The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Petrol panic in strike-hit city
- Stocks dip, hopes hinge on noon talks
Fuel outlets: 300*
Dry on Sunday: 250
Open on Sunday: 50
Off the roads
40% private buses
40% taxis
20% mini buses.
*Calcutta, Salt Lake and adjoining areas

Calcutta, Jan. 28: The public transport system in Calcutta and adjoining areas was gasping for gas this afternoon, with nearly 250 of 300 petrol pumps running dry on the fourth day of an indefinite oil tankers’ strike.

The sole sliver of light lay in the noon talks called by transport minister Subhas Chakraborty with the striking West Bengal Tankers’ Association and oil companies tomorrow, but that is not likely to pre-empt chaos on the streets in the morning.

Nor are things likely to instantly get back to normal if the strike is called off tomorrow. An official of a petrol pump, at which two sergeants were posted to beat the fuel rush, said: “Even if the strike is called off tomorrow, it will take till Wednesday for the situation to normalise.”

Nearly 40 per cent private buses, 40 per cent taxis and 20 per cent mini buses went off the roads this evening itself. Long queues of cars were seen tanking up in panic at many pumps, including Park Automobile on Free School Street, which went dry at 6 pm, and Camac Petrol Pump, which ran out of diesel at 4 pm.

The tankers’ association is striking against the low hiring charges paid by oil companies. The existing rate for tankers operating from the Budge Budge and Mourigram depots — which supply Calcutta and adjoining areas — is Rs 110 per km, but the association is demanding almost double, at Rs 200 per km.

A spokesperson for Indian Oil Corporation, the nodal agency for oil companies, said tanker operators had been offered rates on a par with Delhi counterparts after the last contract ended in 2005.

“But they are asking for an amount which we can’t afford. Delhi tanker operators get Rs 120.80 per km which is now the highest in the country,” the IOC official said.

“The situation is very bad and we informed the state government of our apprehension last Tuesday. The situation has compounded because of panic purchase of petrol and diesel.”

Last Friday, the IOC tried to bring fuel into the city in four of its tankers, but the vehicles were not allowed to roll.

Private bus, mini bus and taxi drivers expressed helplessness at the state of affairs. They said if the impasse was not resolved soon, the public transport system would collapse.

“We don’t know what lies ahead,” said Bimal Guha, general secretary of the Bengal Taxi Association. More private buses are expected to be pulled out tomorrow if the strike does not end.

The transport department, however, said it was “hopeful that an amicable solution will be found by tomorrow”.

Part of the optimism could be stemming from a hint by the tankers’ association that it was ready to climb down a little and sign a “respectable agreement”.

“Our contract with the oil companies ended in 2005. We deferred agitation four times, following assurances that our demands would be looked into. But nothing happened,” association general secretary Ajit Das said.

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