The Centre’s ambitious ethanol blending programme is on the brink of falling through, thanks mainly to the Uttar Pradesh government. The state is the country’s largest producer of ethanol, producing 560 million litres in 2015. But recently, UP’s excise commissioner imposed certain restrictions on sugar mills that have attached distilleries, based on a letter claimed to have been written by the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO).
Citing PESO “guidelines”, which sugar industry body Indian Sugar Millers Association (Isma) has described as “fake and forged”, the excise commissioner stated in his letter dated December 31, 2015 that all distilleries need to necessarily obtain a PESO licence for storing ethanol.
Speaking to FE, Isma director general Abinash Verma said the state government restrictions on ethanol movement are based on forged documents and therefore should be withdrawn with immediate effect. “The ‘guidelines’ said to have been issued by PESO on October 1, 2015 are fake. They did not have any logo of the organisation, nor did they carry any notification number or date. Neither were they written on an official PESO letterhead and what is most important, they did not even have the signature of any PESO official. This raised our suspicion and we cross-checked with the PESO office in Nagpur, which wrote back to us that the so-called ‘guidelines’ referred to and circulated by UP have not been issued by them,” he said, adding the state excise commissioner had been misled into believing a non-existent letter. Bringing this matter to the attention of chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, Verma said the “sudden action of the excise commissioner, without checking the genuineness of the said guidelines, which has resulted in disruption of alcohol production and supplies for a national programme, smacks of vested interests and connivance with such vested interests”.
The Isma DG further alleged that “several people feel that this is not only a motivated step of a few officials of the state but is being sponsored by entities who want to derail the ethanol blending programme in India for their personal gains”.
Replying to Isma’s letter on the said guidelines, PESO chief controller of explosives S Kamal wrote back that his office “has not issued any guidelines related to storage and transportation of ethanol on October 1, 2015”. Speaking to FE, excise commissioner Bhavnath cited PESO guidelines and said: “It is mandatory to obtain licence for storage tank and loading/unloading facility of ethanol as per the Petroleum Act. The circular ran into many pages and hence the first page, which carried the official letterhead, date and notification number, got lost. The date may not be October 1, 2015 but some other date. But that hardly matters. What is important is that a licence is mandatory.”
It may be mentioned here that of the 32 distilleries attached to sugar mills in UP at present, only one has a PESO licence. Speaking to FE, UP Sugar Millers Association secretary Deepak Guptara clarified that the remaining 31 are in various stages of obtaining the licence.