, retail petrol and diesel prices are at historic highs now as the government has so far not rolled back the taxes it levied when prices plummeted almost a year back, and would rise further if the oil companies decide to pass on the surge in international oil prices to consumers.

In view of the economic disruption caused by the pandemic and the need to raise resources to meet additional expenditure needs for relief measures, the Centre had raised excise duty on petrol and diesel by Rs 13 and Rs 16 per litre respectively March 2020 and May 2020. This measure itself would have mobilised an additional Rs 2,25,000 crore revenue for the Centre in FY21.

In February 2021, the pump prices of the two auto fuels increased 14 times, taking up petrol prices by Rs 4.22 per litre to Rs 91.17 a litre and diesel by Rs 4.34 per litre to Rs 81.47 a litre in Delhi. The record taxes coupled with international rates returning to pre-Covid levels on resurrecting demand have meant that petrol has crossed the Rs 100 mark in some places in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

According to a report prepared by ICICI Securities, excise duty on auto fuels is estimated at Rs 4.35 lakh crore in FY22, if there is no cut in excise duty on the two products, as against the budget estimate of Rs 3.2 lakh crore.

“Thus, even if excise duty is cut by Rs 8.5 per litre on or before April 1, the FY22 budget estimate can be met. We are optimistic of excise duty cut given demand recovery, impending privatisation and inflation concerns but expect it to be more modest than Rs 8.5 per litre,” the brokerage firm said in its report.

Government officials agreed that there is room to cut duty but its quantum may be decided later this month ahead of the start of the new financial year.

With a pickup in demand in various industrial sectors including consumption of fuels, the expectation is that revenue would balance out even if there is a duty cut. However, sources said that the government would weigh the decision to cut excise duty against additional expenses that it may require towards another dose of stimulus measure in FY22 and also the need to meet GST compensation shortfall for states. 

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has asked India to use the oil it bought at rock bottom rates last year. Responding to a question on India’s pleas, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman at a press conference after the OPEC+ decision on Thursday said that New Delhi should take some of the crude out of storage that they had purchased “very cheaply last year”.

India had purchased 16.71 million barrels of crude in April-May, 2020 and filled all the three Strategic Petroleum Reserves created at Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and Mangalore and Padur in Karnataka. The average cost of that crude purchase was $19 per barrel, according to Pradhan’s written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on 21 September 2020.

The basket of crude oil India imported in February averaged $61.22 per barrel and $54.79 in January this year. It had fallen to $19.90 in April last year and was between $40 and $49 during June and December.

OPEC+, which is currently reining in about 7 million barrels per day of production—about 7% of pre-pandemic supply—has helped engineer a nearly 80% rise in the Dated Brent benchmark since November. Saudi Arabia has taken a voluntary extra 1 million bpd production cut in February and March.

With agency inputs

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The 2019 Asian Youth Champion Vinka and Alfiya Pathan are among the four Indian women boxers who advanced into the semi-finals on the sixth day at the AIBA Youth Men’s and Women’s World Boxing Championships in Kielce, Poland.

Gitika and Poonam are the other two boxers who entered the last-4 stage and have secured at least a bronze medal for the country. All the four boxers put up scintillating performances in their respective quarter-finals bouts. Panipat boxer Vinka blanked her Colombian opponent Camilo Camela 5-0 in the 60kg category, while the 2019 Asian Junior Champion Nagpur’s Alfiya (+81) also registered a comfortable 5-0 victory against Hungarian boxer Reka Hoffmann. Playing in the 57kg category, Poonam notched up an easy 5-0 win against Nazerke Serik of Kazakhstan to progress in the semi-finals.

Gitika (48kg) produced another strong show as she dominated her opponent Romania’s Elisabeth Ostan from the word go with precise punches and swift movement that saw the referee stopping the contest just after the first round and declaring Haryana boxer Gitika as the winner of the contest. Another Indian woman in action Khushi (81kg) lost her last-8 bout against Busra Isildar of Turkey.

In men’s section, Manish and Sumit made their way into quarter-finals in their respective categories with identical 5-0 victories against Jordan’s Abdallah Alaarag and Ladislav Horvath of Slovakia in pre-quarterfinals. WITH ANI INPUTS

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public rallies, which are scheduled on 23 April in poll-bound West Bengal, will be restricted to 500 people as against “jan sailaab” that characterises most of the rallies addressed by him. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided to change its campaign style and bring in ‘new normal’ in organising the election rallies in wake of the spike in the Covid-19 cases across the country.

