New Delhi: On a day Congress held nationwide protests over rising petrol and diesel prices and interim party chief Sonia Gandhi accused the Centre of ‘extorting’ people with fuel price hikes, Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Monday attributed the hikes to coronavirus, adding that ‘as prices in international markets stabilise, prices in India will also stabilise’.Also Read - Petrol, Diesel Price Today: Crude Oil Rates in Delhi Hike Again After Single-day Freeze

Speaking to news agency ANI, he said, “World economy as well as Indian economy is going through a challenging time. Due to COVID-19 pandemic, energy industry is going through a tough time. Demand for petrol went down by 70-80% in April-May months in the country which directly impacted economy.” Also Read - Petrol, Diesel Prices Today: No Increase in Fuel Rates in Delhi For First Time in 22 Days, Diesel Still Costlier

Notably, the demand for petrol went down in April-May as the country was in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, which began on March 25 and ended partially on May 31. Also Read - Petrol, Diesel Prices Rise in Delhi For 21st Straight Day; Check Revised Rates Here

“Now the demand is picking up again. No one can predict oil prices, but we’ve estimated that as prices in international markets stabilise, prices in India will also stabilise,” the minister added.

The rise in demand of petrol and diesel could be due to ‘Unlock’, which began from June 1 and, as the name suggests, is the country’s exit from the lockdown, albeit in a number of phases.

Also on the day, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi joined his mother and party in hitting out at the government, demanding reduction in prices of petrol and diesel.

On Monday, petrol and diesel prices in Delhi, after a single-day freeze on Sunday for the first time since June 7, increased yet again. With an increase of five and 13 paise respectively, a litre of petrol and diesel in Delhi is priced at Rs 80.43 and Rs 80.53.

Last Wednesday, for the first time in several years, a litre of diesel became costlier than that of petrol in the national capital, and has maintained the ‘lead’ since then.

Fuel prices have been increasing since June 7, when oil companies began the daily price revision mechanism after a hiatus of 83 days during the lockdown.