The comprehensive clean-up that the public sector oil marketing companies recently initiated in the liquefied petroleum gas distribution system is a commendable if long overdue effort to check what had evidently become a free-for-all game. Groaning under the “subsidy burden” in a market sector where consumption levels of the convenience fuel had skyrocketed over the decades, the companies first moved collectively to computerise data with regard to LPG consumers in terms of address locations and consumption patterns. Even as price increases were effected, the government capped at six a year the number of subsidised cylinders that each consumer would be entitled to — a move that brought forth a volley of protests. The OMCs then initiated a process of verifying the particulars of each account, to weed out ghost consumers, multiple connections in the same name or for the same family unit. Such connections, it now turns out, add up to a whopping fourth of the total. There is a case to plug loopholes further, stemming pilferage and diversion for commercial and automobile use. Simultaneously, efforts should be made to ensure that cylinders issued to connections that now stand cancelled, and that may lie around unused, are duly surrendered. Given that the deposit amounts were quite low until recently, the consumer may not feel compelled to carry them to the dealer and surrender them. A system needs to be put in place to ensure that tens of thousands of such cylinders are freed, especially since diversion of refilled cylinders for motor transport poses safety risks. It is also important to sort out supply cap issues in residential complexes that get bulk delivery through in situ storage tanks from which metered supply is made to kitchens.
Now that a large number of connections are being freed, the delivery system needs to be streamlined, supply shortages have to be avoided and safety protocols improved. New connections should be made available smoothly to all legitimate applicants. There may even be a case to relax the six-a-year cap, also in view of the fact that the subsidy burden has come down thanks to the cancelled connections: several States have already raised the cap, although the modalities remain to be finalised. Over the past half-century, the blue flame freed many Indian kitchens from the soot and fumes that typically characterised fuels like kerosene. The OMCs should take this opportunity to ensure the widest geographical availability of LPG even as infrastructure for the supply of piped natural gas catches up. This round of reform should also aim to send across the larger message that those who unscrupulously milk the system and cause losses to the exchequer will no longer be able to get away with it.