In the backdrop of a scarcity of subsidised kerosene, the recent price hike of kerosene by a staggering 290 per cent (Rs 253) have flung the fishermen, tea pluckers, farmers and low-income households,from the frying pan into the fire.

The price of kerosene was suddenly increased from Rs 87 to Rs 340 per litre at midnight on 21 August by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC).

This move has severely affected the low-income families. On the one hand, fishing activities have been restricted and the cost of fishhas soared due to the scarcity of subsidised kerosene. On the other hand, the estate sector employees who are hard hit by the shortages of essentials like keroseneare in real danger of losing their livelihood. Undoubtedlythe kerosene hike has a telling impact on the social classes with the lowest incomes.

It is because prices weren’t raised for a very long time

Successive Governments have effected marginal price increases to kerosene because it was seen as an absolute necessity for the poor. However, the CPC in an abrupt move announced the nett price hike of Rs253 per litre of kerosene on 21 August. When questioned about it,a spokesperson from the Ministry of Power and Energy said, it was a decision taken on the basis that kerosene prices had not been increased for a long time.

However, he added that the CPC is operating at a significant deficit as a result of the uniform kerosene subsidy that had been offered. However, healso pointed out thatsubsidised kerosene should be issued only to those who are eligible.

Following on, Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera,announced on his official Twitter that he had suggested to the Government that low-income families, fishers, and plantation workers who are dependent on kerosene for their livelihood would receive direct financial subsidies. “This will only be permitted, after the idea of giving cash-on-hand directly to certain deserving, preidentified groups or individuals, has been approved by the Cabinet”. In addition, the minister stated that selling kerosene at subsidised prices was a major factor in the CPC’s losses and that the price of kerosene should have been revised long ago.

According to the Ministry’s spokesperson, the proposal would definitely be presented to the Cabinet, although the date has not yet been set. Elaborating further he said,because the CPC is making losses, they are compelled to opt for these choices and look for other ways to help the most vulnerable.

Fish Prices may rise up to Rs 5,000

The AllCeylon Common Fisheries Association has suspended fishing operations until the Government provides them with a subsidy that allows them to buy kerosene at the previous price.

Prasanga Fernando, speaking to the media on behalf of the Association said, the lack of kerosene has caused the fishers to stay at home for more than three months.

“We need to purchase 50 litres of kerosene per day, but lubricants used to cost only Rs 4,800. This means that each day, we will have to spend Rs 22,000 for both kerosene and oil. But all this investment would be squandered, if we don’t get a ‘good catch’ on that day,” he complained.

He described the situation as desperate and beyond their manageable proportions andthat they cannot take the blame for the ongoing crises.

According to the General Secretary of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union M. Vijendran, the spike in kerosene prices has created a situation where around 50 per cent of small-scale fishermen will leave the fishing industry.

More than 300,000 people are currently employed in small-scale fishing, he claimed, adding that because of the sharp increase in the price of kerosene, a small-scale fisherman must spend about Rs20,000 on a single trip. Hence, the small-scale fishermen are gradually drifting away from the fishing industry. According to him, a kilo of fish will cost Rs2,000 due to the rise in kerosene prices, which will also have a chain reaction on the prices of other commodities.

“There are no small-scaleor cheap varieties of fish anymore! kumbalao and linno are priced between Rs1,500 and 1,800 per kg. Another reason for the soaring fish prices could be attributed to the demand created by merchants. Crabs, squid, and shrimp are becoming increasingly rare. Due to the fuel crisis, small-scale fisherman had not gone to the sea for the last three months. In Sri Lanka, there are 26,000 small boats. The fishermen are indire straits. It would not be able to stop a significant number of people from leaving the fishing industry if small-scale fishermen are not provided with kerosene subsidy,” he said.

Clay roof tiles are becoming increasingly scarce

The President of the All-island Roofing Tile Manufacturers’ Association, Fernando, issued a warning, stating that if the Government does not take remedial action to provide kerosene to the tile makers, there will be a severe shortage of tiles in the nation, forcing people to find the money to buy roofing sheets from abroad.

According to him, their Association represents roughly 250 tile mills nationwide, and more than 150 enterprises have been forced to shut down entirely as a result of the kerosene shortage. He emphasised that the last few are likewise being partially operational withgreat difficulties.

“We do not ask the Government to do much for us. For use in the ‘tile mould’, we simply need 50 litres of kerosene each week per factory. 40 per cent of the local demand for roofing is met by our factories. We accomplished 70 per cent in the 1980s. About Rs40 million is invested by each factory owner to manage these businesses. Due of the kerosene scarcity, they are currently ‘powerless’,” he claimed.

Speaking further, he added that clay roof factories are directly and indirectly responsible for thousands of jobs. He emphasised that they had given their staff access to around 3,000 permanent homes. Today, these families are virtually in the dark. We,as factory owners,had to wait in lines for days, to buy kerosene.

But despite waiting in queues, there is no kerosene to purchase now. Due to thissituation, it will cost a substantial amount to import roofing sheets from abroad to build homesin the nation. We have requested for our basic resources from the relevant authorities, on numerous occasions, but to no avail. We now ask the current President to provide the essential kerosene to the tile industry, which is being restrained by several restrictions and regulations for acquisition of clay and firewood.

No kerosene despite the price hike

People complain that kerosene has not been distributed at fuel filling stations in Hatton and other plantation are for more than two months, despite the price hike.

The plantation workers allege that they cannot afford the increase in kerosene prices due to the ever-rising cost of living. With the power outages, people in the nearby areas of the plantations use kerosene to light their lamps at night. According to the gasoline station personnel who sell kerosene in Hatton, the demand for it may decline since the price of kerosene has been raised.

Rise in prices of both kerosene and LP gas

When LP Gas and kerosene prices are both high, residents of housing schemes and apartments complained they had no idea on how to survive. They said people who reside in housing schemes only have two meals a day and at times only a meal. They asserted that regardless of who assumes Public Office, it is the common man who ultimately suffers.

Hundreds and thousands have been waiting in line for LP Gas, Fuel, Milk Powder, Food, and Medicine for months resulting from the nation’s worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948. This led to the unannounced protests on the streets of the entire island and the eventual stepping down of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

‘Kerosene’ loss

In his speech to the House on 5 July, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera pointed out the losses incurred by the CPC due the kerosene subsidy, indicating that the company had paid Rs 420 for a litre of kerosene which was sold to the market at a subsidised price of Rs 87, resulting in a loss of Rs 333 per litre. He emphasised that everyone in the nation must bear the costs of providing fuel at a subsidy. The Minister also stressed the significance of the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery and declared that there are absolutely no plans to sell or privatise it.

In March 2022, there were allegations from the Trade Unions that in the face of the fuel crisis, the CPC had caused a huge loss to the Corporation by distributing 15,000 metric tonnes of high-quality fuel to the petrol stations at the selling price of kerosene.

BY Thameenah Razeek