‘How can there be no fuel?’

January 9th, 2009 - 5:33 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 9 (IANS) “How can there be a no fuel?!” Raju, the driver of a minivan, incredulously asked an attendant sitting idle on a drum at an Indian Oil petrol station at Chanakyapuri in South Delhi. The attendant casually waved to a sign -”Closed, thank you for visiting, come again.”Raju was finally forced to park his vehicle behind the trailing queue at an HP pump, the only one not closed and not dry in the vicinity.

Around 70 percent of about 37,000 fuel stations have run dry in cities and towns as well as along the criss-crossing highways of this vast country that has not witnessed an energy crisis of such magnitude in recent times.

“I have been to five pumps and all were closed - finally I have queued up here as the pump seems open,” complained Sijaad, sitting in his car queued up outside a pump in Bhopal in central India.

Sijaad had taken off from work to ensure he has fuel in case the situation worsens.

Queues of vehicles parked helter-skelter that ran for miles and miles around most petrol vends added to public woes, as the traffic situation became really bad in most metro cities, including in the capital.

“This is ridiculous, I have been in my car for three hours for a journey that normally takes 20 minutes… I have a meeting. Why is the Supreme Court not intervening?” asked an exasperated Anupama, an executive in a private bank in Delhi.

“At least, the government should call for temporary relief measures - like call to shut offices or something!” added Anupama, who was stuck in a traffic snarl.

There were other woes that troubled the public as well. Many had to abandon their vehicles as they ran out of fuel while being stuck in traffic jams.

“They are giving only Rs.500 worth of petrol to cars and Rs.200 worth to two-wheelers. That’s not fair; we waited for hours,” said Rajat, who was fortunate enough to be driving out of a pump with half-tank of fuel from an HP retail vend (only HP pumps in Delhi were still functioning).

Delhi has 413 petrol pumps and of these 250 had run out of fuel by late Thursday night, according to head of the Federation of All India Petroleum Traders. But of these 413, around 100 run by Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) are still selling fuel, as its employees have stayed out of the strike.

“Almost 60 to 70 percent stock of petrol at fuelling stations across the country has dried up. In Delhi, the petrol stock will be over by Friday evening,” Ashok Badhwar, president of the federation, told IANS.

The situation is feared to be the same across the country.

The ripple effect of the strike has caused many offices and schools to shut in cities like Mumbai and in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state.

“My mother called from Chandigarh and said prices are going to rise. So I have come to stock up on essentials like vegetables and groceries,” said Sarita, a housewife from an overflowing vegetable market in Jaipur.

“In our housing society, the back-up has packed off because deisel is not available. With no power generator, the water supply has also been affected. Our emergency lights and street lights cannot work - we don’t know when the situation will improve,” Ankur Mishra, who lives in Patparganj, east Delhi, said.

Harassed attendants bore apologetic faces as they stood behind pump barricades waving the vehicles away and move on as the vends had run dry.

These gestures only angered the frustrated public as some furious customers in the capital were reported to have gotten into angry brawls with attendants or those drivers who jumped the queue.

While all forms of transport have been affected by the strike, the public transport in Delhi seemed to be functioning fine for the moment as most buses and auto-rickshaws run on CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) fuel.

Still, the auto-rickshaw drivers were worried.

“Something like this has never happened, I fear it will affect us soon - maybe they’ll cut off the CNG, you never know,” said Ramesh, an auto-driver at Dhaula Kuan inter-state bus stop.

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