SUNDAY night saw a spiked volume of business at petrol stations throughout the country. The reason: consumers wanted to take advantage of the older rates before the newer, hiked rates were enforced. It was sad to see the consumers practise just about the only bit of proactivity they could exercise in the face of rising fuel prices. All they could do was buy petrol at Rs 75.69 a litre instead of the 86.66 it's going for now. Or diesel for Rs 55.15 instead of Rs 64.65. And it wasn't just the petrol pumps: Kerosene, the poor's fuel, was hiked from Rs 49.77 to Rs 58.37. What else can the average Joe do, right? When the government, however, takes a near identical tune, it's time to set certain things right. The government's plea that there is an international fuel crisis is a genuine one. It cannot be denied. All the countries of the world, except perhaps the oil-rich ones, are feeling its pinch. But governments the world over are not as helpless as they might be leading the public to believe. The price that the consumer pays at the pump has incorporated within it a lot of values that really don't have anything much to do with the global oil markets. In addition to the GST, which was raised from 15 percent to 16 in the last budget, there is excise duty, dealer commission, evaporation losses, insurance and banking costs and product handling costs, amongst others. Indeed, what the government earns from the oil import bill is far, far more than the comparatively diminutive subsidy it gives. In fact, it would appear that certain decisions to raise prices would be out of an impulse to finance the fiscal deficit rather than to match imbalances in the international fuel markets. Meanwhile, the consumers have to pay for not just the rising fuel prices but also the general inflation that fuel prices cost. To state the obvious, the price of everything is a function of the price of oil. But the folks making a quick, easy buck out of the whole situation is the government, the oil companies and the dealers. If indeed the government cannot make do without the bit it gets from the tariffs and taxes it levies on petroleum products, it can at least freeze the quantum of revenue it derives from the products. Similarly, cutting down on the profits of the oil marketing companies might be an idea. Maybe it's about time to end the rather sweet deal they have in our country. And finally, in the long run, the need for alternative energy sources is very pressing. Not just for transportation but also electric power generation. Energy conservation, referred to in certain circles as the "fifth fuel", also needs to be taken more seriously than it has been so far.