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In India rising fuel prices start to bite | Business and Economy News

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Mumbai, India–In the past month, Mumbai-based autorickshaw driver Siddheshwar Yadav’s average monthly income has dipped 40 percent, hit by a combination of surging fuel bills and autorickshaw rents, as hikes in petroleum and diesel prices take inflation in India to a crippling, 15-month high.

Even after putting in a 12-hour shift every day of the month, Yadav’s monthly income has dropped to 9,000 rupees ($118) from 15,000 rupees ($196.8). With the government prohibiting drivers from raising meter fares and many commuters switching to public transport to save a few rupees, Yadav is one of many drivers who has seen his income plummet even as all other costs increase.

“Things have become especially problematic in the last 20-25 days,” Yadav said. “Not just fuel, everything has become expensive, vegetables and food too. It has been years since our starting fare on the meter was revised. Even our unions have not done anything about it. The situation is difficult.”

Fuel prices have risen 26 percent since March 22 as oil marketing companies began to pass the effect of a surge in global crude oil prices — after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — onto its consumers through back-to-back price hikes. The rise in fuel costs has crept into food and other necessary items like packaged milk, edible oil and wheat, among others, and has thrown household budgets out of order.

With retail inflation at unprecedented levels, not just the typical resident but even small to middle-sized businesses in India are now starting to feel the pinch. While the federal government has been criticised for the high taxes it adds to fuel prices, New Delhi has shown no intention to let go of this important revenue stream.

That is hurting people like Yadav. He says that, where earlier he could send back nearly 11,000 rupees ($144.3) every month to his family in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh after spending comfortably on food and lodging in the city, that amount has now dwindled to barely 7,000 rupees ($91.8).

Spillover effect

As of Sunday, petrol and diesel prices stood at 120.51 rupees ($1.57) and 104.77 rupees ($1.37) respectively in Mumbai, up 26 percent and 21 percent since March 22, when the Indian government started hiking prices after a four-month hiatus.

Since fuel is used for the transportation of most goods across the country, the sharp rise in prices is creeping into the costs of other commodities and sectors as well. Prices of fruits, vegetables, and even packaged items like milk, coffee powder and instant noodles have shot up.

What is worrying, says Kumar Rajagopalan, chief executive officer of the Retailers Association of India, is “that once prices of packaged commodities go up, they seldom come down. The higher price will become the new benchmark.”

The smaller retailers and businesses, however, are not fully passing on the higher costs to their customers as yet as they fear they may lose business.

Vatsal Mody, a synthetic fabric exporter based in the eastern Indian city of Surat whose primary raw material is crude oil, said that apart from the sharp jump in the prices of that oil, there has been an “unrealistic” surge in freight and ship container charges. The freight charges have jumped from $5 per cubic metre before the pandemic to $15 in November-December last year and $25 now, he said. However, for the moment, he is just adding half of that price hike as he bids for new orders. The exporter is worried that any higher and he would lose market share.

a vegetable vendor, speaks on his mobile phone at a retail market area in Kolkata, India
Prices of fruits and vegetables have shot up as India grapples with 15-month high inflation [FileRupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters]

India’s fuel dynamics

Global crude oil prices and the dollar/rupee exchange rate affect the pump prices in India since it imports about 85 percent of its oil, which is then refined by domestic oil marketing companies and sold at pumps.

These companies usually follow a 15-day average of global benchmark prices to recalibrate pump prices every day. However, after a price hike on November 4, they did not raise prices for four months at the government’s behest, even as global crude oil prices rose 45 percent, from $81.6 a barrel to $118.5 per barrel over that time. As a result, the recent rise in pump prices is merely India catching up with global prices of the commodity.

However, these prices also have a component of state and central government taxes, a crucial source of government revenue.

For instance, between March 2014 and October 2021, the government-imposed tax on petrol rose by more than 200 percent and that on diesel by more than 600 percent, according to a report by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a New Delhi think tank.

“Since 2014, the tax on diesel and the tax on petrol has been increased substantially … So that is coming back to bite us now,” Lydia Powell, distinguished fellow at the ORF and co-author of the report, told Al Jazeera.

Since November, the federal government’s taxes on petrol and diesel stand at 26.5 percent and 22.5 percent per litre, respectively, a 40 percent jump on petrol and a 38 percent jump on diesel from pre-pandemic levels. In addition, states also charge a tax that can range from 12 percent to 22 percent.

“Both federal and state governments are passing charges, each is saying that the other should reduce [taxes] but nobody is really reducing it because it is a substantial part of the revenue stream … Overall I don’t see a substantial decrease in the taxes and I think people should get used to higher prices,” Powell added.

