Originally Posted by Published in the Maharashtra Herald, 25 Jan'06
WHY SHOULD WE GET BUTTERMILK WHEN WE PAY FOR MILK?
38 out of the 68 filling stations surveyed at random by the Maharashtra Herald in its investigative report, (results of which were published in a front-page report on 24th of January'06) showed a difference in density of over 0.0030. This number includes those who, for obvious reasons, refused to submit themselves to this most important and simple of tests that the filling stations and oil companies are supposed to carry out multiple times in a day, and record as well, with customer participation. More importantly, the oil companies as well as the retail outlets are supposed to simply stop selling fuel which does not meet the density specifications.
As a matter of fact, a retail outlet which is caught short-selling or stocking substandard or adulterated fuel more than twice in a year is supposed to lose its licence and permit to operate right away. That is the law, there are circulars out on the subject, and that is what the oil companies are supposed to enforce. This sort of variation in density represents the kind of problem that the late Manjunath faced in far away rural, backward, Lakhimpur Kheri, which he tried to stop, and for which he paid with his life.
That we live with it on a daily basis in urbane, upmarket Pune is like a slap in the face of our city and its reputation. That the young reporters from Maharashtra Herald who went out on the streets to carry out this investigative had to do the job that the oil companies are supposed to do, in the face of angry resistance from the staff and management at the filling stations, is symptomatic of how hollow the sympathy displayed by some of Manjunath's colleagues really is.
Shame on them, the officials from IOC, HPCL, BPCL, responsible for this state of affairs in Pune. If this is the case with automobile fuel, can we even begin to imagine what they would try with aviation fuel, if given a chance? Given the sensitivity of Pune's Air Force, can we even begin to think of the consequences? Many of them - from the oil industry - are my friends, have read this report, and have called me up to tell me how ashamed they are of their colleagues in Pune.
That is enough proof, if any was required, that there is something indeed very very wrong with the way the senior management in the oil companies handle issues pertaining to the quantity and quality of fuel supplied at retail outlets in Pune, and areas nearby. Technology has found a way to get around the stain test on blotting paper, by the simple method of adding chemicals which "cut" the colour dyes added. Master measures are regularly tampered with, by thumping them at the bottom or interfering with the shape of the canister. But density of fuel is one sure method which the rascals have not figured out how to beat, as yet.
And on that, over 50% of Pune's finest have been found short. Including some of the most prominent and well reputed outlets.
The question the oil companies need to answer to us, at as public a forum as they can muster, is why didn't they catch this? Were they sleeping or are they part of the racket? It has to be one of the two, if past experience is any indicator.
About a decade ago, I was a small part of a similar movement against short supply and adulterated fuel in Delhi. With a regular column in the Hindustan Times and a motoring show twice a week on Good Morning India (over DoorDarshan, Star TV and subsequently on NDTV), I was able to participate as well as observe the problem as well as holistic solutions.
The big ticket issues here were and still are:-
a) Value for money, we need to get what we pay for as far as fuel is concerned. (Short term visible direct loss)
b) Damage to vehicle's engine and costs therein. (Mid term not so visible loss)
c) Damage to environment. (Long term and almost ir-repairable, total loss)
In Delhi, we were lucky to get support from the Supreme Court and also from others, especially the senior fraternity within the political and civil servant establishment, on the long-term issue, viz: the damage to the environment. That eliminated the hooliganism and lower end political and smalltime "babu" interference which trying to fix the short term issue generates. Here in Pune itself I have been threatened by "social workers" claiming allegiance to political parties as well as senior managers of oil companies. Nothing new, I faced it in Delhi too.
Because the solution was more important. And the solution was simple - the rapid and decisive introduction of CNG for bulk users and public transport cut the adulteration opportunities where it was needed the most. You see, CNG can not be adulterated, and as a direct result we have blue skies again in Delhi while Pune is going grey. I drive in Pune as much as I drive in Delhi, and I have not seen fumes spewing out of the back of motor vehicles in Delhi lately. Can we say that about Pune?
Interestingly, the maximum opposition to the introduction of CNG came from the oil companies themselves, specifically HPCL, which was initially tasked with the responsibility in Delhi. And this gives a good idea of why the oil companies, especially the same HPCL, themselves are guilty of delaying the introduction of CNG in Pune, because that will spoil the game of adulteration of liquid fuels in Pune.
No amount of spending vast sums of money on better refining techniques, lower sulphur, removal of lead and upgrades in engine technology are of any use if the fuel sold at the retail outlet itself is adulterated. (Here it needs be mentioned that fuel at bulk outlets, used by government transport, is even worse, because those filling stations are usually not open to any sort of public scrutiny. And it is an open secret that much of that already adulterated fuel is what finds its way into the grey market, where it is further adulterated before it finds its way into the fuel tanks of those who would buy such "grey market" fuel).
Pune needs better fuel, both liquid as well as gas, and the oil companies need to answer now as to why they are not providing us with it. Will we also have to wait for the Courts to step in and take suo-moto notice?