Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Manjunath Effect: Crackdown gets a deadline

Adulteration: Calling for an ?aggressive roadmap?, Govt orders use of technology, staff incentives to clean up pumps

Moving to combat fuel adulteration on a war footing, the Government has, for the first time, set deadlines for oil marketing companies (OMCs) to get their act together.

The OMCs have been directed to draw up an ?aggressive roadmap? for use of technology and automation to prevent transporters and petrol pump owners from mixing kerosene and naphtha in diesel and petrol.

The Indian Express had highlighted the murder last November of an Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) sales manager S Manjunath by the petrol mafia after he had detected and sealed pumps selling adulterated fuel in Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh.

Now the Government wants a mechanism which will involve use of fuel markers, global tracking of trucks, more surprise checks at petrol pumps and sample testing by independent agencies.

Incentives for pump owners as well as OMC officers doing the checks have also been suggested.

With price rationalisation ruled out in the immediate future, the Petroleum Ministry told the heads of state-run IOC, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum to put in place stringent systems to counter adulteration.

Price difference between subsidized kerosene and diesel as well as between naphtha and heavily-taxed petrol is the primary driver for adulteration. But political compulsion has forced the Government to stay away from price rejig and keep kerosene and petrol prices at current levels.

According to the blueprint, the OMCs will have to pump in Rs 20 lakh towards upgrading fuel dispensing systems at each retail outlet that sells 200 kilolitres-plus each month.

By March 2007, the OMCs will have to upgrade nearly 50 per cent of the 28,531 retail outlets so that all transactions, sales and inventory are monitored electronically. By December 2007, the automation will be extended to rest of the retail outlets.

Tanker trucks transporting kerosene to 200 blocks would have to be immediately fitted with the global positioning system (GPS) to keep tab on their movement and ?ensure that the trucks don?t get diverted enroute?.

Similarly, GPS will have to be installed immediately on company-owned tankers carrying petrol and diesel to retail outlets. Trucks that are hired on contract will have time until March 2007 to shift to the vehicle tracking system.

By May this year, the marketing companies will have to start a pilot project for testing a new marker in kerosene so that its mixing in diesel would leave visible traces. Similar markers in diesel and petrol were tried earlier but were neither found feasible nor cost-effective.

The OMCs have been instructed to strengthen vigilance and quality control cells to conduct more ?surprise checks? rather than those of ?routine nature?. Targets for surprise checks will be fixed each year where different squads will inspect and draw samples.

In order to bring about an element of impartiality, third parties of repute and non-government organisations would be permitted to draw samples in certain areas of the country.

This is also expected to lessen the burden on field officers who could only manage to collect a total of 1.3 lakh samples or a paltry 4-5 samples per outlet last year.

While advising continuation of stringent punitive action against errant dealers, the Ministry has suggested that the OMCs develop a performance-based incentive scheme for dealers ?to encourage them not to resort to unfair means?.

A suitable incentive scheme has also been suggested for field officers and staff of the OMCs to encourage them into taking effective steps to curb adulteration.

By March 2007 and with immediate effect

? By March 2007, OMCs will have to upgrade nearly 50% of the 28,531 retail outlets
so that all transactions, sales and inventory are monitored electronically

? By December 2007, automation extended to entire retail network

? Tanker trucks transporting kerosene to 200 blocks to be immediately fitted with
global positioning systems (GPS) to keep tab on movement, check diversion

? GPS immediately on company-owned tankers carrying petrol and diesel to retail
outlets

? By May, firms will have to start pilot project for testing a new marker in
kerosene, its mixing in diesel would leave visible traces
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