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Petrol adulteration:Marker scheme comes a cropper

The government’s effort to curb adulteration of petrol and diesel through a marker system has not been successful, reports Deepak Joshi.
Hindustan Times | By Deepak Joshi, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 16, 2008 10:59 PM IST

The government’s effort to curb adulteration of petrol and diesel through a marker system has not been successful. The strike rate in detection of adulteration at retail outlets has been found to be dismally low at 0.69 per cent.

“Of the instances where adulteration was detected, 34 per cent proved to be tank lorry malpractices. In 38 per cent cases, retail outlet sample passed on re-testing and marker failure at retail outlet was established in 19 per cent of instances,” review of implementation of marker system between February 2007 and January 2008 showed.

The oil marketing companies had in late 2006 decided to opt for marker system following National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), which estimated the diversion/ leakages of PDS kerosene at about 39 per cent of the total sale of the product in 2004.

Kerosene is usually mixed in diesel due to a huge price differential. State-owned oil marketing companies sell kerosene Rs. 20.95 per litre below trade parity price. To prevent such diversion, the government had launched Jan Kerosene Pariyojana (JKP). However, it was able to prevent a mere estimated 2.2 percent diversion of kerosene meant for poorer households, according to a study by NCAER.

In the marker system, used globally to prevent adulteration of transport fuels with kerosene, the marker (special permanent dye) turns pink when tested for adulteration.

The marker would be mixed with kerosene. If the blended kerosene were to be used as an adulterant in other fuel, it would be easily detected through a visual test procedure, using a special testing kit. The petroleum ministry had selected a British firm called Authentix to supply the marker.

After a review meeting last week, the oil marketing companies are now considering surprise selective inspection of retail outlets, sources told the Hindustan Times. The move follows several complaints against inspectors of certification agency SGS. There were instances where old equipment was used for testing and high-handed behaviour.

To improve the quality of inspections, it has been proposed that there should be a certification of SGS tests by another agency of international repute. Alternatively, senior oil company and SGS officials should conduct such an audit. SGS is a leading group globally involved in verification, testing and monitoring services for international trade in agricultural, mineral, industrial, petroleum and consumer products.

Way back in 1990, the oil industry first introduced blending of kerosene with furfural, in order to detect adulteration of petrol and diesel. This programme had certain limitations. Also furfural being toxic in nature posed problems in blending especially at port locations: with the liberalisation of the oil sector, large quantities of kerosene from parallel marketing network entered the market. This was joined by the numerous other products like aromatic solvents, all of which were potential adulterants in both petrol and diesel.

Subsequently, bio-markers like Oronite and Spectrace markers were also experimented with by the oil industry. However, the operational issues of correct dosage and availability of test-kits were a major deterrent. In view of the limitations in the system of marking the fuels, it was decided to examine the feasibility of marking potential adulterants instead.

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