Confusion over status of refills booked this month but to be supplied in April

With less than a week to go in this financial year and the backlog of refills to be supplied heavy with many cooking gas agencies, thousands of households are likely to miss utilising their full quota of subsidised cylinders for 2012-13.

Making such a scenario imminent is the lack of clarity on how the public sector oil marketing companies are going to treat refill bookings made this month, but against which supplies could not be made by March 31. Many consumers have started insisting that it the date of booking should be taken into consideration.

“Oil companies’ stand, when cylinder prices are increased, that the date of delivery is what ultimately matters should not be extended to the pending bookings this month. The consumer is booking within the stipulated timeframe and the companies are unable to supply [by March 31],” says consumer activist T.Sadagopan. Like many other consumers, his question is whether the refill supplied in April for the booking made in March will be part of the 2012-13 quota.

At the heart of all these is the limit fixed by the Centre on the number of subsidised liquefied petroleum gas cylinder to be supplied to household. While imposing the cap in September last year, it said six cylinders in a full fiscal, beginning April 2013, and three in the rest of 2012-13 is what each household would be supplied. In the face of opposition and demand for revision, the limit was increased to nine and five respectively.

Interestingly, when the cap was revised this January many households in Chennai had not ordered their third subsidised refill. According to distributors, once the limit was enhanced the bookings resumed and with it the sale of non-subsidised domestic cylinder, which is about Rs.500 more currently, started slowing down.

What is compounding the problem now is the backlog prevailing with many Indane agencies, presumably on account of a shortage of equipment (cylinders). While Indian Oil Corporation officials confirm that some agencies were taking 10 days to supply, distributors say a large number of cylinders, particularly from Ennore bottling plant, have been withdrawn from circulation for repairs. A spokesperson of the company, however, says there was no supply issue due to this. “Also no unusual numbers [of cylinders] pulled out.” Then, there are also several holidays at the end of the month.

The companies are also seized of these. Sources in Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation say they have advised the distributors to work this Sunday “to clear as many bills as possible. Still there is a possibility of some pending bills on March 31 evening as “you cannot prevent people from booking on the last day,” an official of HPCL says, pointing out that the booking process is automated and the backlog was 2-3 days.

The Indane distributors are also likely to work this Sunday. So will the bottling plants of company, an official said, adding the backlog is not uniform across all the 100 odd distributors supplying to over 18 lakh customers in and around Chennai. A BPCL official said about 34 distributors catered to around 8 lakh customers in the city and they have been working on Sundays too for the last three weeks. He said they were supplying within 48 hours.

Keywords: LPG quota

More In: Chennai | News