Manufacturing corruption: the gas story

You will be penalised for using the lpg gas cyclinder sparingly. You have to write letters, produce affidavits, and wait for weeks because you bothered to use it judiciously.

LPG (cooking gas) has a foul smell (to enable leaks to be quickly detected, for safety). The real foul smell however, now comes from the government’s sordid handling of the rules on the supply of LPG to the public.

While announcing the latest petrol price hike on 16 September, a proposal was also mooted for "limiting" the availability of cooking gas (LPG) to those paying income tax, owning a house or two wheeler. The plan was shelved "for the time being" due to opposition from users as well as opposition parties.

On the one hand, the middle class are threatened with curtailment of subsidised cooking gas, on the other hand the families who use a cylinder thriftily and stretch it to last for six months, are penalised. "Because that is what the oil companies’ rules specify".

A senior citizen, now in his eightieth year, with a Padmabhushan plus various international awards discovered last month on his return from a two month assignment at Cambridge UK, he cannot get a refill. The LPG distributors are apparently not authorised to supply refills to customers who "keep a cylinder for over six months" under the rules drawn up by oil companies.

After waiting for five days, he took a taxi to go to the distributor to enquire about the delay and was told that he had to submit his security deposit receipt as he had not ordered a refill for six months. He returned home, picked up a Xerox copy of his deposit receipt, and hurried back to the agency’s office. He was told the xerox copy won’t do, he had to bring the original or submit an affidavit. The rules, the distributor added, are "made by the petroleum company, not by us".

Taking his taxi back, he went looking for a notary for getting an affidavit and was told to return at 7 PM to collect the notarised document. By then the distributor was closed for the day. The affidavit was submitted the next morning but a week later there was still no refill delivery.

Sixteen days later, when this consumer submitted a complaint letter with a request for a receipt, sensing trouble said the delivery boy was on leave for the day, but the customer could take away a refill. This of course meant paying Rs 20 for an auto rickshaw to cart it. The agency then claimed the matter was "closed" as a refill was now supplied, and refused to accept the written complaint.

The government incurs a loss of Rs 63 cr per day on subsidised gas cylinders. In that case, does it make sense to insist that consumers should use up a cylinder within six months? How does it hurt the ministry if consumers use their cylinders sparingly and minimise the loss to the government? A letter to the petroleum minister questioning this rule, brought not even an acknowledgement, let alone an explanation.

Another scientist who is on various international committees and travels overseas frequently (so her gas cylinder lasts for nearly a year each time) has been encountering the same problem, of being "penalised" for not using up gas fast. Do scientists do their work or run around to file documents every time their cooking gas gets over? No wonder top scientists have gone on record that Indian scientists do not do enough world class research – they can’t, if stupid rules introduced by politicians hinder them in their day to day basic requirements.

Another Bangalorean who was away at her son’s place in Singapore for post-operative recovery, is now running around, from north Bangalore to Unity building in the south, to submit documents at the oil company’s head office, because she had not ordered a refill for over eight months. She has had to get stamp paper, file affidavits, wait for an hour for the official to accept her form, and is still waiting to complete ‘formalities’. She is elderly, and lives alone.

Korea manufactures cars and electronic equipment. China floods the world with yarn and textiles. We ‘manufacture’ corrupt practices – I use the word deliberately. Every new rule becomes a source for fresh avenues of milking the average honest citizen.

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