KASARAGOD: At a time when petrol price crossed Rs 100 per litre and diesel price was hovering around Rs 95, a fuel station in a remote village in Kasaragod gave three litres of fuel free of cost to all autorickshaw drivers who drove in.
Kudukoli Pump at Perla in Enmakaje gram panchayat spread the word on the offer for two days and gave petrol and diesel free of cost from 6.30 am on Monday. "We counted 313 autorickshaws by the time we closed the pump at 9.30 pm," said Siddeek Madumoole, who manages the fuel station. To put the number in perspective, on a regular day, the fuel station -- on State Highway 64 and 5km from Saradka in Karnataka -- does not get 300 customers.
That day, the price of petrol at the pump was Rs 97.70 and diesel was 93.11 per litre. A back-of-envelope calculation says the fuel station may have given away petrol and diesel worth around Rs 1 lakh free of cost.
The Indian Oil fuel station is owned by Siddeek's elder brother Abdulla Madumoole, a chartered accountant in Abu Dhabi.
He said he decided to give away petrol and diesel to ease the burden of autorickshaw drivers reeling under the lockdown and the daily increase in fuel prices. "This was done as charity and not to promote business," insisted Siddeek. He said autorickshaws came from Saradka in Karnataka, Perla, Badiadka, and even Neerchal, 15km away.
Auto drivers are elated. "In my 37 years as an auto driver, no pump has ever given petrol and diesel for free," said Sanjeeva Maipady, who drove 15km from Neerchal to get the free diesel. He said he used up nearly one litre for the trip. "But I still got 2 litres for free," he said.
He said auto drivers are reeling under the daily increase in fuel prices. Insurance premium, too, shot up from Rs 6,000 for a new autorickshaw to Rs 9,000 now, he said.
Today, when he asked a customer to pay extra for a trip, the customer shot back asking if the RTO (Regional Transport Officer) gave him permission to do so. "But the same customer did not hesitate to pay Rs 240 for sardines today. Yesterday, it was Rs 200," he said.
Padmanabhan P, an auto driver in Perla, said he now earned around Rs 1,000 in three days if he filled the tank for Rs 500. "Two years ago, I was earning Rs 1,500 in two days for the same amount of fuel," he said. He has been driving autorickshaw for the past 18 years. "But the last two years have been the toughest. I was debt-free. Now I am under debt and missed paying my EMI," he said.
Udyakumar S, another autorickshaw driver in Perla, has a similar story. Lots of passengers going to the bank and market depend on autorickshaws because the public transport is not adequate. "But they don't have money to pay us for the increased fuel price. We still run at the fare fixed years ago," he said. He was all praise for Abdulla Madumoole. "I know him personally. He does a lot of charity like distributing food kits to the poor. But this is the first time ever I heard of someone giving petrol for free," he said.
"If he were in Perala today, we auto drivers would have garlanded him and given him a hero's reception," said Sanjeeva.