01/17/2011, 00.00
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Rising petrol prices hurt the poor as the ranks of the rich grow

by Nirmala Carvalho
Fuel price hikes compound higher food prices, fuelling dissatisfaction. Inflation and widespread corruption burden Indian society, widening the gap between haves and have-nots.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Petrol prices increased by Rs 2.50-Rs 2.54 per litre at midnight last Saturday. This is the second hike in a month, and comes at a difficult time for the average Indian, already faced with high food prices. In a country where tens of millions of people are already undernourished, higher fuel prices coupled with high food prices can only negatively affect the country’s economic growth.

The petrol hike will increase transportation costs, which is likely to trigger a fresh, all-round increase in prices of food items. Transporters across the country have in fact decided to raise freight rates by 10 to 15 per cent to offset higher fuel costs. This will be particularly painful for the average domestic budget, something not likely to concern the upper classes.

It is urgent for religious leaders from various faiths to get together to pressure the government do something to meet the crying needs of the poor, said Fr Nithya Sagayam OFM, who heads the Office of Human Development of  the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC).

“Interfaith dialogue should also address the economic, social and cultural needs of the people,” he explained, because “God calls us to give our life and energies to serve the poor.”

“This is not charity but an entitlement. Everyone is entitled to our help. The exploitation of the poor and the creation of wealth for the upper classes are part of the malaise of Indian society.”

According to the 2010 World Wealth Report, Indian society is increasingly polarised between haves and have-nots. The country has 126,700 high net worth individuals, 50 per cent more than in 2008.

Although no current data is available, the superrich probably not only recouped losses incurred in 2008 but very likely increased their wealth compared to 2007.

In the meantime, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) estimated that 13.6 million more Indians fell or remained in poverty than would have been the case had the 2008 growth rates continued.

Lastly, the cost of widespread corruption in India stood at US$ 125 billion in illicit capital flight between 2000 and 2008. The Centre for International Policy (CIP) noted that both corrupt political and corporate interests managed to siphon off considerable funds—intended to aid the people of Indi—to benefit the country’s political and private sector elites.

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