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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Sri Lanka: Steep fuel, wheat flour price hikes spark uproar in streets

  • Energy and Power Minister Kanchana Wijesekera says upward fuel price revision was to minimise CPC’s daily loss of Rs. 1.6 b
  • CPC prices of 95 petrol octane and super diesel higher than LIOC now
  • All Island Three-Wheeler Drivers and Owners Association decides to temporarily stop metre system, charge nominal fee per ride
  • Transport Minister Dilum Amunugama approves to increase both State and private bus fares by 35%, minimum ticket at Rs. 27
  • Several main roads and trains on main line were blocked by protesters throughout yesterday
  • Police fires tear gas to disperse crowd in Rambukkana, several were injured
  • Prima announces highest-ever flour price hike of Rs. 40
  • All Ceylon Bakery Owners’ Association increase price of 450 g loaf of bread by Rs. 30 to Rs. 140, supermarket breads to over Rs. 250
  • Claims raw material prices have gone up by around 70% in Q1
  • All Island Canteen Owners’ Association hikes prices of rice and curry, kottu, fried rice by 20%

Unable to bear the ever-increasing cost of living, the public showed massive public agitation against the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa-led Government countrywide, amidst several major commodity and service prices also shot up to record high-levels yesterday.

Adding on to the woes of the people who have been grappling with the country’s worst economic crisis, the sudden and steep fuel hike by the State-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) on Monday amidst the ongoing shortage of fuel, gas and power cuts led to these massive demonstrations countrywide, where groups of people staged protests in the middle of main roads and towns obstructing the vehicular movement completely.

Newly sworn-in Energy and Power Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said the upward fuel price revision was to minimise the CPC’s daily loss of Rs. 1.6 billion.

As a ripple effect of the sharp fuel hike announced by CPC and Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC), the three-wheeler drivers decided to temporarily stop the metre system and charge a nominal fee per ride, while the Transport Ministry has given its nod to increase bus fares by 35%.

In addition, Prima Ceylon Ltd. also announced yesterday that the price of wheat flour has been increased by a record Rs. 40 per kilo, a move considered after Rupee was depreciated by 30%. Thereafter, the All Ceylon Bakery Owners’ Association (ACBOA) also jacked up 450 g loaf of bread by Rs. 30 and other bakery products by Rs. 10 with effect from yesterday, whilst the All Island Canteen Owners’ Association (AICOA) announced a price hike of 20% across the board with immediate effect.

As per the CPC new price revision, 92 octane petrol was up by Rs. 84 to Rs. 338 per litre, 95 octane petrol by Rs. 90 to Rs. 372, auto diesel was jacked up by Rs. 113 to Rs. 289 and super diesel by Rs. 75 to 329. This was the second price hike by CPC within a month, whereas the LIOC’s Sunday announced hike was the fourth in two months.

The CPC officials cited the high global prices and the sharp depreciation of the rupee against the dollar following the Government decision on 7 March to have a free float were the main reasons.

However, it appears that the sudden price hike announced by the CPC on Monday is “higher” than the LIOC prices at present, particularly the rates of 95 petrol octane and super diesel. On Sunday, LIOC announced a fuel hike where petrol was up by Rs. 35 and diesel by Rs. 75.

As a result of the widespread protests, several main roads namely the Colombo-Kandy and Colombo-Chilaw, Colombo-Galle were blocked throughout yesterday, where except for ambulances no other vehicles were allowed for movement.

Several protests were witnessed in Kandy, Galle, Matara, Akuressa, Gampola, Mathugama, Baddegama, Avissawella, Kegalle, Digana, Rambukkana, Hingurakgoda, Haputale and Madampe.

Trains on the main line were also delayed as the protesters were blocking the railway line in the Rambukkana area. However, later in the evening Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd blocking the Rambukkana railway crossing for over 15-hours, where several people also got injured.

Transport Minister Dilum Amunugama yesterday said they have decided to increase the bus fares of both State and private by 35%, following the fuel hike announced by CPC and LIOC.

As per the new bus fare price revision, the minimum ticket is Rs. 27, he added.

All Island Three-Wheeler Drivers and Owners Association (AITWDOA) President Lalith Dharmasekara said the members have been informed to temporarily stop metered rides and decide on charges per ride in a fair and just manner, without causing inconveniences to the public.

“The Rs. 42 per kilo is the highest wheat flour price increase ever recorded in our history, inclusive of Rs. 2 transport cost. With the price revision 450g loaf of bread will be increased by Rs. 30 to Rs. 140 and other supermarket breads that have shelf-time will be over Rs. 250 or nearly Rs. 300,” ACBOA President Newton Jayawardena told the Daily FT.

He also pointed out that raw material prices have gone up by around 70% over the first quarter of the year and a lot of the stakeholders have either moved to a different sector or have gone bankrupt.

“The prices of kottu, fried rice and packet of rice and curry will be increased by 20%. The 20% price in hike is a direct reflection of the fuel and wheat flour price increases. We can no longer continue without increasing our prices, although it is affecting our consumers,” AICOA President Asela Sampath told the Daily FT.

Consumers lamented that amidst all these price hikes, the only factor that did not increase was their salary or daily wage in line with the cost of living.

“Today, all family members are occupied in some form of a queue to secure a cylinder of gas, fuel or milk power. The children are studying with utmost difficulties with no proper nutrition, electricity or data connections. This is the worst economic crisis we have ever faced since independence. Instead of providing any relief to the people, the price hikes announced yesterday were the best by this new Cabinet of Ministers,” irked consumers said.

“They said people have rallied around from every nook and corner today against this corrupt and bankrupt Government, but we don’t think any of them are sensible enough to understand and step-down.”

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