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Price gripe in flats with gas pool

A problem that wasn’t accounted for while fixing the cap on LPG subsidy has left over 5,000 Calcutta families using piped gas from common reservoirs without their quota of lower-priced cooking fuel.

Residents of South City, one of the 10-odd housing complexes in town with piped LPG, have seen their monthly gas cost almost treble because they are being billed at Rs 75 a kilo from October 1, which works out to Rs 1,065 a 14.2kg cylinder.

Oil companies supplying gas to Hiland Park, Upohar, Silver Spring and Genexx Valley have also started charging more than double the old rate.

The price of a subsidised cylinder is Rs 412.42 in the city and each household is entitled to six of those in a year.

Retired bank official Ranjit Kumar Bhowmick, a resident of South City, said it was “unjust” that those like him were being forced to buy every gram of cooking gas at the unsubsidised price.

“Why should residents of housing complexes like ours be denied the legitimate subsidy that other households in the country enjoy? The authorities should work out some way of providing the subsidy to us. It should not be difficult as each flat has a separate gas meter,” Bhowmick, a member of the South City Apartment Owners’ Association, told Metro.

The monthly gas bill of the Bhowmicks, a family of four, used to be around Rs 330. Based on the rate applicable from October 1, they would need to spend around Rs 1,000 a month on piped LPG.

South City has two reservoirs, called bullets, that hold 5,000kg of gas each. Only one is used at a time, the other is on stand-by like the second cylinder that many households have.

The reservoirs at Calcutta’s tallest residential towers last three weeks each. The price was Rs 28.50 a kilo until September 30, which worked out to around Rs 405 for a cylinder.

The rates were similar at the other housing complexes with LPG reservoirs that Metro visited, irrespective of the supplier.

An official of one of the oil companies servicing housing complexes in town said the price of piped gas could settle at around Rs 65 a kilo, which would still be almost double the cost of subsidised gas.

The root of the problem being faced by residents of housing complexes across the metros lies in the supply agreements between oil companies and builders or the owners’ associations. In most cases, the agreements mention the entire housing estate as one entity rather than as a community of multiple consumers.

“For us, the housing society is a single domestic customer. The only difference is that we sell gas to the society, not to an individual. The society distributes the LPG through internal pipelines, collects the money and pays us. In the new LPG regime, the housing society will be taken as one domestic customer who is entitled to just six subsidised cylinders of 14.2 kg each a year,” an official of the Indian Oil Corporation said.

If each apartment owner using piped gas were to be considered a consumer entitled to six subsidised cylinders, South City with around 1,600 flats would be getting 1,36,320 kg of subsidised LPG. That works out to 9,600 cylinders a year.

Oil companies contested the claim. “That will be tantamount to misuse of the provision. Half the flats in such complexes are empty. In effect, the rest will get more than their quota of six cylinders a year,” an official said.

A representative of Ambuja Realty, which built Upohar, said: “The problem is that the entire complex is considered as one unit. It defies logic.”

One of the options being suggested is junking the piped gas network and giving each household a normal gas connection. But this could create another problem, apart from the loss of investment in infrastructure.

“Delivering cylinders to flats in a highrise would be a big problem because fire safety norms do not recommend carrying them on elevators,” the secretary of a housing complex said.

Union minister Sharad Pawar had raised the subject at a cabinet meeting on Thursday.