India may shut petrol pumps at night: Minister

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India is considering closing fuel pumps at night as one of a number of "austerity measures" aimed at cutting its ballooning oil import bills, the oil minister said.

Oil Minister Veerappa Moily said on Monday that details have not yet been finalised on the new measures expected to be introduced later this month.

"We have not worked out the details, how the austerity measures or the conservation mission will have to be launched," Moily told NDTV news channel.

But the minister said late on Sunday that "shutting petrol pumps during (the) night is one of" the measures under discussion, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.

"We have not decided. It is just a proposal," Moily told PTI, adding that his ministry would launch austerity measures on September 16.

India imports around 80 per cent of its oil needs and the import bill has risen dramatically because of high global prices and a plunging rupee.

The oil ministry wants to cut fuel demand by three per cent and save about US$2.43 billion (S$ 3.09 billion) in foreign exchange outflows.

News of the proposed measures emerged as the country's biggest refiner, Indian Oil Corporation, increased petrol prices by more than 3.5 per cent, blaming the falling rupee for the hike.

A spokesman for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, Shahnawaz Hussain, attacked the "strange move" by the government.

"Won't the people fill their car fuel tanks in the morning? This is a strange move by Moily," Hussain said, according to PTI.

The government has partially deregulated petrol and hiked diesel prices in an effort to contain the ballooning debt caused in part by fuel subsidies.

India is scheduled to go to the polls by May next year with stubbornly-high inflation one of the main issues troubling voters.

New Delhi signed an agreement last month that would increase Iraqi sales of crude oil to India. Iraq has eclipsed sanctions-hit Iran as India's second-biggest crude oil supplier after Saudi Arabia.

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