The Bombay high court on Wednesday directed Centre, petroleum ministry and finance ministry to file an affidavit by June 20 in response to a petition which claimed that the recent petrol price hike was "illegal" as it lacked Parliament's approval and violated the Constitution.
A bench of justices RY Ganoo and NM Jamdar ordered the respondents to file an affidavit explaining their stand on increasing the price of petrol.
Apart from the Central ministries, other respondents include oil marketing companies, Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd.
The PIL, filed by Rajendra Phanse, general secretary of 'Dharmarajya Paksha', submitted that the petrol prices were hiked "abruptly" by Rs 7.50 on May 23 at the stroke of midnight after the conclusion of budget session of Parliament.
The petitioner contended that the raise in petrol prices was "totally illegal" as it does not have approval of the Parliament. It was also ultra-vires of the Constitution.
Terming as "undemocratic" the hike since it was announced after the Budget session was over, the petitioner argued that in the past, the decisions like raising the rates of postal and telephone services used to be taken during the budget session.
The petitioner further said that the hike was against the principles of natural justice, as it is bound to affect the entire population of the country.
Citing the lack of uniformity in the prices of petrol, the petitioner said that in Thane (Maharashtra), the price per litre is Rs 81.70, while it is as low as Rs 58.06 in Port Blair, Rs 81.75 per litre in Bengaluru and Rs 73.18 in Delhi.
This showed that the prices of petrol change from city to city within the country, which is nothing but a geographical discrimination in contravention of Article 14 of the Constitution, he said.
Since petroleum is a Central subject, the prices of petrol must be uniform across the country in tandem with the principles of equality before law, the petition maintained, citing uniformity in scales of pay under the Union Government, including subordinate judiciary, across the country.
Supply of petrol is an essential service required by the nation and the Centre should set up a Regulatory Commission to draft a uniform policy on the petroleum products, including petrol, diesel, CNG and LPG, and place the policy before Parliament for approval, the petitioner said.
Advocate VP Patil, who appeared for Phanse, a resident of neighbouring Thane, argued that the respondents should fix a uniform rate of petrol throughout the country.
He also urged the high court to direct respondents to roll back the hike of Rs 7.50 per litre on petrol.
Phanse also requested the court to direct the respondents to take any policy decision pertaining to hiking petrol prices only during the parliament session since such decision affects common people the most.
The PIL also maintained that the Centre be refrained from taking any "hasty" decision -- about increasing prices of petrol -- when the House is adjourned sine-die, because such decision is undemocratic and illegal in nature.