CHANDIGARH: Black gold is the choice of roadside dhaba owners across Punjab to make a quick buck. Oil tanker trucks ferrying petrol and diesel stop at these dhabas, where the fuel is pilfered and sold at half the price by the oil mafia. These thefts are carried out by the drivers and cleaners of trucks, dhaba owners and the oil syndicate. A litre of stolen diesel is sold for `30-35, while it costs `55.79 at licensed fuel pumps in Punjab.
Tankers ferrying diesel for the armed forces in Leh are the prime targets. While they stop at a dhaba, 50 to 100 litres is siphoned off clandestinely from them. Around 200 incidents of pilferage from oil tankers come to light each month, but no case is registered. In most cases, a compromise is struck.
Last month, an oil tanker left Jalandhar for Hoshiarpur. It made an unscheduled stop on Jalandhar-Hoshiarpur Road near Chakgujjra village. The pump owner, monitoring the truck’s movement via GPS, sent a man to check why it had stopped for 38 minutes. “He saw the driver and helper taking out diesel from the tanker. He recorded it on his phone. This transporter is a habitual offender and was blacklisted by an oil company for two years for similar problems,” says Paramjit Singh Badwal, the fuel pump owner.
In a similar incident recently, an oil tanker left the Jalandhar oil depot for a petrol pump on Garshankar-Banga road. On seeing an overflowing diesel tank of the truck, the pump owner checked it. To his astonishment, he discovered a secret pipe from the main fuel tank—in which the fuel was being transported—to the truck’s fuel tank, which had been fitted with an additional ‘secret tank’.
Sources said that a meeting of some petrol pump owners was held on July 12 with officials of the Jalandhar depot of an oil company, who assured them of action. Nothing has happened yet.
A fuel smuggler said, “Oil tankers stop at designated places, mostly dhabas.We have duplicate master keys. We take out diesel and re-lock the tanker. We fill cans and drums of 20 to 50 litres in just few minutes. We sell diesel at half the prices, mostly at `30-35 per litre to transporters, as economics work for them. We don’t sell to private vehicles as we can get caught.”
A dhaba owner said oil tankers stop at his eatery dhaba on the Chandigarh-Amabla highway near Lalru. “Diesel is taken out within a few minutes and we sell it to truck drivers, who are our regular customers, or those who come through reference,’’ he said.Oil companies are lackadaisical about the problem. They most they do is blacklist the transporters’ vehicle found pilfering. Every three months a fitness certificate is issued to all oil tankers by the oil firms after inspection.
Punjab Petroleum Dealers Association president and secretary of All India Petroleum Dealers Association Sandeep Sehgal said, “We have brought this to the notice of oil companies many times, but they say it is not their responsibility once the tanker is out of the depot. We have also given a complaint to Punjab Police. Smuggling is rampant, and around 100 to 200 incidents of pilferage from oil tankers take place per month.Hardly a few are reported as many pump owners reach a compromise with the transporters’ as they have to get fuel transported by them. Pilferage has increased tremendously recently.”
Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) Punjab, Gautam Cheema acknowledged that petroleum dealers have given their representation to police.“Many cases are reported and petrol pump owners get threatening calls, so they back out. Smuggling is increasing by the day.The new modus operandi is a pipe directly from the fuel chamber of the tanker to the engine and fuel tank,” said Manjeet Singh, Executive Interim of Punjab Petroleum Traders Association.Chandigarh Petroleum Dealers Association’sgeneral secretary Amanpreet Singh and another fuel pump owner detected pilferage of diesel from tankers supplying fuel to them. They found out that the pilferage was being done at a dhaba near Lalru on Chandigarh-Ambala highway. “We caught the men taking out fuel from our tankers at the dhaba, but the fellow pump owner was beaten up by the goons.Nothing happened despite by complaint,” he said.
Sandeep Jain, chief general manager of Indian Oil Corporation who is also Punjab coordinator for all oil companies, refuted the non-action. “We take strict action whenever such incidents come to our notice.The transporter and the tanker is blacklisted and the information is shared between all oil companies,” he said.“In last one year, Indian Oil Corporation has blacklisted three transporters. It is not our responsibility outside the depot; it is for the district administration and police to take action,” he added. “A GPS is installed in all tankers. If it makes an unscheduled stop for more than five minutes, it is reflected in our system, and we ask the dealer and transporter about it. If they can’t give a satisfactory reply, we take action against them.”
Pilferage by Fuel Pump Owners
Sources in the Excise Department said petrol pumps in Bathinda, Fazilka and Mansa districts of Punjab are getting petrol from Dabwali and Sirsa in Haryana at `6 per litre lesser than the government rate. Most of such fuel stations are owned by politicians or of their aides. Smuggling is just not limited to Haryana, but extends to Rajasthan. An oil tanker is filled at the Bathinda refinery to supply diesel at a pump in Bathinda, Mansa or Fazilka, but it goes to Hanumangarh or Ganganagar in Rajasthan as diesel is `6 per litre more expensive than Punjab. Each tanker carries 12,000 litres. By selling the diesel in Rajasthan, the pump owner earns `72,000 per tanker per trip.While returning, the tanker picks up fuel at Dabwali or Sisra in Haryana and takes it the the original fuel station it was meant to reach. This brings in another `72,000, as the difference is `6 per litre. So, in one trip per tanker, the pump owner earns `1.24 lakh.
Oil tankers stop at designated places, mostly dhabas. We have duplicate master keys. We take out diesel and re-lock the tanker. We fill cans and drums of 20 to 50 litres. We sell diesel at half the prices, mostly at `30-35 per litre to transporters. We don’t sell to private vehicles as we can get caught.”
A fuel smuggler in Punjab
Other Smuggling Routes
Chandigarh to Amritsar, Ambala in Haryana to Rajpura in Punjab, Hisar in Haryana to Patiala, and Patra in Punjab and Baddi in Himachal Pradesh to Ropar in Punjab.