In Kochi, frequent price rise of cooking gas triggers squabbles between customers and agencies

A group of theatre activists staging a street play in Kozhikode on Wednesday in protest against the hike in prices of fuel and cooking gas.   | Photo Credit: K. Ragesh

The bygone month has been nightmarish both for cooking gas distribution agencies and their clients as the frequent fluctuations in the price of gas cylinders led to squabbles, with delivery boys ending up as collateral damage.

Oil companies raised the price four times, ₹25 each time, contributing to a collective hike of ₹100 per cylinder in February alone. The overnight price hikes burned a hole through the pocket of the customers, leaving distribution agents and their delivery boys at the receiving end of their ire.

“System-generated invoices at the time of booking get automatically cancelled with the change in price and get replaced with fresh ones almost overnight. This leaves customers riled over the perceived injustice of having to pay the higher price,” said Sunil Abdulrahman, manager of a Tripunithura-based gas agency.

He said even the gas agencies remain in the dark about the change in the invoices overnight and are alerted only the next morning. Even those who have made advance payments at the time of booking will have to pay the difference between the old and new price in cash at the time of delivery of cylinders. This leaves delivery boys to bear the brunt of customer fury, Mr. Abdulrahman added.

Jogesh Joseph, manager of an Indane-based gas agency, said: “While cancellation and generation of invoices are system-driven, the distributors have to do a few steps at their end to complete the cancellation process and then download and take printouts of revised invoices. However, this may be affected if the oil company's server hangs. There have been umpteen occasions when an entire day's delivery was disrupted.” A senior Indian Oil Corporation official reasoned that just as customers have to pay the price difference when prices are revised upwards, they also benefit when the prices are reduced.

However, Mr. Abdulrahman said that while this was true, it only happens rarely. “In fact, the intake of gas cylinders has dropped considerably. The low-income groups are turning towards other feasible options, including fire wood, as the frequent price rise has put cooking gas beyond them,” he said.

Shyam Alokkan, a techie from Tripunithura, said that he had to pay ₹50 over and above what he had already shelled out when the cylinder was delivered since the price had been hiked twice in the intervening week between booking and delivery. “Perhaps, the agency held back the delivery till the price rise to gain better commission charges,” he said.

But Mr. Joseph said this was a misconception as the agents' commission does not go up in tune with the rising price. “Thankfully, oil companies now publicise every hike unlike in the past when it did not and customers unaware of the hike used to blame it on agencies,” he said.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 6:31:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/in-kochi-frequent-price-rise-of-cooking-gas-triggers-squabbles-between-customers-and-agencies/article33980424.ece

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