High Court sets aside March order staying dual pricing of diesel; fuel will not be supplied to depots

After a brief respite, motorists will again have to jostle for space with Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) buses at retail fuel outlets in the city.

A Division Bench on Monday set aside a single judge’s order of March 14 staying the differential pricing of diesel for the State transport undertakings.

The First Bench, comprising Acting Chief Justice R.K. Agrawal and Justice N. Paul Vasanthakumar, allowed an appeal by the Petroleum Ministry and requested the single Judge to consider the State government’s application for grant of interim relief afresh in the light of its observations. Following this, State-owned buses may again have to queue up before fuel stations for their diesel requirements.

“We bought diesel at retail outlets for Rs. 51.25 per litre whereas bulk purchase would cost us around Rs. 60 a litre. Hence, we will again go back to the retail outlets,” an official said.

In January, the State transport corporations had asked its drivers to start filling their vehicles with diesel at retail outlets after the Centre decided to introduce dual pricing for diesel, with bulk consumers such as State transport corporations not being supplied with subsidised fuel.

Following this, buses started queuing in retail outlets and this caused inconvenience to both motorists and bus passengers alike.

“Sometimes the buses enter the bunks along with the passengers and office goers are forced to wait. The conductors used to ask us to either wait or take some other mode of transport,” said S. Gireesh of Thoraipakkam.

On March 14, passing orders on a writ petition by the state government, the court had granted an interim injunction till April 12 restraining the petroleum ministry and oil companies from charging a higher price for diesel for STCs in Tamil Nadu than the price charged for private retail customers. Oil companies then started supplying fuel directly to depots, as was the practice earlier, and the MTC could stock fuel for three days.

The petroleum ministry filed an appeal against this order.

Writing the judgment for the Bench on Monday, the Acting Chief Justice, citing Supreme Court decisions, said the single Judge had neither assigned any reason nor considered whether there was a prima facie case, balance of convenience or potential for irreparable loss for passing such an order. He had not protected the interests of the oil companies. Hence, the order could not be sustained and was liable to be set aside.

The MTC’s fleet of 3,600 buses cover over nine lakh kilometres and consume over 2.50 lakh litres of diesel every day.

“The MTC should ensure that the buses fill diesel early in the morning or late at night without causing any inconvenience to other motorists,” said K. Vineeth Kumar, a resident of Mylapore.

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