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India urged citizens to "take the bus" Tuesday as it announced an energy savings campaign aimed at knocking $5 billion off its fuel bill, which has risen sharply in recent months.
The nation imports over 75 percent of its crude oil – which is priced in dollars – and the cost has risen dramatically because of high global prices and a plunging rupee, which has hit record lows.
"We need to do more to conserve fuel or face tougher choices such as steep price increases or even quantitative restrictions," Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily told a news conference.
The proposed measures, all voluntary, included switching off engines at traffic lights, carpooling, encouraging workers to take public transport and tuning up vehicles to improve their fuel efficiency.
"We want people to take the bus and other forms of public transport," he said.
Moily stirred widespread ridicule earlier this month when he told a local news agency that "shutting petrol pumps during (the) night" was one of several austerity steps being considered to cut imports.
His proposals steered clear of further reducing subsidies on diesel, which accounts for over 40 percent of fuel use.
The Congress-led government whose popularity has nosedived in the face of a string of corruption scandals is wary of increasing fuel prices with a general election that must be held by May 2014.
The government partially deregulated the petrol market in 2010, leading to significant price rises.
The country is struggling to shrink its current account deficit – the broadest measure of trade – which hit a record 4.8 percent of GDP last year and is straining foreign exchange reserves.
While car ownership in India has risen, driven by increasingly urban, affluent and aspirational first-time buyers, the main demand for fuel still comes from the transport sector such as trucks and buses.
India, whose per capita energy consumption remains among the world's lowest, has little scope to reduce fuel use as it needs to fuel industry and agriculture to bolster its economy