Oil marketing companies have decided to levy a charge on LPG distributors to recover the expenses on the text messages (SMS) sent to customers booking refills using the IVRS (interactive voice response system).

While Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd has decided to collect 32 paise per supply from the distributors, Indian Oil Corporation is working out details.

This move comes even as Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd is moving over from SMS-based refill booking to IVRS in view of the conveniences it offers.

Under the IVRS, text messages are sent to consumers confirming their bookings, after the distributor generates the bill and also on delivery of the cylinder.

The decision of HPCL and IOC seems to be linked to last year’s increase in the distributor commission. The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, on October 5, revised the commission to Rs.22.25 per refill.

Additionally, it permitted distributors to collect home delivery charges of Rs.15 per cylinder. Prior to the revision, the total commission was Rs.25.83 per cylinder.

HPCL, on Monday, informed some of its distributors that debit note would be raised, towards the charges, for the period between October 5 and February 28. IOC officials confirmed that the company was also considering something on similar lines. An official of Bharat Gas said the company was yet to decide on it.

Cooking gas distributors are agitated that the oil marketing companies had not taken them into confidence on this issue.

Such levy should not be collected with retrospective effect as a distributor supplying 15,000 refills a month would now be debited Rs.24,000, they said. “Our association would appeal against this, and also approach the Ministry”, an Indane distributor said.

Almost 97-98 per cent of the bookings were done on the IVRS, officials said, adding that the companies were planning to extend the system to more cities. Why would a customer revert to IVRS? asked an Indane official to a query on whether the distributors would encourage the customers to revert to manual booking option which continued to be available.

The IVRS is considered an answer to busy phone lines, less-than-desired level of responses of the counter staff and also diversion of the subsidised cylinders.

IVRS was also meant to result in better utilisation of manpower at the agencies and subsequently reduce operating costs.

The three oil companies had introduced refill booking through SMS and IVRS in 18 States, covering 2,965 distributors and about 4.36 crore customers.