M.P. Praveen

176 cylinders seized in 39 raids in last two months

KOCHI: In a city throbbing with activity as Kochi, the demand outweighs supply in almost every area, making black marketing a tantalising prospect for those in search of quick bucks. It becomes all the more lucrative when the fulcrum of that trade is as essential a commodity as the cooking gas.

No wonder, the grey market of domestic Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinder diversion for commercial purposes continues to flourish in the city. The recent hike in the price of cooking gas had little or no impact in this market where fair price was never the norm.

Squads

The special squad of the District Collector headed by the District Supply Officer is perhaps the only system to check diversion.

In the last two months alone, the squad conducted 39 raids confiscating 176 cylinders. A total of Rs.1.96 lakh was collected as fine from the offenders, District Collector M. Beena said.

Hotels are the main culprits promoting this illegal diversion. The conniving gas agencies are equally at fault, for without their support this would have ceased long before. The Collector did not rule out the presence of a racket in the whole trade.

The district administration is gearing up to intensify the operation of the squad in view of the forthcoming Onam season.

Raids would be held more frequently and in more areas as the festival season approaches, she said.

Another squad comprising the Taluk Supply Officer and the Joint Regional Transport Officer concerned has been in operation since the start of this month to check illegal usage of LPG cylinders for fuelling vehicles, Dr. Beena said.

In addition to the routine checks, the squad also acts on tip-offs without delay, the Collector said. More frequent the raids, the more effective they will be as it put the offenders on tenterhooks all the time. A couple of raids a week in randomly selected areas would be the ideal thing. Officials at the district supply office (DSO), however, said that this was not always possible as they were kept busy by other on-field works like testing the quality of rice in the market and so on. Despite this, we make sure that there are at least a couple of raids in a month, DSO sources said.

Whether raids and imposition of fine serve as effective deterrents? Only to a certain extent, Dr. Beena admitted.

Fines negligible

As of now, the overall fine for an individual offender is about Rs.5,000. This comprised a fine of Rs.3,000 per cylinder seized and an additional Rs.2,000 by way of forfeiture of deposit with the cancellation of the gas connection.

A conniving gas agency is fined about Rs.20,000 for first time offence irrespective of the number of cylinders it diverted. More stringent steps like cancellation of agency is possible only on repeating the offence, Dr. Beena said. The licence of a Kakkanad-based agency was suspended earlier this year.

Besides, the benefits of opting for the grey market far outweigh the risk of being caught. For instance, a hotel doing brisk business makes anywhere around Rs.250 a day out of a cylinder that it buys illegally. The fine it would have to pay, if at all caught, is negligible compared to this, Dr. Beena said.

Similarly if a gas agent illegally diverts 20 out of 100 cylinders he distribute a day and earns an additional Rs.250 for each such cylinder then he would earn a handsome amount of Rs.5,000 daily, she pointed out.

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