Oily design

An umbrella body of petroleum dealers in the country unilaterally decided to shut filling stations in eight states every Sunday beginning May 14. Going by this decision, petrol bunks in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, Haryana, Maharashtra and Pondicherry will down their shutters Sundays.

If implemented, this move will affect a combined number of almost 20,000 outlets in the above states. While oil marketing companies have still not issued an official response to the same, the possible decline in sales is bound to hurt their margins. The decision, when carried out, will disrupt normal life in these states.

The latest decision of the dealers is in line with a similar threat issued by the Consortium of Indian Petroleum Dealers (CIPD), the apex body of country’s petrol outlets. CIPD had resolved at its executive committee meeting at Kurukshetra that Sundays would be observed as weekly holidays for all fuel retail outlets in the country.

The ‘no fuel Sundays’ decision by the fuel dealers is a design for ulterior motives. This could be another gimmick by the dealers to coerce the oil marketing companies and the government to concede to their long pending demands that included bigger commissions, among other things.

Earlier, the CIPD had threatened the government that the petrol pumps in the above seven states and Pondicherry would work only a single day shift from 9 am to 6 pm if the government did not accede to their demands. The government did not concede to this.

While the Centre Wednesday displayed ignorance over the development, the dealers claimed they have done this in view of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann ki Baat’ remarks that efforts must be made to achieve clean environment.

Even though the decision as it stands now is shorn of legitimacy, if implemented, it will introduce a lot of hassles for general public. If somebody travels to Kolkata from Bhubaneswar Sundays, he cannot reach the destination on a tankful of fuel. Any additional carriage of fuel will only add to hassles.

By the same logic, will we see shutting down of hotels and supermarkets on any given day in a week or a month in the name of saving food? The PM’s remark was directed at consumers to conserve and reduce fuel consumption, certainly not targeted at the coercive distributors to clandestinely enforce fuel preservation.

Further, what is the use of keeping fuel bunks shut on Sundays when people cannot be forced to stay indoors on weekends? This may create a situation when people would buy extra fuel Saturday or any other weekday. This may lead to larger crowds at petrol pumps and other concomitant problems that may sometimes lead to law and order issues. Besides, this may also clamp down on economic activities.

The decision has caught the government off guard. In a kneejerk reaction to the threat, the government Wednesday came out with a statement that it would apply Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) to prevent possible disruptions in fuel supply. The petroleum ministry has said the threat will be dealt with according to measures necessary to maintain supplies of essential commodities.

The chicanery of the petroleum dealers is obvious. Their attempt to masquerade a sinister motive for bigger commissions by way of a contrived design to follow the PM’s wish to create conditions for cleaner environment is lamentable.

The dealers’ association’s decision is nothing but a coercive measure to force the government to come to the negotiating table. The government would do well to put its foot down. It should not play into the hands of the dealers who have nothing but their self interest uppermost in their minds.

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