Plentiful petrol inblack market
APART from the common people forced to stand in serpentine queues in front of fuel outlets to get a few litres of petrol, there have been reports about steps taken by both the government and the Indian Oil Corporation to maintain supplies of petroleum products to economic blockade-hit Manipur resulting in shortage of petrol, diesel and cooking gas in two particular states - Tripura and Mizoram. Though impact of the Manipur blockade to these two states had eased within a few days, there is no respite for the people here as is evident from people literally habituated to stationing their vehicles near retail outlets, either at the slightest hint of fuel distribution or upon getting information about arrival of security escorted loaded trucks from Jiribam, the last township of the state on the Manipur-Assam border. Compared to brisk business done by the black marketers when the severity of the fuel crisis, triggered by the highway siege, was at its peak in the last two months of year 2016, the situation seems to have lessened a bit if the current rate of Rs 120-130 per litre of petrol sold on the roadside or at unauthorised kiosks is any indication. As Manipur and other north-eastern states rely on IOC-owned refineries at Digboi, Guwahati, Numaligarh and Bongaigaon in Assam, the issue of shortage of diesel, petrol and cooking gas is likely to remain in the limelight in Manipur unless the agitating United Naga Council (UNC) decides to lift the blockade imposed since November 1, last.
Apparently unsatisfied with the fuel allocation procedures as well as doubting sincerity of the pump owners, volunteers of Information Centre for Hill Areas (ICHAM), a civil society organisation, have been carrying out inspection of the retail outlets with the aim of verifying whether the petrol/diesel distributed to the public is proportionate with the quantum allocated by the IOC depot. Significantly, the inspecting volunteers came across authorities of the Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution (CAF&PD) department issuing permits to certain individuals for bulk purchase of transport fuel, petrol in particular, even as the rationing system of limiting the quantity is strictly enforced for the public. Taking into account of sufficient availability of petrol in the black market, possibility of those who are close to the CAF&PD officials supplying the essential item to the black marketers cannot be ruled out for none would like to miss the golden chance of making some easy money by taking advantage of the situation. As there is remote possibility that the entire supply chain to the black marketers would be due to the patronage of the CAF&PD department, the inspecting volunteers too need to trace and expose other sources or routes, for reports have been received about black marketers selling petrol on the northern side of Kangla Pat road contending that most of their supplies are from Kangpokpi, a township located along NH-2 that passes through the core zone of the on-going economic blockade.