Monday, October 29, 2007

Petrol pumps under scanner

Petrol pumps under scanner
G Manjusainath
The City has by and large remained comfortably dismissive about adulteration of vehicular fuel. However, individual cases of adulteration have come to light, some of them leading to closure of fuel stations.

While government officials are cagey in discussing fuel adulteration in the City, the absence of a comprehensive, state-of-the-art facility to check the fuel quality and the absence of a mechanism to protect investigation into adulteration charges are perceived as reasons for the prevailing situation. Meanwhile, the Civil Supplies Department officials claim that adulterated fuel is far from the norm in Bangalore.

Since April this year, officials of the Commissionerate of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs have inspected 68 petrol bunks in Bangalore. “Last year, we had inspected 612 petrol bunks across Karnataka, but we could not spot any adulteration. This year, we have inspected 307 petrol bunks till August across the State. Our survey says that no petrol bunk is mixing solvents with petrol or diesel,” A F Hafeez, Deputy Director in the Commissionerate, said.

However, the picture emerging from the Indian Oil Corporation and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) is different. In the last one year, the IOC and BPCL closed down four petrol bunks in and around Bangalore, on charges of adulteration. According to Samson Chacko, Chief Retail Manager of IOC, Classic Auto Services (Bannerghatta Road), Unity Service Station (Okalipuram) and Jai Bharath Service Station (Ramanagara) were closed down on charges of selling adulterated fuel. Chacko said two other petrol bunks in the City were under the scanner over other “irregularities”.

Chacko said the stray bunk closures notwithstanding, the quality of vehicle fuel in Bangalore is good. “We constantly collect petrol samples and conduct lab tests,” he said.

The HPCL, on the other hand, had closed down three petrol bunks in Karnataka, including one at Bangalore. Sources in HPCL, requesting anonymity, said,“Action has been initiated against a petrol bunk on Bannerghatta Road, a petrol service station at Yelwal in Mysore and one at Tumkur.”

Though three petrol bunks were closed down, the HPCL officers claim that the quality of fuel is quite good in Bangalore. HPCL Retail Manager Sanjay Malhotra said, “If the engine oil is getting black too early, it is effective. It’s intended to refine the fuel by extracting carbon components and keep the engine clean.”

Malhotra claimed HPCL is extremely careful about the quality of fuel. “We have sophisticated mobile labs besides state-of-the-art laboratory to check the quality of fuel. We are constantly collecting samples through various means. We never spare the petrol bunk owners if we have a small suspicion.”

Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited Territory Manager (Retail) Krishnan also dismissed prevalence of adulteration and said the company’s quality control system was “very strong”.

Hafeez acknowledged that naphtha — apart from solvents including hexin and benzin, besides kerosene — were used as adulterants.

He, however, claimed that the department could not find any fuel adulteration over the last one year. The Food and Civil Supplies Department itself has no laboratory.

“We are either dependent on the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) of the Police Department or the laboratory of public sector oil companies in Devanagundi,” he said.

Testing issues: FSL does not have modern equipment to test for fuel adulteration. If it sends a fuel sample to the Devanagundi laboratory, it has to give the complete address of the petrol bunk from where the sample was extracted.

A senior officer of the Food and Civil Supplies Department said, requesting anonymity, if details of the petrol bunk were furnished with the sample, it gave room for corruption. Lab authorities could contact the petrol bunk owners and strike a deal.

The government should think of establishing a sophisticated laboratory for his Department. Hafeez, however, said it was difficult to establish a laboratory on those lines because of the huge investment involved.

Sources in the private oil companies said they were “afraid” of carrying out an extensive investigation, considering the Manjunath Shanmugham case.

“What is the security that’s given to us? Why should we put our lives at risk? People should also come forward and complain,” they said.

An engineer with a reputed company, on condition of anonymity, claimed that the adulterators usually mixed naphtha with the fuel. Kerosene is also added to it. “Kerosene mixed with diesel may not cause as much damage as when mixed with petrol. It is still hazardous for the vehicle,” he said.

He further alleged that there was an adulteration “mafia” at work in the City. “The adulteration of petrol usually happens in Nelamangala, where petrol tankers come from various places. The quality of fuel is poor in many petrol bunks in Bangalore,” he said.

I bought my motorcycle just three years ago and there was no reason for it to get damaged, as I was maintaining it properly. I was astonished that the engine oil was turning black after running for hardly a thousand kilometres.
-Rajiv Baijal, a youth from Gwalior

My vehicle requires frequent servicing... I suspect that the quality of fuel has led to this problem.”
-Dasappa, an employee ,with private company

The quality of petrol available in the City raises serious concerns. In many cases, ‘white petrol’ is mixed with regular petrol, due to which vehicles get damaged soon.
-Sadiq, a mechanic in Hegdenagar

If customers have doubts about the quality of fuel, how can they establish that it is inferior? Hafeez pointed out that the customers themselves can check the petrol’s density by using hygrometers kept in the fuel stations.

Customers can demand the petrol-testing chart, issued by the oil companies. The chart displays what should be the density of petrol at a particular temperature. “If the temperature outside is 30 degree celsius, the petrol should touch a certain scale in the hygrometer. If it is not near the scale, there is adulteration,” said Hafeez. Public sector oil companies too have asked customers to complain if they suspect adulteration.


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