Oil tankers suspend loading operations at Burmamines on Wednesday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
The steel city’s transport lifeline may soon run dry with oil tanker operators launching an indefinite strike from Wednesday to protest the abduction and killing of a fellow driver in neighbouring West Singhbhum.
Around 100 tankers — which are run by the Private Carriers Vehicle Operators Association (PCVOA) and supply petrol and diesel to 50-odd fuel bunks across the city — have stopped loading operations at the HPCL depot in Burmamines. The situation is no different at the IOCL and BPCL reserves, indicating just the tip of an iceberg of a crisis that will be fuelled if the strike is not withdrawn soon.
Julfiqur Khan (35) was abducted by a gang of six on September 29 while he was on his way to Jayantgarh from the Burmamines depot with a loaded tanker.
His cleaner had managed to escape and inform the police, who followed the trail but only chanced upon the hijacked tanker. Three members of the gang were also arrested. A fourth, who was also manning the stolen vehicle, gave them the slip, while the kidnap car could not be intercepted.
Khan’s body was found at Hatgamharia, close to West Singhbhum’s border with Odisha, on Tuesday evening. He had been strangulated.
The incident triggered angry protests on Wednesday morning. Association members claimed that police had downplayed the abduction, which led to the murder of their colleague, and they would not join work unless the three absconding criminals were brought to book.
“The tanker was hijacked in broad daylight. Our fellow driver was kidnapped in broad daylight. Had the police been prompt, they would have brought him home safe,” said association president Manoj Singh. He added that other drivers were afraid of plying along the route unless police became proactive against criminal gangs.
Superintendent of police Pankaj Kamboj confirmed that Khan had been murdered and his body was found under a bridge at Jangiburu in Hatgamharia. He, however, claimed the driver was hand in glove with the gang, which planned to siphon fuel. “We are trying to trace his assailants, who we have come to know are residents of Jhinkpani,” he added.
Members of the tanker association said police were trying to indict Khan only to cover up their failure. “Investigations into a murder is of primary importance than those into pilferage,” Singh said, adding that they would not call off the strike until arrests were made.
A senior HPCL official, preferring anonymity, said they had no choice but to keep their fingers crossed. “If the matter is not resolved in a day or two, a crisis is imminent. Oil outlets will soon be out of stock,” he added.