And while there’s been talk of India getting discounted oil from Russia, the likelihood of that happening is low as Indian firms are not equipped to process Russian crude.

All of that has fed into the ballooning retail inflation at a 15-month high of 6.95 percent in March, breaching the upper band of the Reserve Bank of India’s medium-term target of 2-6 percent for the third consecutive month.

But the government loathes the idea of cutting taxes anytime soon as it has plans to spend 7.5 trillion rupees ($98.3bn) in the current financial year, its highest allocation for capital expenditure in nearly two decades. It also has other existing expenses like subsidies for food for the poor and fertilizers for agriculture, which are likely to go up if global commodity prices continue to remain high.

“If you cut your excise duty and yet you have to pay more subsidy on fertilizers and you end up increasing your borrowing program, you end up pushing the rate up” at which the Indian government can borrow funds, said Abheek Barua, chief economist and vice president at HDFC Bank.

Higher expenses would push New Delhi’s budget deficit wider, making it more expensive to fund the gap.

“The macroeconomic effects, even if you explain it very simply, happen to be quite complex. It is not an isolated decision of whether to cut excise on fuel or not.”

Back on the streets of Mumbai, autorickshaw driver Yadav is lost in a few complex financial thoughts of his own.

“First it was Corona and then this inflation,” he told Al Jazeera. “I understand that this is because of the Russia-Ukraine war, but isn’t there something that the government can do to provide some relief? My son got married last year and my daughter is already engaged. This isn’t the right time for my savings plan to fall apart.”



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Bolsonaro gov’t threatening Brazilian democracy, jurists tell UN | Elections News

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Legal experts urge UN special rapporteur to visit Brazil to report on president’s attacks on Brazilian judicial bodies.

Brazil’s democracy and the independence of its judiciary are under threat from the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, a group of lawyers and legal experts have said in a petition to the United Nations, as the country prepares for elections in October.

The group of 80 jurists and legal researchers on Wednesday appealed to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, to visit Brazil and report on attacks on the Supreme Court and the Superior Electoral Court that oversees elections.

The courts face an unprecedented campaign of distrust and public threats to judges who decide against the government’s agenda, they said in their petition.

“Moreover, without any evidence, Bolsonaro publicly claims that the Brazilian electoral system can be and has been rigged, and has even claimed that the TSE judges are behind such alleged frauds,” the petition to the UN rapporteur read.

Facing a drop in popularity, Bolsonaro over the past several months has repeatedly claimed – without providing any evidence – that Brazil’s electronic voting system is vulnerable to fraud.

Critics and judicial experts have rejected his claims as baseless, accusing Bolsonaro of planning to use his fraud claims to contest the election results, similar to former United States President Donald Trump, whom Bolsonaro has emulated.

Earlier this month, the president said his party would seek an audit of the voting system before the election. He has also suggested that the armed forces, whose current and former members are employed throughout his government, should conduct their own parallel vote count.

On Wednesday, the president’s son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, said Brazil could face political instability if the electoral court did not provide more transparency about its voting system.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s petition said that Bolsonaro uttered a series of direct threats to the Supreme Court in a speech to a crowd of thousands of supporters in September of last year.

“The Brazilian Judiciary is under siege. Judicial independence in Brazil is facing challenges that are unprecedented since democratization in the 1980s,” the letter said.

Bolsonaro is facing a stiff challenge in his re-election bid from former left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who recently launched his presidential campaign and holds a clear lead over Bolsonaro, according to recent polls.



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HRW documents ‘apparent war crimes’ by Russian forces in Ukraine | Russia-Ukraine war News

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Leading US-based rights group says Russian forces had subjected civilians to summary executions, torture and other grave abuses in two regions.

A leading human rights watchdog has accused Russian troops of carrying out summary executions, torture and other grave abuses in two regions of Ukraine, as it published a report documenting further cases of “apparent war crimes” by the invading forces.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report published on Wednesday documented 22 apparent summary executions, nine other unlawful killings, six possible enforced disappearances and seven cases of torture from late February through March.

Twenty-one civilians told HRW about unlawful confinement in inhuman and degrading conditions during the period the Russian forces controlled much of the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, it said.

HRW called for the alleged abuses to be “impartially investigated and appropriately prosecuted”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Russia’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to the Reuters news agency requests for comment on the HRW report. Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes and has accused Ukraine of staging atrocities to smear its forces.

