Alphons stokes row over petroleum prices, draws sharp criticism

Thiruvananthapuram: Bureaucrat-turned-Union Minister K.J. Alphons on Saturday yet again stoked a controversy when he said that people who own bikes and cars are not starving and can afford to pay higher prices for fuel, remarks that drew sharp criticism from political rivals.

His comments coming at a time when fuel prices are at a three-year high when international crude prices have crashed were described by opposition parties as insensitive to the common man’s problems.

“So we are going to tax people who can afford to pay. Somebody who has a car, bike; certainly he is not starving. Somebody who can afford to pay, has to pay. 67 per cent of the people in the country do not have toilets, new homes have to be built and for all such things lakhs and crores of money is required and hence the this money is raised by hiking the price of fuel” he said, while speaking to reporters at the state party headquarter here.

This was his first visit there after being sworn in as Union Minister and to make amends, the entire state leadership and top leaders were present to receive him and payasam (kheer) was served to all.

The state unit of the BJP had come under severe criticism as on the day Alphons was sworn in, the state party headquarters wore a deserted look and the only noticeable celebrations was only at his home town in Kanjirapally in Kottayam district.

As his remarks came under attack, Alphons who had a recently stirred the hornet’s nest by making contradictory remarks on beef, sought to justify his statement on the petroleum prices.

“Prime Minister has a huge dream for the poor of India. What is that dream? It is very simple. 30 per cent of Indians go to bed without a full meal a day,” he said.

Congress leader and former Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily attacked Alphons saying it was an atrocious statement. “This is how bureaucrats, who come to politics, have no understanding of people’s problems. Many of the ministers in Modi’s government are like this.”

He said during the UPA government, any of the petroleum minister they had decided to pass on the benefit of low crude prices to consumers. “Anti-incumbency has set in against the government,” he said.

TRS spokesman Bhanuprasad described Alphons’ statement as shocking. The government is still fleecing people when crude prices have come down, he said.

Another Congress spokesperson, Brajesh Kalappa said the minister’s comments have added pain to people at a time when they have lost jobs and business is falling. “Just because somebody has a bike or a car can you say they have a life of luxury? This kind of statement is shocking and insensitive and the Prime Minister has to ask for his resignation.”