“The plan is to have 500 people in audience following all the Covid protocols possible. All the people at the rally will have to wear a mask and use sanitisers. Also, chairs will be placed as per social distancing norms during the rallies,” West Bengal BJP In-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya told ANI.

The number of leaders allowed on the stage will also be restricted.

According to a senior party leader, the Prime Minister was scheduled to address the rallies on two different dates but now rallies have been clubbed together on 23 April.

“The Prime Minister is scheduled to address rallies in Murshidabad, South Kolkata, Siuri and Malda on 23 April,” the senior leader said. “LED screens will be put up across the constituencies for the supporters and voters to listen to PM Modi. We will try to maintain Covid protocols at the points where the LED screens will be setup,” he added.

Amid a record spike in Covid-19 cases in the country, the Election Commission has decided to curtail the timings of campaigns for the remaining phases and extended the silence period to 72 hours for each of the phases.

Even as political leaders cherish big crowds at landing sites of their choppers, the BJP has decided to keep the number of people coming to rallies symbolic. The party is also shifting its campaign from big rallies and road shows to ‘potho sabhas’, corner meetings with very small gatherings in order to follow ECI guidelines and suggestions on Covid-19 appropriate behaviour.

The Covid-19 situation in the country continues to deteriorate with another highest single-day spike of over 2.73 lakh cases and 1,619 deaths in the last 24 hours.

Meanwhile, ahead of the sixth phase of West Bengal Assembly elections, BJP national president J.P. Nadda on Monday urged the voters of the poll-bound state to vote for the BJP to “end the ‘Tolabaji, Tushtikaran, Tanashahi’ prevailing in the state under the rule of Mamata Banerjee”.

Nadda who was addressing a gathering while holding a roadshow in support of the party’s candidate from North Dinajpur, Krishna Kumar Kalyani. Nadda said, “This election which is happening in West Bengal is happening for ‘asol parivartan’ (real change) and to make the state ‘Sonar Bengal’. The Tolabaji (extortion), Tushtikaran (appeasement), tanashahi (dictatorship), which is prevailing under the rule of Mamata Banerjee has to be stopped by making the lotus bloom and make Krishna Kalyani victorious. Friends, before taking your leave I would like to take this promise from you that you will vote for the BJP and make it victorious in Dinajpur and in Raiganj just as it is winning in the rest of West Bengal,” said the BJP president amid chants of Jai Shree Ram from party workers who accompanied him during the roadshow.

The first five phases of the eight-phase Bengal Assembly elections have already been completed. The sixth phase of the state Assembly polls is scheduled for 22 April. Polling for the seventh and the eighth phase will be held on 26 April and 29 April. The counting of votes will take place on 2 May. ANI

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After the provocative campaigns and speeches which have been a staple this election season in West Bengal, the contest between CM Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party is heating up. Here is an overview on the progress made in the first four phases of the massive eight-phased polls.

Debaroopa Bhattacharyya



As a short spring metamorphoses into the mighty summer, West Bengal’s air is warming up to the potent political currents and cross-currents that promise to drive the windmills of change this electoral season. The Assembly elections have kicked off with a bang in the state and unfolded in a mosaic of narratives and counter narratives laced by violence and sanctions by the Election Commission.

CM Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata on Sunday. (ANI Photo).
Home Minister Amit Shah during a roadshow.

Although the Trinamool Congress (TMC), once perceived as invincible, seems to have developed major chinks in its armour, thanks to misgovernance, corruption, the highhandedness of its leaders, extortion or “cut-money”, widespread unemployment and a major anti-incumbency wave, it would still take the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a lot more to hit the ball out of the park.

The eight-phased election is half way through. The first four phases have been conducted fairly peacefully (except the fourth phase where five people lost their lives). Various political developments capable of causing pronounced vicissitudes in the outcome of this mammoth polling exercise are analysed below.


The polling for phase one was held on 27 March in five districts, Paschim Midnapore Part-I, Purba Midnapore Part-I, Bankura, Jhargram, and Purulia. West Bengal reported 84.3 percent voter turnout, which can influence the other phases and has kept hopes alive for both the ruling TMC and main rival, BJP.

The 30 Assembly constituencies where voters have already exercised their franchise can be divided into three pockets, each with a character of its own.

