India's auto fuel sales surged past pre-pandemic levels in the first half of March as consumers and dealers topped tanks in anticipation of a likely price hike post assembly elections.
Petrol sales by state-owned fuel retailers, which control roughly 90 per cent of the market, at 1.23 million tonnes during March 1-15 were nearly 18 per cent higher than the same period last year and 24.4 per cent higher than the period in 2019, preliminary industry data showed.
Diesel, the mostly-used fuel in the country, saw sales jumping 23.7 per cent year-on-year to 3.53 million tonnes. This was 17.3 per cent higher than sales on March 1-15, 2019.
While petrol sales were 24.3 per cent higher than the sales during March 1-15, 2020, diesel sales were up 33.5 per cent over the same reference period.
Month-on-month, petrol sales were up 18.8 per cent and diesel sales surged 32.8 per cent.
Oil Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had on Monday stated that fuel sales had jumped 20 per cent on comments exhorting people to tank up in preparation for an imminent hike in petrol and diesel prices.
Petrol and diesel prices hit the freeze button just as electioneering for five states including Uttar Pradesh picked up in early November 2021. The record 132-day freeze was despite the cost of raw material jumping from $81 per barrel to $130 per barrel.
It was anticipated that once the elections are over, state-owned fuel retailers will start adjusting the prices, which was as much as Rs 12 a litre below cost. But the rates haven't changed even after the outcome of the state polls, possibly not to give the opposition a handle amid the second half of the budget session that started on Monday.
"On 5th March, a political leader made a statement, saying, fill up your tanks quickly because petrol prices are going to go up as elections are over. And the consumption went up by 20 per cent," Puri said in Rajya Sabha referring to a statement by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. "It is a matter of shame that one statement led to hoarding of 20 per cent."
On March 5, Gandhi had asked people to get tanks up as the "election offer" will end soon.
"Quickly get your petrol tanks full. The 'Election' offer of the Modi government is going to end soon," Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi and used a picture of a petrol pump saying "Hike" and "Coming back soon to fuel stations near you". Congress has been accusing the BJP government of stalling the hike in fuel prices during elections and raising the prices soon after the polls are over. The assembly elections in five states, including Uttar Pradesh, started on February 10 and ended on March 7. The counting of votes took place on March 10.
Puri said international oil prices had gone up from $19.56 per barrel in 2020 to $130 per barrel earlier this month and are now down to $100 per barrel.
"Oil marketing companies will take their decisions (on fuel prices). They will proceed once they can no longer bear it. If they don't have the margin or cushion, they will take the appropriate step," he had said.
Jet fuel (ATF) sales more than doubled to 232,900 tonnes on March 1-15, 2022 but were 31.1 per cent less than pre-Covid levels of 2019 and 27.5 per cent less than sales in the same period in 2020.
India went in for a complete lockdown, stopping flights, halting rail and road movements and shutting businesses, in the last week of March 2020 to contain the spread of coronavirus. March 1-15, 2020 period was near normal as Covid restrictions were just kicking in.
The aviation sector is yet to resume normal operations.
LPG sales were up 17 per cent to 1.3 million tonnes on March 1-15, the data showed.