Kolkata/New Delhi: A day after oil firms hiked petrol prices by a steep Rs 5 per litre, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday said a ministerial panel will decide on raising diesel, LPG and kerosene prices next week.

An Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) headed by Finance Minister is likely to deliberate on Oil Ministry's demand for a minimum Rs 4 a litre hike in diesel price and Rs 25 per cylinder increase in LPG rates to partly bridge the gulf between domestic prices and their international cost.

"A decision will be taken on raising prices of these items when the EGoM meets next week," Mukherjee told reporters here after meeting Congress MLAs elected in the West Bengal
Assembly elections.

He, however, neither gave the date of the EGoM meeting nor the quantum of hike the panel may consider. EGoM was originally scheduled to meet on May 11, a day after polling in West Bengal ended but the meeting was postponed and no new dates have been intimated yet.

Oil companies are losing Rs 18.19 on sale of every litre of diesel at current price of Rs 37.75 per litre in Delhi. Besides, state oil firms lose Rs 29.69 a litre on kerosene and Rs 329.73 per 14.2-kg domestic LPG cylinder.

On the biggest ever hike in petrol prices, Mukherjee said the decision was taken by the oil companies as the government had deregulated petrol pricing in June last year.

Though Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum had been given freedom to decide on retail selling price of petrol, they informally consulted Oil Ministry on every revision. The three had not revised rates since January as five crucial states including West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala went to polls.

A day after state assembly results, the firms hiked petrol price by Rs 5 per litre which was less than half of Rs 10.50 a litre increase need to cover for cost of crude oil which had touched a two-and-half year high of USD 110 per barrel.

The Finance Minister said crude oil was ruling at USD 68 per barrel when diesel, LPG and kerosene rates were last revised in June 2010. Crude is now above USD 110 a barrel.

Oppn slams Centre for petro hike

Meanwhile, the steep rise in petrol prices drew sharp criticism from major opposition parties which on Sunday slammed the government for putting "unprecedented burden" on
common man. The parties also demanded reversal of the de-regulation policy.

Hitting out the government, BJP National Vice President Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the rise in prices of petroleum products every second month will "suck the blood" of the
poverty-ridden masses.

He alleged that the step was taken to "realise all its expenses" incurred on recently held elections in the five states.

The Left parties termed the hike as a "cruel blow" by the UPA government and demanded a reversal of the de-regulation policy implemented in June last year.

"By increasing the price of petrol by Rs 5 a litre, the UPA government has given another cruel blow to the people who are already suffering from all-round price rise," a statement
issued by CPI(M), CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc said.

After the deregulation of petrol pricing, the parties said, there have been more or less a monthly increase in petrol prices.

In Allahabad, activists of Samajwadi Party disrupted rail traffic while those from BJP staged a dharna to protest the "rapacious hike" and demanded a rollback.

Workers of the Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha, the youth wing of Mulayam Singh Yadav's party, went to the Prayag railway and squatted on the tracks blocking the movement of Lucknow-bound Ganga Gomti Express for an hour.

A dharna was organised at the busy Civil Lines crossing in the city by BJP supporters, led by former state minister and MLA Narendra Kumar Singh Gaur.

In Mathura, hundreds of Bhartiya Janta Yuva Morcha demonstrated in protest against the hike in petrol price.

"We will continue our agitation till the hike of petrol prices is withdrawn," BJYM's district president Bhupendra Chaudhary said.

Shiromani Akali Dal also sought an immediate rollback and demanded a "transparent formula" for fixation of petrol price. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, in a statement in Chandigarh, slammed the UPA for the "totally unjustified and unbearable" petrol price hike.

He said rather than "hastily increasing" the price of petrol, the Centre should have built a consensus on the issue by discussing it with all the political parties.

In a separate statement, SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal said, "The Union Government has no justification in crushing the people by the highest-ever petrol price hike".

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said in Dehradun that the revised prices would further increase the miseries of common people, who are already reeling under the pressure of mounting inflation.

Opposition parties in Andhra Pradesh, including TDP, BJP, CPI-M and CPI, staged protests in different parts of the state against the recent petrol price hike and demanded its
immediate rollback to ease common man's woes.

Over 200 BJP activists led by former Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya, took out a rally and burnt an effigy of Congress President Sonia Gandhi in Hyderabad.

CPI-M supporters organised a rasta-roko in the Andhra Pradesh capital.

BSP to launch nationwide stir

Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati announced to launch a nationwide agitation against the Centre's decision to hike petrol prices.

"The hike in petrol prices is anti-people and has proved that the Congress-led UPA government has become insensitive towards the common people and poor. The BSP will
launch a nationwide stir on the issue," Mayawati said in a statement.

"The nationwide stir will start with a day-long demonstration and dharna in all 72 districts of UP on May 31," she added.

Mayawati said there is an indication that the Centre was mulling hike in prices of diesel, cooking gas and kerosene, which would result in hardship for the people.

She alleged that while the Centre was concerned about the losses of oil companies, it was least concerned about resultant price rise and hardship for the people.

"Since April 2008, the UPA government had hiked petrol prices for 12 times and from Rs 48.30 litre it had reached Rs 68.46 litre," she said.

JPN/Agencies