New Delhi, Sept. 1: The whiff of a petrol curfew in the country was in the air throughout the day, although the government hastened to say that nothing had been decided yet.
“There are various options and ideas that have been floated. Shutting petrol pumps during night is one of them. But we have not decided. It is just a proposal,” PTI quoted petroleum minister M. Veerappa Moily as saying in Bangalore.
The stated objective is to trim the oil import bill but some wondered if the government was floating the idea just to send across a message that it was exploring all options to battle the currency exchange rate turmoil.
Industry veterans could not recall such a petrol curfew precedent in the country. Moily hinted that the shutdown hours could stretch from 8pm to 8am if the government did accept the suggestion.
Most pumps now have flexible hours that extend up to 11pm while some stay open round the clock.
India paid about $144.29 billion for oil imports in 2012-13. In the absence of reliable data on petrol purchases at night, it was not clear how any curfew would impact the import bill. Besides, little prevents consumers from buying as much fuel as they want during the day.
Moily said petrol pumps on highways would be exempt from the night curfew if it were to be introduced.
A PTI report said oil secretary Vivek Rae had dismissed suggestions of any plans before the ministry to order petrol pumps in cities to remain shut from 8pm to 8am to curb demand.
Senior oil ministry officials confirmed that various proposals were being considered to conserve petroleum products, including limiting the period of operation of pumps.
An industry source said it was “not a practical solution” to conserve fuel. “This would result in chaos at petrol pumps,” said Ajay Bansal, general secretary of the Federation of All India Petroleum Traders.
Moily’s comments came a day after the government had raised the prices of petrol and diesel by Rs 2.35 and 50 paise a litre, excluding state levies, because of the depreciating rupee and a spike in crude prices.
Earlier on Friday, Moily had sent a detailed note to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on shaving up to $20 billion from the 2012-13 oil import bill.
The August 30 note does not talk of shutting petrol pumps at night but details a conservation campaign. The Petroleum Conservation and Research Association, under Moily’s ministry, plans to launch a six-week campaign from September 16 to promote conservation of petrol, diesel and LPG.
Moily’s note also mentioned plans to save over $8.5 billion in foreign exchange in the current financial year by increasing crude oil imports from Iran. Unlike imports from other countries, India pays the Persian Gulf nation in rupees.
Moily said about 11 million tonnes of crude would be imported from Iran in the remaining months of this financial year, resulting “in reduction in forex outflow by $8.47 billion”.
The plan is in response to the Prime Minister’s call seeking a $25-billion cut in the oil import bill to narrow the current account deficit.