Although the Central government is claiming that the situation is being tightly monitored, the consumer is facing a severe crisis due to the twin strikes by truckers and executives of the public sector oil companies.
Reports from across the country, including the national capital region, said petrol pumps were fast running out of stocks, while prices for perishable products were skyrocketing due to the four-day-old truckers’ strike. There was a backlog of domestic LPG supplies, too. What’s more, flights are being delayed, as refuelling services are affected because of the absence of employees.
Although the oil company managements had meetings with Oil Sector Officers Association, an umbrella body, the crisis is still far from resolved. The officers are protesting lower-than-expected increase in pay. Petroleum Minister Murli Deora said no solution was worked out in the meeting with the representatives of officers on strike on Thursday. “We are trying our best to ensure that people do not suffer. The supply is affected by the strike. We appeal the people to stand by us as the government trying to work out a solution,” he said.
Petroleum secretary RS Pandey said the officers were “being unjustified, as the government has already agreed to form a high level committee to look into their demands.” Pandey, however, admitted that as many as 40 per cent petrol pumps of Indian Oil Corporation and Bharat Petroleum Corporation in Delhi had already gone dry. IOC chairman Sarthak Behuria also warned, “If the strike continues, we might see dry-outs from tomorrow.”
However, reports from all metros said only Hindustan Petroleum Corporation (HPCL) dealers were functioning, as HPCL officers did not join the strike. Mumbai Petrol Dealers’ Association president Ravi Shinde said the association would provide moral support to the strikers. His deputy, Amarjit Singh, accused petroleum minister Murli Deora of dragging his feet on the salary issue.
In Chennai, since traders stocked up for at least a week, the wholesale Koyembedu vegetable market was not affected in a big way, although the poultry belt of Namakkal in Western Tamil Nadu is stuck with a stock of 70 million eggs.
In Kolkata too, prices of essential goods and food items increased only marginally till Thursday. But petrol pumps may run dry from Thursday night if the two-day-old strike continues. Of the more than 2,000 petrol pumps in the state, 1,500 are already dry and of the 375 pumps in and around Kolkata, only about 90 — all HPCL dealers — have some stocks.
Meanwhile, taking advantage of the crisis, the Chennai gray market is doing a brisk business, selling petrol and diesel at a premium of Rs 5 a litre. And three-wheeler operators have started fleecing the commuter.
In Bangalore, the supply line is being maintained by HPCL, Shell and Essar till now. But the city may run short of supply by Friday. Bangalore Petroleum Dealers’ Association President Bhushan Narang said, “I hope the strike is called off tonight.” The Karnataka cabinet will take a decision on invoking the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) to break the truckers’ strike.
(With inputs from Anupama Airy in Delhi, P Srinivasan in Jaipur, BR Srikanth in Bangalore, Debdutta Ghosh in Kolkata, MR Venkatesh in Chennai and agencies)