ISLAMABAD - Feeling heat of the intense political reaction, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on Saturday ordered withdrawal of the recent increase in prices of petroleum products to save the ruling PPP from suffering further political damage when election are around.

During a meeting at the PM House, Finance Minister Saleem H Mandviwala briefed the PM about the overall economic situation and the compulsions and rationale for recent increase in petroleum prices. But Raja ordered for immediate reversal of the hike, saying that it would adversely affect the life of the common man.

He said emphasised that the government accords highest priority to the welfare of the people and will pursue policies to facilitate them. “The Peoples Government will not impose any additional burden on the common man and will do its utmost to alleviate the sufferings of the people”, he said.

Following the order, the finance ministry cut back the petroleum levy on petroleum products by Rs3.66 per litre. The cash-starved coalition government on February 28 had increased the prices of petroleum products (POL) up to Rs4.35/litre under monthly price review mechanism, ignoring the miseries of the common man already bearing heavy brunt of sky-high prices of POL products and essential commodities for a long time.

The withdrawal of this price increase come after a public outcry and walkout of opposition parties PML-N and MQM from the national assembly on Friday as they said that given the prevailing inflation, this increase was a ‘merciless decision’ of the federal government and they demanded its immediate reversal.

According to the notification issued on Thursday, from March 1, the price of petrol was increased by Rs3.53 per litre (3.42 per cent) to Rs106.60, that of high speed diesel by Rs4.35 (3.99 per cent) to Rs113.56, kerosene by Rs3.75 (3.76 per cent) to Rs103.69 and light diesel by Rs3.93 (4.2 per cent) to Rs98.25.

But on the premier’s order, now all these increases have been revoked and the petroleum prices will now stay at their previous level, said an official at PM secretariat. So the price of petrol will stay during this month at Rs103.07, high speed diesel at Rs109.21, kerosene at Rs99.94 and light diesel at Rs94.32.

Political opponents said the drama of first increasing the prices and then cutting them back was played to secure ‘political mileage’ by portraying the prime minister and the PPP as pro-people. But they said the people are well aware of such ‘political gimmick’ and it would not salvage the PPP, which has lost its popularity among the masses due its anti-people polices over its five years ‘despotic’ rule.

However, the government decision will bring at least some air of relief to the common man who is already living a miserable life due to electricity and gas loadshedding, and high prices of the edibles and items of daily use.

Agencies add: Different traders and business organisations welcomed the reversal of raise in petroleum products. Pakistan Industrial and Traders Associations Front lauded the government’s decision to reject the hike. PIAF Chairman Malik Tahir Javaid said the business community appreciated the federal finance minister who took a prompt action on the appeal of trade and industrial associations.