Bhubaneswar, Feb. 5: Anant Das, 27, had a very bad day today. He had to drag his motorcycle for about two kilometre when it ran out of fuel near Master Canteen Square.
All 35 petrol pumps in the city were closed following a rift between Petrol Pump Owners’ Association and the Tankers’ Association.
Das was not the only victim of the fracas, which left hundreds of people stranded in different parts of the city. Even when the petrol pumps opened after almost eight hours, there were serpentine queues outside with people having to wait for hours for their turn.
“It took me nearly three hours to get a litre of petrol. Even then, I had to fight with others in the queue,” said Ramakant Sharma, who was standing outside a filling station on Janpath.
The shutdown of the petrol pumps is attributed to a tussle between the Petrol Pump Owners’ Association and the Tankers’ Association, which transports petrol to the 35 filling stations in the city from a Paradip depot.
Utkal Petrol Pump Dealers’ Association general secretary Sanjay Lath said: “We decided to resort to a strike as supply of petroleum products was stopped to one of our association members over the last 25 days.”
Members of the dealers’ association said the Petrol Tanker Owners’ Association had stopped supplying petroleum products to Jyotshna Filling Station in Pokhariput from January 10.
It all began when owner of Jyotshna Filling Station Sashank Sekhar Sahu allegedly found that a tanker that had come from the Paradip Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) depot had a shortfall of 100 litre of petrol. “When we complained to the government weights and measures officials, they slapped a fine of Rs 20,000 on the tanker owner.” That’s when the trouble began.
“The tankers’ association stopped supplying petrol to us,” he said. Sahu said he had suspected foul play when the vehicle, which was despatched from Paradip around 9am, which is only 130km from Bhubaneswar, reached here late in the evening instead of when it should have, around 12 noon to 12.30pm.
“When I checked the vehicle, I found it had less oil than it should. When I took up the issue with the tanker owner, my manager was manhandled by a section of workers at Paradip.”
Sahu said that though HPCL officials were aware of the problem, they did not take any measures to sort it out.
“We have a business to run. We are in a helpless position. We cannot even challenge HPCL,” he said.
On the other hand, general secretary of the Tankers’ Association Nilamani Biswal said they were being blamed unnecessarily.
“We follow a strict procedure so that the dealers at the receiving end get the amount of oil they have booked,” he said. Biswal said the petrol pump dealers regularly sent their staff to the depot to procure petroleum products.
“It is unfortunate that despite all these precautions, people allege that we are giving less oil,” he said. He claimed no member of his organisation had manhandled anyone.
Sources at HPCL said oil companies were going to ensure that supply was normal and people were not inconvenienced. “We are sorting out the problems with the petrol pump owners. People should not suffer because of the whims and fancies of pump owners,” an HPCL official said. The petrol pump owners have also urged both the government and oil companies to inspect oil tankers regularly to avoid such irregularities.
On the other hand, residents of Pokhariput have alleged that Jyotshna Filling Station cheated customers. “They cheat people by giving less petrol. I had registered a couple of online complaints against the pump owner. But HPCl wanted me to come to the pump and give a live demonstration. I wanted to keep my identity confidential,” said Raj, a college student.
Owner of the petrol pump, Sahu said: “We are open to criticism and we will take action on all complaints. I will award Rs 1 lakh to anyone who can prove that our petrol pump gives adulterated or less oil. People need to stay attentive for only three to five seconds while filling petrol. If there is any mistake on the part of our staff, I will certainly take action against them.”