May 6: The modus operandi of the gang behind the theft of crude oil has raised doubts about whether the pipeline blasts triggered by militants in Assam in recent years were actually their handiwork or of those involved in the racket.
Intelligence agencies have been asked to ascertain how many blasts during a specific period had the definite stamp of sabotage by militant groups.
“We are already working on a dossier on the modus operandi of the thieves and their patrons,” an official said.
The cartel involved in pilferage of oil from pipelines allegedly includes a section of politicians, senior police officials and functionaries of the oil majors.
A source said the racket, which was presumably thriving since the early Nineties, might claim some high-profile casualties with the CBI being asked to investigate the case.
He said preliminary investigations suggested the oil thieves were behind more blasts than the militants.
“It is now emerging as a very strong possibility that the blasts may not have always been triggered by explosives, but occurred during boring by unskilled people. When such blasts occur and the spillage is excessive, these are reported as acts of sabotage by militants. The police’s involvement in the racket helps in perpetuate this myth through the media,” the source said.
Boring pipelines requires knowhow and the people behind the oil theft racket will hire the services of skilled workers from Calcutta.
“A small slip can cause a low-intensity blast and a fire. But the services of experts from Calcutta are expensive, which is why residents have been trying their hand at it. But they are yet to master the art,” the source said.
Before the racket grew bigger, the thieves would open the check valves and siphon out the crude oil.
When oil companies constructed concrete casings and tucked away the check valves inside these, the thieves recruited experts to bore holes in the pipelines.
“The process is simple, it just takes two hours to bore the hole and another 15 minutes to fill up a 12,000-litre tanker,” the source said.
Tea factories and other industrial units with boiler engines are believed to be the main purchasers of stolen crude. The income from a tanker of stolen crude is estimated to be over Rs 1 lakh.
In the late Nineties, the oil-theft cartel devised a new method to avoid detection. A section of tanker owners having contracts with oil companies were involved in this.
“An oil tanker generally has three chambers and a secret chamber is added to each. A tanker of average size has the capacity to carry 12,000 litres of crude and 1,000 litres of oil are left in each secret chamber even after the tanker is supposedly emptied. This is sold covertly,” the source said.