THE MONETARY LOSS
TO CONSUMERS ON ACCOUNT OF THESE CHEATER DEVICES IS MUCH MORE TODAY ON ACCOUNT OF THE HIGH FUEL PRICES
It’s now a year since the Special Task Force of the Uttar Pradesh police uncovered those sophisticated cheater devices that compromised the accuracy of petrol and diesel dispensing units, leading to countrywide raids on petrol pumps to weed out similar malpractices in other parts of the country.
While the electronic chip and remote devices that ensured that consumers were short changed to the extent of 60ml for every litre of fuel were found in a number of petrol pumps in several states, in some cases, the investigations helped unravel other practices that led to consumers getting much less fuel than what they paid for.
The police in many states estimated that petrol pumps which had installed cheater devices made anywhere between ₹7 lakhs to ₹20 lakh per month from such short practices. And in UP alone, as many as 194 pumps (out of a total of 6,622 checked) were found to be cheating on quantity using these chips. In other words, the loss to consumers as a class aggregated to crores of rupees.
But what is even most distressing in this entire episode is the fact that neither the department of legal metrology nor the oil companies detected the fraud, till the STF investigated into the fraud, on the basis of a tip off.
Worse, this was not the first time that such an electronic device was being used by petrol pumps. In 2013, the Punjab police had blown the lid off a similar racket in the state and had said that a large number of such devices were in use in different parts of the country. If only the legal metrology departments and the oil companies had acted on this information, the fraud could well have been nipped in the bud.
I draw attention to this to underscore the need for all the three agencies that oversee the accuracy of fuel dispensing units at petrol pumps — the oil companies, the department of legal metrology and the police — to once again start checking systematically all the fuel stations in the country (estimated to be over 60,000) to weed out such short practices.
And this has to be done immediately because the loss to consumers on account of short delivery is much more today on account of the high fuel prices.
In fact, oil companies should now calculate the illegal gains earned by petrol pumps using the electronic chip and remote control devices, recover that money from the pump owners and transfer it to the Consumer Welfare Fund being administered by the ministry of consumer affairs. After all, that money belongs to the consumer.
Oil companies should also send decoy customers to check on petrol pumps because in addition to tampering with the dispensing units. Petrol pumps are also known to resort to several other tricks to cheat customers of the quantity that they pay for and, this too needs to be put down.
One of the most common tricks employed by petrol stations is to start dispensing the petrol or diesel without bringing the meter to zero. The other is to distract the consumer by asking some question and bring the dispensing to a halt well before the quantity that the consumer is paying for is filled into the vehicle. Oil companies should put stop to such malpractices and also act on consumer complaints with alacrity.
The oil companies should tell us about the action taken by them against all those petrol pump owners who were cheating on consumers using those electronic devices and the steps being taken to prevent such practices in the future.