In pocket one, the 11 Assembly constituencies, mostly in Purulia district, betrayed a distinct trend and had the lowest voter turnout. In this region, till the 2016 Assembly election, the Left was the force to reckon with after Trinamool, which was in the lead position. Things changed dramatically in the Lok Sabha elections of April-May 2019 and a large chunk of the CPI(M) and Congress’s vote went to the BJP. This shift has given the BJP a major impetus. Here, if the vote share transferred by all the parties in 2019 is retained by the BJP, then the voter needs to go out and participate to keep that level of turnout ratio. If this fails to happen and the vote transferred goes back to the respective party, even if partially, the BJP will suffer a major beating and the whole premise of BJP’s 40 percent vote share in 2019 will be reversed. The BJP can expect a because of the less than 78 percent turnout, which means nobody voted enthusiastically for anybody, while the TMC is expected to retain its vote share or even get more.

In pocket two, the 11 Assembly constituencies, mostly in Bankura and West Midnapore districts, saw the BJP get an increase in the vote share in 2019, but it was a lot moderate, as compared to pocket 1. Also, the Trinamool did not lose its vote share here. So, in this region, it was a simple transfer of votes from the Left and other parties to BJP. So, any dip in the turnout ratio in this region shall affect the BJP negatively. However, this region has historically commanded higher voter turnouts.

Pocket three comprises eight Assembly constituencies, mainly in East Midnapore district. This region had been a Trinamool stronghold traditionally, even in 2019, but with the exit of Suvendu Adhikari and his family from the ruling party, the contest here has become interesting. The BJP is working on the simple equation that if its voters remain intact and the Adhikari family brings its own chunk of votes, it will give the BJP an upper hand in the region. But traditionally, Bengal votes for the party rather than the candidate, and Mamata Banerjee’s popularity is still strong, as demonstrated by some opinion poll surveys. 

To conclude, for all the three pockets collectively, a turnout ratio of less than 82 percent is not good news for the BJP.


The voting for phase two was held on April 1 in four districts, South 24 Parganas Part-1, Bankura Part-2, Paschim Midnapore Part-2, and East Midnapore. In 2016, BJP could secure only one of the 30 seats in this region, with a cumulative vote share of 7 percent, almost double from 2011, while the TMC had won 21 of the 30 seats. However, faced against a resurgent BJP this time, the TMC may have a tough time retaining these seats.

The battle for Nandigram, where TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee is up against confidante-turned-adversary Suvendu Adhikari, pretty much sums up the contest here. CPI(M)’s Minakshi Mukherjee is contesting as the Sanyukt Morcha candidate. BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari wields considerable influence in the region and had won this seat for the TMC, securing over 67 percent votes, in 2016. The Left received nearly 27 percent votes, while the BJP was a distant third, getting only a little over 5 percent. However, things changed dramatically in 2019 when the BJP secured 37 percent votes. Suvendu’s brother, Dibyendu, won the Lok Sabha seat for TMC with a little over 50 percent votes, but both of them, along with father, Sisir Adhikari, a sitting MP in the same region, are now with the BJP.

In many other seats too, the contest is primarily between TMC and erstwhile Left or Congress leaders now being fielded as BJP candidates. Three other combustible seats are Haldia, Bankura and Kharagpur Sadar.

Most seats in phase two are in rural areas. Tamluk, Barjora, Bishnupur, Bankura, Panskura Paschim and Panskura Purba may be the trickiest seats in this phase, as the winning margins were very narrow in the last Assembly election, with the victory margin less than 1,000 in 2016 in Tamluk and Barjora.


The voting for this phase was held on April 6 in Howrah, Hooghly, and South 24 Parganas. The Trinamool Congress has an edge over the BJP and the Left-Congress-ISF alliance, Samyukta Morcha, in the majority of the 31 Assembly seats in this region.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC had comfortable leads over the BJP in all seven Assembly segments in Howrah and the 16 in South 24 Parganas and a significant lead in the eight seats in Hooghly.

The key seats in this contest include Tarakeshwar, from where the BJP has fielded journalist-turned-politician Swapan Dasgupta, who resigned from the Rajya Sabha to contest in this election, and is considered part of the BJP’s think tank for Bengal.

Amta in Howrah is also being keenly watched as it is all set to witness a three-corner contest between the Congress’ two-term MLA Asit Mitra, known for his simplistic living, BJP’s Debtanu Bhattacharya, who heads the Hindutva organisation Hindu Samhati, and the TMC’s Sukanta Pal, whose main strength is his party’s organisation.

