The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Centre digs deep for pump dirt
- Glare on Indira-Rajiv era allotments, Atal allays cancellation fears

New Delhi, Aug. 23: In a bid to deflect the continued media attack on the BJP’s pump for party kith and kin scam, petroleum minister Ram Naik today announced a probe into all allotments of petrol pumps and cooking gas agencies made between 1983 and 2000, a period dominated by the Congress rule.

Petroleum ministry officials confirmed that Naik, who was in Mumbai today, had ordered the probe into some 24,000 allotments — 18,000 petrol pump allotments and another 6,000 cooking gas dealerships — acting on demands made by 110 members of Parliament, mostly from the ruling BJP.

The announcement comes two days ahead of the Supreme Court hearing to be held on August 26.

Top ministry sources added that though the probe had been ordered, the “PMO has given strict instructions that these allotments should not be cancelled”.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said tonight the review did not aim at cancellations. “The review is for investigation and not cancellation,” he told reporters.

The exercise is being seen as an attempt to embarrass the Congress and impress the judiciary that the malaise was far too deep-rooted to be washed away by merely acting against allotments made during the BJP rule and not to jeopardise the country’s petroleum distribution set-up.

The information gleaned from the probe — showing up which relatives of which politician was given a petrol pump or cooking gas dealership — will be floated on the Net.

The sources said the ministry has already asked state-run petroleum companies like Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum HPCL to provide it with period-wise details. The stress will be on allotments made from 1983 to 1989 when Indira Gandhi and later her son Rajiv Gandhi were Prime Ministers and those made during the tenure of the Narasimha Rao government between 1989 and 1991.

The BJP had already leaked information that links several allottees to Congress leaders.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi today sought to pre-empt the BJP bid by writing a letter to Vajpayee, opposing the government’s plan to issue an Ordinance on the pump cancellations. Sonia said a high-level inquiry should be conducted.

The Congress also indicated that it was not worried about the review of the allotments since 1983.

But petrol pump owners are up in arms against the new probe order. They have threatened to go on an indefinite strike if the government turns “the review into scrapping of allotments”.

“There should be no harassment of allottees in the name of a review,” said Federation of All India Petroleum Traders’ president Ashok Budhwar.

The federation, which also wants to be made a party to the Supreme court hearing, will approach the President and seek his intervention.

The probe has been ordered from 1983 onwards as oil dealer selection boards were set up that year. The boards in earlier years used to be packed with political appointees and the ministry had a discretionary quota to dole out pump allocations.

However, the quota was scrapped by the Supreme Court after a petition challenged the discretionary quota during the Rao regime. The court also set guidelines on forming the dealer boards.

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