Oil flows free here: To open mkt straight from tankers

Written by Nanda Kasabe | Nashik | Updated: Jan 28 2011, 07:18am hrs
The murder of Nashik district additional collector Yashwant Sonawane, who was burnt alive by the oil mafia, has brought to light a lucrative trade of fuel piracy.

Picture this. Every day some 2,100 oil tankers transport oil from seven oil depots across Maharashtra. Mumbai alone has two oil depots and transports 1,000 tankers to different locations across the state. So what exactly happens when an oil tanker leaves the oil depot The tankers pass through small hamlets which are located a few kilometre away from the oil depot. Dhabas along the road keep oil cans and other necessary equipment to help local operatives carry out the pilfering process.

Every tanker carries a load of some 12,000 litre and even if 100 litre is removed from a single tanker, it could add up to a neat sum for those involved in the pilfering process, Ali Daruwala, spokesperson for the Maharashtra Petrol Dealers Association, said. He said there have also been cases where oil pipelines have been punctured to remove petrol. Pune alone suffers a loss of approximately Rs 24 lakh per day after 400-odd tankers leave the Loni terminal, Daruwala said. This translates to a revenue loss of anything between Rs 5-10 crore for the dealers across the state every day, he added.

Usually the drivers of the tankers are part of this pilferage process. Around 100-odd litre petrol, diesel or kerosene is removed and then topped up with residue or spiked with cheaper fuel (such as kerosene in case of petrol) in tankers that are slotted for industrial supply. This is because there are no security checks involved at the customer end in industries and no process of authentication is in place and as a result these tankers can pass through freely, Daruwala pointed out. However, in case the tankers are slotted for petrol pumps, density checks are conducted at the pumps and if the sample does not match with the company standards, tankers are sent back. Since the driver is held responsible for the transport, he has to sign an undertaking at the destination stating that the oil sample in the tanker brought by him matches the sample provided by the oil company. Usually in such cases, instead of topping or spiking the tanker with cheaper versions of fuel, the tankers are just left short of petrol.

Since the temperature is high during the day, the shortage of oil is not so noticeable and usually since the tanker reaches the destination by nightfall, the driver would have left the place by the time the shortage of oil comes to notice and in case he is questioned, he attributes this to the natural process of evoporation, Daruwala pointed out.

The oil pilfered is then sold to farmers, regular suppliers and small industries in the area. This oil is Rs 15-20 cheaper per litre and, therefore, finds a parallel lucrative market, Daruwala said.

Pravin Dangde, District Supplies Officer, Nashik, blames the lack of security for supply inspectors for the oil pilferage. There is one supply inspector for every taluka and usually he travels on a motorcycle to the location to conduct checks without any security. Administration officials met chief minister Prithviraj Chavan on Wednesday demanding security for government officials on such duty. Officials who are not willing to come on record allege that private gangs in the area operate under political patronage and therefore pilfering is common. According to locals, local gangs are part of the oil mafia.

Dangde said oil siphoning has been happening in Manmad due to the location of oil depots in the area. Some 12 years ago, a 265-km oil pipeline was laid between Mumbai and Manmad. As a result of which IndianOil, BPCL and HPCL have set up storage depots in Manmad supplying oil to Marathwada, Vidharbha, Khandesh and Nashik. Some 2,000 to 3,000 raids are conducted annually in the district and oil siphoning stops for couple of months only to resume later. The district administration had made it mandatory for installation of GPS systems on kerosene tankers 2-3 years ago and there has been no incident of kerosene siphoning in the past one year, he claims. However, this has not been effective in the case of petrol and diesel tankers, he added.