Meanwhile, in South 24 Parganas, Kultali and Joynagar are expected to see four corner contests, with SUCI(C) as the fourth force.

However, the most-keenly-watched contests are expected to take place in seats like Canning, Canning West, Magrahat East, Magrahat West, where the Samyukta Morcha seemed to have gained some momentum due to the Indian Secular Front, a newly launched party floated by the Islamic cleric Abbasuddin Siddiqui. The Left and the Congress’ alliance with the ISF had raised quite a few eyebrows, but Siddiqui’s rallies in these areas have so far drawn significant crowds. The TMC-BJP-Samyukta Morcha battle in these seats with a pronounced polarised propensity may play a crucial role in determining the political outcome in the district. 


The voting for phase four was held on April 10, in Howrah (Part-2), South 24 Pargana (Part-3), Hugli (Part-2), Alipurduar (all five constituencies), and Cooch Behar (all nine constituencies). It was the first phase where polling took place in the northern half of the state, in districts like Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri. Seven seats in Jalpaiguri district and six in Darjeeling voted in the next phase on 17 April. 

The TMC saw a big decline in its seat share in this region in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Its wins were reduced to 2/3rd of its 2016 share, as it won in only 25 constituencies. What is worrying for the party is that the decline of 14 constituencies happened with a vote share decline of just 1.3 percentage points. This was possible because while the vote share of anti-TMC parties was divided between the BJP, Left, Congress and others in 2016, a large part of it consolidated behind the BJP in 2019. Anti-TMC parties won 19 constituencies here in 2019, up from five in 2016, and the BJP won all 19.

However, the Left played spoilsport in 18 of the 44 constituencies voting in 2019. In these 18 constituencies, the BJP finished second in 11. Hence, if the BJP is not able to win over more Left voters, it could still end up behind the TMC.

In the hill regions, the TMC faced a much bigger decline compared to the south Bengal region, where it was still a strong player even in 2019. In the 14 constituencies of the former, the TMC’s 2019 seat share was 0.17 times that in 2016, whereas in the 30 constituencies of the latter, it was 0.85 times that in 2016.

Both the BJP and TMC campaigns also faced the litmus test in the fourth phase. BJP leaders had attacked the TMC for its alleged pro-Muslim policies while the TMC has criticised BJP leaders as outsiders or “bahiragata”. Jalpaiguri has the third-lowest Bengali-speaking population among the 19 districts of the state, according to the 2011 census, and the second highest Hindi- and Nepali-speaking population. This phase and latter rounds will likely test Mamata Banerjee’s “outsider” attack.

The BJP, on the other hand, has had to contend with the high share of Muslims in Cooch Behar, Howrah, and South 24 Parganas. Even the Hindu population is not homogeneous in the districts that voted in the fourth phase. In Cooch Behar, Scheduled Tribes (STs) comprise almost 2/3rd of the population, while Scheduled Castes (SCs) constitute over 40% of the population in Hooghly and Jalpaiguri.

Phase 4 was also marred by the violence which took place across polling booths in Cooch Behar. Four people died in CISF firing at poll booth number 126 in Sitalkuchi and another was killed in a separate incident at poll booth number 285. Both these booths will see repolling.

In the aftermath of the Sitalkuchi incident, the Election Commission has pulled up its socks and taken stern steps to restrict and forbid inflammatory statements by politicians. The EC also restricted Mamata Banerjee from campaigning for 24 hours on 13 April (preceding which she had been served notices to explain her stance) and Rahul Sinha of the BJP for 48 hours the same day. It also restricted any politician from visiting Sitalkuchi for 72 hours following the shooting. West Bengal BJP President Dilip Ghosh was served a notice as well by the EC seeking an explanation for his statements on the unfortunate incident. 

Irked by the ban on her by the EC, Mamata Banerjee called it “undemocratic and unconstitutional” and staged a sit-in protest near the Gandhi Statue at Mayo Road for three and a half hours on 13 April.


Many veterans from opposing parties like the Left’s Sujan Chakraborty and the Congress’ Adhir Chowdhury have alleged that Mamata used the restrictive order against her to create a narrative of martyrdom and victimhood. However, Banerjee is a seasoned politician who is adept at turning the tide in her favour and the silent dharna she staged, perched on her wheelchair, both for the optics as well as an appeal to sentiments of Bengalis, could be a master stroke which catapults her and the TMC to victory, riding on the sympathy of the proletariat. Conversely, if the public eye is able to see through the dramatics, it might be the last nail in the coffin for a desperate incumbent. The twist in the tale should be something to watch out for.

