CHANDIGARH: Media reports indicate government plans to institute home delivery of petrol and diesel. The need has been felt to cut long queues outside fuel pumps.

According to the Oil Ministry, at least 3.5 crore people visit petrol pumps every day, where some Rs 2,500 crores worth of transactions take place every year, which in turn translates to an average of Rs 208.3 crores per month or a daily average of about Rs 6.84 crores. The move, thus, is apparently aimed at providing relief to customers. Though full details of the scheme are yet to be made public, as per reports, petrol and diesel will be home delivered to consumers only if they pre-book their orders.

The Oil Ministry has also reportedly drawn attention of the public by conveying following through tweets: one, daily cashless transactions have increased from Rs 150 crores per day to Rs 400 crores per day; two, about 40,000 retail outlets are with POS (point of sale); three, presently more than 86% of retail outlets have digital infrastructure; four, over 35,000 consumer awareness campaigns have been organized pan India, and; five, OMCs are giving 0.75% discount on fuel purchase via cashless mode.

The figure of cashless daily transactions of some Rs 400 crores appears at odds from the average transactions of about Rs 6.84 crores daily reported above but perhaps the former includes daily bulk purchases by the outlets.

The move apparently is also to offset the closure of petrol pumps every Sunday. The Oil Minister has stated that his ministry “does not endorse” the move of a section of petrol pump dealers to close fuel stations on Sundays. The consumers are naturally happy; who would not want home delivery of fuel for his vehicle, albeit how many will avail of the scheme will depend on what are the additional charges for home delivery vis-à-vis the consumer choosing to bear this additional cost or prefer to go to the nearest petrol pump, to avoid the extra charges.

There are numerous issues that need careful consideration for this home delivery scheme. First, since home delivery is only to be done on pre-booking, how much advance booking will be required in terms of hours, and will delivery be guaranteed at the time required because if the timely delivery is not guaranteed then it will cause more hardship to the consumer, defeating the whole aim of the exercise. Second, how many tankers are proposed to be pressed into service, in case bulk of the vehicle owners opt for the scheme, and again will the delivery be on the time required?

Third, what exactly is the meaning of home-delivery? Taking the example of congested colonies like Delhi-NCR where there is limited parking space, mostly cars are parked on the road and there are fights over parking space, where exactly will this home delivery take place? Can you imagine the tanker (s) entering colonies in such areas, adding to the traffic jams and chaos, and given our civic sense, will the vehicles that have pre-booked delivery queue up like they do at petrol pumps where they have no choice? How will these queues be managed and what will be the wait despite pre-booking? On the other hand, if the tanker (s) park at some open area (provided such area is available), is this really home delivery?

Fourth, multiple tankers doing home deliver in multiple colonies will provide readymade soft targets for terrorists. What and how security will be guaranteed where a matchstick or bullet can easily cause explosions resulting in scores and scores of casualties. In fact these tankers in the chaos of home-delivery (as described above) will be best targets for terrorist attacks – mini 9/11 type of multiple attacks. With a population of some 19 million, Delhi has 67 petrol-diesel pumps and only 13 CNG pumps, as per Government of Delhi website. A close examination indicates that the longest queues in both Delhi and NCR are at the CNG pumps, not petrol-diesel pumps, and CNG is not planned for home delivery. Latter is not advisable either considering safety requirements.

Fifth, given the prevailing levels of corruption, how will quality be guaranteed for home-delivery? Raids ordered by the CM of UP have uncovered chips being used to cheat consumers to the tune of 10-15%; something which is also rampant in Delhi-NCR, with some pumps having notorious reputation. Consumers have been trying to reduce the level they are being cheated by going in for measures like never asking for ‘full tank’ or never asking for just Rs 500 or Rs 1000 worth of fuel, which as per the nukkad gossip enables maximum cheating.

At the same time petrol pump owners say that every ‘sealed’ container of 15-20,000 litres that they receive is invariably short of 200-250 litres of fuel. So, naturally they engage in cheating consumers as well. Hence, the Oil Ministry should have its task cut out not only to ensure quality for home delivery, but save consumers being cheated at petrol pumps as also petrol pump owners not cheated at the time of bulk delivery through deficiently filled containers. As per reports, petrol pumps in Uttar Pradesh had to be uprooted to recover the cheating chip. Perhaps, the Oil Ministry could task an IIT to develop technology where use of such chips can be detected without uprooting the petrol pump.

It would be also good that the police check petrol stations regularly. This would also ensure that the petrol pumps are displaying the correct prices to consumers on daily basis with the scheme of daily price revision of fuel introduced. As for closure of petrol pumps on Sundays, this certainly will cause hardship to consumers given the fact that we don’t cap the annual intake of cars on the roads and metros; something a country like Singapore does.

Instead of shutting petrol pumps on Sundays, petrol pump owners could have more shifts of attendants or a system where every attendant takes any day off in a week while the pump is open all seven days of the week; this was the Soviet practice with all factories running all 365 days in the year.

Finally, the Oil Ministry may also consider establishing more pumps, especially CNG pumps which have long queues at all times, instead of the home-delivery scheme considering all the issues discussed above.

(Lt General P.C Katoch (Retired) is veteran Special Forces of the Indian Army)