The electronic meters of some of the latest computer-chip-controlled fuel dispensers installed at petroleum outlets in the State could be “wirelessly re-programmed at will” to show an incorrect reading and thus deny consumers their money’s worth, according to Legal Metrology Department enforcers here.
The deceitful practice was first reported from Punjab recently. The technology allowed fuel outlet managers there to remotely control the meter reading of fuel dispensers by regulating the electric pulses generated by the machine’s revolutions.
The knowhow, which is gaining ground in south India, and possibly Kerala, rendered tampering with fuel dispensers “virtually undetectable” as it did not require any alteration to the machine’s calibration unit.
The department annually inspects fuel dispensers and seals the cover that provides access to the calibration switch. Officials said a set of north India-based technicians offered the expertise for a high but unknown price. Quoting their counterparts in Punjab, enforcers here said the shortfall noticed there was around two litres for every 50 litres dispensed by the compromised machine.
Officials said a wirelessly controllable smart device installed inside the dispenser allowed the outlet manager to control the reading on the machine’s electronic meter at will. He evaded detection by restoring the original meter settings during inspections.
The device that facilitated remote tampering also allowed the dealer to significantly reduce the outflow of fuel after the initial 5 units were delivered to the customer.
The law allowed a permissible shortfall of 25 ml for every 5 litres of fuel dispensed by a legally approved machine.
Enforcers who inspected fuel outlets in Kollam recently reported a shortfall of up to 40 ml per 5 litres of petrol/diesel retailed. An unusually high deficit of 230 ml was detected at a pump in the capital. A court order prevented the department from fining fuel outlets which cheat customers. It can only order recalibration of the dispenser and charge the outlets for resealing the machine.