The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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'Tainted' pumps face final squeeze

New Delhi, Dec. 13: The curtain went up today on the last legal act of the petrol pump scandal that rocked the erstwhile BJP-led government with the Supreme Court asking the petroleum ministry why 297 'tainted' outlets should not be shut down.

A committee appointed by the court had examined 409 allotments of petrol pumps and gas agencies by the previous NDA government and had recommended cancellation of the 297. The court, before which a detailed 21-volume report was placed, said the committee has found irregularities in their allotment.

During today's proceedings, the court asked the ministry about the steps it would take to maintain the supply of petroleum products in areas where these 297 pumps are located.

Keeping in mind the supply of petroleum products, the bench asked the ministry to respond by January 10 the 'effect and consequence' if they were cancelled. The court said it would also appoint an amicus curiae to assist it in the matter.

These outlets were functioning on the basis of an interim court order staying the cancellation of their allotments. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had cancelled all the allotments made between 2000 and 2002 after it was revealed that several recipients of the licences were linked to the BJP some way or the other.

Appearing for the ministry, advocate A.D.N Rao submitted that the oil companies could take over operation of these outlets and gas agencies but later said that he would file an affidavit after taking instructions from the ministry.

The judges said the court would not entertain arguments from counsel for affected parties and their only option for contesting was the procedure adopted by the committee that vetted the 409 allotments.

Making public the findings of the high-level committee examining 409 'tainted' petrol pump allotments, the Supreme Court had on October 11 said it had suggested cancellation of 297 of them.

Though the Vajpayee government had cancelled all the new allotments, the apex court had set aside the government order and handed over scrutiny of the 409 allotments to the committee. The committee held that 297 outlets were liable to be cancelled as they did not fulfil the eligibility criteria.

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