By RK Suresh
IMPHAL, Feb 15: It’s been over 4 months since the economic blockade on the national highways of Manipur was lifted but people in the state are still reeling under an intense scarcity of LPG.
Meanwhile, the Sekmai LPG bottling plant in the state is producing more than enough LPG cylinders on daily basis but ample evidences suggest that there is a serious discrepancy which is preventing these LPG cylinders from reaching the consumers while the same is flooded into black-markets all over the state.
Strangely, despite the hardship that the LPG shortage has given, the state government and the main supplier IOC have not taken up any counter measures to stop the unexplained shortage or the rampant black-marketeering of LPG in Manipur.
The Sekmai LPG bottling plant in Imphal west district with an installed capacity of 1000 metric tons was established with the sole objective of ensuring adequate and regular LPG supply to at least 4 lakh LPG private consumers in Manipur. Apart from a brief hitch during the recent 121 days blockade, the plant has been working uninterrupted in the last one and half years and at present the plant is producing an average of 6000 LPG cylinders per day for direct distribution to the consumers while committing to meet the norm of entitling LPG refill to consumers after every 25 days.
Strangely, these cylinders have not been reaching the consumers for a while now as the public are reeling under an acute scarcity of LPG while many consumers are compelled to buy LPGs from black market at a hefty price of Rs 800 to Rs 1200.
As per norms, a consumer is entitled an LPG refill after lapse of 25 days from the last allotment and there is no guideline that there should be booking after a specific period of delivery as is the current practice in the state, but at the moment consumers have to wait atleast six months after an initial allotment of LPG from authorized Gas agencies.
“I’m facing immense problem due to this unexplained unavailability of LPG in the authorised distributors’ centre while the black–market is flourishing. Yesterday, my neighbour bought an LPG cylinder at Rs 1200 and asked me to buy the same but I declined”, Devchandra Sharma said.
Another individual–Bhupen comments, “I have been waiting for the past six months to get my quota of LPG refill and finally I got it. But the thing is that an LPG cylinder does not last 6 months which is also a worrying factor.”
Mysteriously, cylinders are flooding in black–markets at a hefty price of Rs 800 to Rs 1200 per cylinders against the original Rs 380 per cylinder. The critical and unexplained scarcity of LPG was set off after the recent 121 days old economic blockade along the two lifelines of Manipur–NH 39 and NH 53 which was imposed from July 31, 2011.
However, after more than three months since the blockade was lifted the shortage has been prolonged without any explanation. Strangely, the IOC which has been keeping a record of distribution to track deviation in any form has failed to come up with any explanation for the acute scarcity or mysterious disappearance of 15 to 20 LPG bullets which reaches the state every alternated day. Secretary of the Manipur Road Transport Union – Naorem Dilip confide – We are at complete lost on why these acute LPG shortage, because the truckers assisted by the CRPF are bringing in 15 – 20 LPG bullet trucks regularly along the NH 39 to the Sekmai Bottling plant.
I could conclude that there is some serious discrepancy in the LPG distribution and the state government should investigate the matter immediately to bring respite to the people.”
As of now, the only explanation for this shortage of LPG seem to be the existence of a serious discrepancy deliberately carried out to earn money discreetly through black marketing and even some of the authorized LPG agencies are said to be indulging in black marketing instead of regular distribution. Although there has been no conclusive evidence of who is behind this induced LPG scarcity and flourishing black market, the Truckers Association has pointed accusing finger towards the IOC while claiming that the scarcity has been prolonged since the IOC took charge of direct distribution from the Food and Civil Supply department. It further charged the IOC officials at the Sekmai Bottling Plant of influencing black marketeering of LPG by indulging in favoritism, nepotism and corruption in allotting LPG quotas to the authorized local LPG agents who are overlooking distribution to consumers. “There may be corruption or there may be nepotism in the management of IOC, but all that matters is that the state is facing serious LPG problem as a result of faulty management in the IOC” says Secretary of the Manipur Road Transport Union – Naorem Dilip
So far, the reaction from the state government and its FCS officials on the situation has raised serious questions among the public on its consistency and sincerity. Not only has the state government has failed to take up any action to ensure regular LPG supply despite a prolonged scarcity, the state government keeping a mum on the mysterious disappearance of LPG stocks from the Sekmai Bottling plant or the allegation against the IOC of influencing black-marketing. On the other hand, the IOC seemed reluctant to even acknowledge the Sekmai Bottling plant is producing more than enough LPG supply nevertheless clarifying on the accusation of inducing the shortage. While keeping in wait for 2 days, official of the IOC at last turned down a request for an official reaction from IOC.