Asked more broadly about war crimes allegations against Russian forces in Ukraine, Peskov told Reuters, “We consider it impossible and unacceptable to throw such terms around.”

“Many of the cases that Ukraine is talking about are obvious fakes, and the most egregious ones are staged, as has been convincingly proved by our experts,” he said.

Global outrage

There was a global outrage dozens of bodies, some with their hands bound, were found in towns, including Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital after invading Russian troops retreated from the area.

HRW said it had visited a total of 17 villages and small towns in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions and interviewed 65 people between April 10 and May 10, including former detainees, people who said they had survived torture, families of victims and other witnesses.

The report went further than a statement issued in April in which HRW said it had documented “several cases of Russian military forces committing laws-of-war violations” in Russian-controlled regions such as Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv.

“The numerous atrocities by Russian forces occupying parts of northeastern Ukraine early in the war are abhorrent, unlawful, and cruel,” said Giorgi Gogia, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These abuses against civilians are evident war crimes that should be promptly and impartially investigated and appropriately prosecuted.”

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” aimed at weakening its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capturing what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

A Kyiv district court on Wednesday began hearing its first war crimes trial against a Russian soldier who took part in Moscow’s February 24 invasion. The soldier, who is accused of murdering a 62-year-old civilian, told the court he pleaded guilty.

Ukraine has said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes in total.





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Ex-Minneapolis police officer pleads guilty in George Floyd case | Black Lives Matter News

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By entering the plea, Thomas Lane avoided the more serious charge of aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

A former United States police officer has pleaded guilty to a state charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in 2020 when a fellow police officer knelt on his neck.

As part of the plea deal announced on Wednesday, Thomas Lane a former Minneapolis police officer will have a count of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder dismissed. Lane, along with J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, has already been convicted on federal counts of willfully violating Floyd’s rights during the events that led to Floyd’s death.

The state is recommending a sentence for Lane of three years — which is below state sentencing guidelines — and has agreed to allow him to serve the time in a federal prison. He has not yet been sentenced in the federal case.

Floyd died May 25, 2020, after another officer, Derek Chauvin, who is white, pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck, as Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe. Lane and Kueng helped to restrain Floyd, who was handcuffed. Lane held down Floyd’s legs and Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back. Thao kept bystanders from intervening during the 9.5-minute restraint.

Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted the case, said he was pleased that Lane accepted responsibility for his role in Floyd’s death.

“My thoughts are once again with the victims, George Floyd and his family,” Ellison said in a tweet. “Floyd should still be with us. But I am pleased Thomas Lane has accepted responsibility for his role in Floyd’s death.”

In an earlier statement, he said the move was necessary towards achieving justice.

“His acknowledgement he did something wrong is an important step toward healing the wounds of the Floyd family, our community, and the nation,” Ellison said. “While accountability is not justice, this is a significant moment in this case and a necessary resolution on our continued journey to justice.”

The plea by Lane, who is white, comes during a week when the country is focused on the deaths of 10 Black people in Buffalo, New York, at the hands of an 18-year-old white man, who carried out the racist, livestreamed shooting Saturday in a supermarket.

Lane’s lawyer, Earl Gray, said he and Lane would have no comment. Lane was not taken into custody and a pre-sentence investigation was ordered. He is scheduled to be sentenced on September 21 on the state charge.

Police officers during George Floyd arrest
Thomas Lane was convicted in February along with two other former colleagues of federal charges, after a monthlong trial that focused on the officers’ training and the culture of the police department [File: Pool/Court TV via AP]

Lane was convicted along with Kueng and Thao of federal charges in February, after a month-long trial that focused on the officers’ training and the culture of the police department. All three were convicted of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care and Thao and Kueng were also convicted of failing to intervene to stop Chauvin during the killing, which was caught on video and sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the globe as part of a reckoning over racial injustice.

Chauvin, pleaded guilty last year to a federal charge of violating Floyd’s civil rights and faces a federal sentence ranging from 20 to 25 years. Earlier, he was convicted of state charges of murder and manslaughter and sentenced to 22.5 years in the state case.

After their federal conviction, there was a question as to whether the state trial would proceed. At an April hearing in state court, prosecutors revealed that they had offered plea deals to all three men, but they were rejected. At the time, Gray said it was hard for the defence to negotiate when the three still did not know what their federal sentences would be.

Thao’s lawyer, Robert Paule, was in the courtroom for Lane’s plea hearing. When asked if his client would also take a plea deal, he replied “No comment.”

Kueng, who is Black, and Thao, who is Hmong American, are scheduled to go to trial in June on the state charges.





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