A PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking transparency and fairness at petrol pumps across the country
By Vrinda Agarwal
High petrol and diesel prices have made life difficult for a large number of people, irrespective of their economic status. While relief on that front seems largely elusive, there’s another issue to be grappled with—petrol pump fraud—which has become quite common in the last few years.
In a move aimed at curbing this practice, a PIL has now been filed in the Supreme Court seeking transparency and fairness at petrol pumps across the country. The petitioner, Advocate Amit Sahni, has sought the apex’s court intervention to issue directions to the centre to take appropriate measures to prevent petrol pumps from cheating customers by giving them less petrol than what they actually pay for.
The petition further describes the myriad ways in which petrol pumps misuse technology to deceive customers. One of the ways, the petition highlights, involves the installation of a micro chip in the pump. This chip speeds up the meter reading while cutting down the flow of fuel by as much as 10 percent. In some cases, the dispenser is tampered in such a way that it produces the sound of fuel vending but no fuel is actually delivered.
Other popular methods include use of remote controls to manipulate the monitor reading, tampering with the calibration of the dispensers in the pump, etc., to ensure dispensing of lesser fuel to customers. Sahni told India Legal that some of the methods are very technical and cannot be detected by the common man thus making it easier for the culprits to escape getting caught.
Recognising the rampant nature of this fraud, the Petroleum Minister had in 2017 advised state governments to conduct surprise inspections at petrol pumps. Sahni told India Legal that “the weights and measures department of every state is responsible for conducting regular inspections at petrol pumps. If they suspect a petrol pump to be involved in any illegal activity such as under-measurement or adulteration, they can file a police complaint against the owner and suspend his fuel retailing licence. But, in most cases, the fraud cannot be detected as the inspection teams don’t have technical experts. Sometimes the offenders manage to get away by bribing the police and weights and measures officials.”
In the PIL, Sahni has urged the apex court to give directions to the centre to frame proper regulations for fuel vending. He has also proposed some specific measures like introduction of transparent hose pipes instead of the regular black ones and a transparent dispenser to be fixed with the fuel vending machine to save consumers from being cheated.
Perhaps none of these measures can be implemented without the cooperation of the oil marketing companies. Presently, the fuel retailing market is dominated by three State-owned companies—Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL), Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) and Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL). The three companies together own most of the 63,498 petrol pumps in India. Nayara Energy (formerly Essar Oil), Reliance Industries Ltd and Royal Dutch Shell are the smaller private players in the business. Nayara has 4,833 outlets, Reliance has less than 1,400 outlets, while Shell has only 114 outlets.
Both the public sector units and the private players have company-owned and company-operated (COCO) petrol pumps as well as retail outlets (which are owned and operated by franchisees). It’s no secret that the more discerning customers prefer to purchase fuel from COCO outlets rather than the retail ones as they expect the chances of under-measurement and adulteration to be far lesser at the former outlets.
There is no doubt that customers are facing huge distress due to foul play by petrol pump owners. It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court deems this issue serious enough to warrant government intervention.