The writer is founder and editor-in-chief of Tribe Tomorrow Network. The views expressed are personal.

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A Delhi court on Monday dismissed the plea of Delhi Police seeking four days custody of actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu, in another Republic Day violence case.

Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Gajender Singh Nagar remanded Sidhu to 14-day judicial custody. Meanwhile, Deep Sidhu moved his bail application before Delhi Court in the Republic Day violence case. His bail plea will be heard on 23 April.

Earlier on Monday, the Delhi Police urged the Court to grant four days police custody of Deep Sidhu, in the another Republic Day violence case. During the hearing, the Delhi Court questioned police for arresting Sidhu in another case just after he got bail in a separate case saying ‘kya aapko ye ajeeb nahi lagta’ (Don’t you feel strange).

The Public Prosecutor responded that it is the prerogative of the investigating agency and law is clear that Investigating Officer has the right to take police custody of the accused to conduct proper investigation.

Delhi Police also told the Court that from the investigation conducted so far from the perusal of the available CCTV footage and videos, it has revealed that the accused Deep Sidhu was an active member of the larger conspiracy and he is one the main instigator.

The police said that the custodial interrogation of Sidhu was required to unearth the conspiracy behind the offence, to trace the other co-accused, to get pointing out of the place of incidents and to collect further evidences in the case such as mobiles and SIMs used at the time of incident.

The police said that it want to identify the other conspirators who and question him over his videos with Jugraj Singh, the man who hoisted the flag on the Republic Day at the Red Fort.

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Hospitals almost full, Srinagar city yet to come under lockdown for Covid spike



With Covid-designated hospitals in Kashmir getting almost full, the government has decided to increase the bed capacity and provide oxygen supply to them on a regular basis. Rumours were making rounds on Monday that Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir would come under lockdown, especially the Srinagar city. However, on Monday afternoon, the administration refuted such rumours, saying no decision had been taken so far.

In the past one week, Covid positive cases have increased manifold and among the thousands of patients, hundreds are tourists and travellers who have been in direct contact with the hotel and houseboat staff.

Doctors from the Covid-designated hospitals have appealed to people to bring only those patients who have complications as they have almost exhausted their bed capacity.

“We appeal people to treat Covid positive patients in quarantine at homes and only bring those patients who need hospitalization,” one of the senior doctors from Covid-designated Chest Disease Hospital Srinagar told reporters on Monday.

The district administration of Srinagar said that the government has not taken any decision to impose lockdown and appealed people not to bank on rumours.

Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Muhammad Aijaz Asad told reporters here that they have not received any decision on lockdown in view of spike in Covid-19 cases. “Whenever a decision in this regard would be taken, we as an implementing agency will take necessary steps accordingly,” he was quoted by the local news agency.

Meanwhile, the government has already decided to close down all the educational institutions including universities and colleges for the physical classes till 15 May. Already the administration has closed down all the private coaching institutions and schools due to the spike in Covid cases.

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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday launched a blistering attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi when she alleged that he was responsible for the second wave of Covid-19 in the country.

Addressing a public meeting in Kaliganj, the CM said, “Why did not you (Prime Minister) make plans to stop corona in the last 6 months?… You have to answer this. The Prime Minister is responsible for the second wave of Covid-19. If he would have taken responsibility at the right time then this would not have happened.”

Mamata Banerjee urged the Election Commission to club the remaining phases of the West Bengal Assembly polls into a single round in view of the surge in the Covid-19 cases.

“With folded hands, I request the Election Commission to hold three phases of polls on a single day or in two days. Please do not play with the lives of people,” she said at a public meeting in Chakulia in Uttar Dinajpur.

The chief minister later on Monday held a press conference in Kolkata to brief the state government’s measures against the intensifying pandemic situation. Asked about whether to impose night curfew, Banerjee said, “The night curfew is not the solution. We should remain alert. There is nothing to panic about. We have increased 20 per cent beds in hospitals. We have decided to start summer vacation for all schools from tomorrow till June.”

The poll-bound West Bengal reported 8,419 fresh Covid-19 cases and 28 deaths on Saturday, the state health department informed on Sunday. “There are 49,638 active Covid-19 cases in West Bengal, while with 28 new, deaths the death toll in the state has gone up to 10,568,” the health department said.

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