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HindustanTimes Thu,17 Apr 2014

Stay alert while getting oil at fuel stations

Pushpa Girimaji, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, July 27, 2013
First Published: 22:46 IST(27/7/2013) | Last Updated: 22:54 IST(27/7/2013)

Bangalore resident Manish Dubey often suspected that he was being short-changed at petrol stations. And last month, he caught an attendant at a fuel bunk in South Bangalore red-handed.

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While his vehicle was being refuelled, an attendant brought the credit card charge slip for Rs. 1,000 for his signature. By then the pump had dispensed Rs. 700 worth of fuel, but in the short time that it took him to sign the slip, it had jumped to Rs. 1,000 and the attendant had stopped the machine. Suspecting foul play, Manish demanded a printed receipt from the dispensing unit and that showed the real picture — only 10.40 litre costing Rs. 731.43 (at Rs. 70.33 per litre) had been dispensed.

Shaken as well as angered by the brazenness with which consumers were being cheated and the enormity of the loss being suffered by them collectively, Manish decided to immediately warn everyone about this.

His post on Facebook, with images of the credit card charge slip and the printed receipt of the dispensing unit, went viral with over 67,000 hits. So much so that the Indian Oil Corporation posted a detailed response on how it traced Manish, followed up on his complaint through CCTV footage and issued a show-cause notice to Hymesh Filling Station, JP Nagar. And based on the dealer’s response, the company had promised to take appropriate action. It also reported that the dealer had sacked the attendant involved in the cheating.

It’s ironic that despite three enforcement agencies — police, department of legal metrology and oil companies — malpractices at petrol pumps are rampant.

Only last month the Controller of Legal Metrology in Andhra Pradesh had slapped 20 cases against petrol pumps in East and West Godavari districts for short measuring. Oil suppliers, retailers and the officers of the legal metrology department were involved in this fraud, the Controller had said.

While the first offence under the Legal Metrology Act attracts a fine, for the second and subsequent offence the violator could face imprisonment.

Similarly, in March, Mansa police in Punjab had unearthed a big racket wherein an electronic chip costing R40,000 was used to ensure short delivery of petrol  and diesel from the dispensing units.

At least 150 petrol pumps across northern India were compromised with the chip, the police had said, while booking the offenders under the Essential Commodities Act.    

Of the three enforcement agencies, I would say that the oil companies are the most powerful because under the Marketing Discipline Guidelines drawn up by them. The dealership can be terminated for serious malpractices or ‘irregularities’ at petrol stations.

The guidelines also cast a duty on the pump owner to ensure on a daily basis that the pump delivers correct quantity.  

Yet, consumers often complain that no action is taken on their complaints against petrol pump owners because of their ‘political clout or money power’. Well, follow Manish’s example. In addition to complaining to the enforcement agencies, use the social media to bring such cases to light (and warn other consumers too).

You can also use the Right to Information Act to pressure the enforcement agencies (particularly oil companies) to act.

LN Naik: Whenever I catch petrol station attendants cheating on quantity, the owners express their helplessness in controlling the staff. My question is can one hold the owner accountable in such cases?

Answer: You can certainly hold the owner or the employer liable for such wrongdoing committed by the employees. As the owner of the petrol station, it is his responsibility to ensure that correct quality and quantity of petroleum products are sold and he is accountable for any malpractice that happens at his petrol station. So do not be taken in by such excuses. Complain to the oil company. You can also file a complaint under the Consumer Protection Act.

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