In the third week of April when fuel crisis had reached its peak in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal Oil Corporation headquarters decided to fetch additional amount of petrol from its depot in Bhairahawa to ease the supply situation in the capital.
A call was then made to Nagendra Prasad Kurmi, head of NOC depot at Bhalbari, near Bhairahawa, and an order for 500,000 litres of petrol was placed. “The official immediately agreed to supply the commodity,” a high-ranking NOC official told THT on condition of anonymity. But when it was time to deliver the product, tanker drivers refused to drive up to Kathmandu. “They just said they wouldn’t drive,” the official said.
NOC officials then had to talk to representatives of their umbrella body, the Western Tanker Operators Association, many of whom were recently found to have been involved in stealing 17,000 litres of diesel from tankers hired by NOC.
Finally an agreement was reached, and in the next two days 164,000 litres of petrol was delivered to NOC’s Thankot depot. “But after that they refused to transport the rest of the product, saying that tanker drivers of other regions had objected to the use of trucks in their territory,” the official said. This, according to officials, was a lame excuse as the agreement signed between NOC and tanker operators clearly stated that the state-owned oil company can ask any truck to transport petroleum products to any place based on need. “We explained this to them but they refused to budge,” the official said.
While the drivers were showing resistance, queues in front of petrol pumps in the Valley were growing longer. “The commerce secretary was frequently calling us, inquiring why we had failed to bring the situation under control,” the official added.
This incident gives a snapshot of how NOC officials are at the mercy of tanker operators, who simply deny to do the work they are hired and paid for, while consumers suffer. “Tanker drivers are big bullies here. They fail to grasp a simple fact that each of around 60 tankers in operation here make up to Rs 36,180 per trip because of business created by NOC,” said an official deputed at NOC’s Bhalbari depot on condition of anonymity. But tanker operators do not give two hoots to the logic. And if someone tries to raise voice against them, they either stop transporting petroleum products or resort to violence.
Around six months ago, for instance, a group of around 40 to 50 tanker drivers raised their fists when discussions during a meeting called by NOC to clear the air on allegations of fuel theft levelled by pump owners got heated. Later, when NOC did not concede to western region’s tanker operators’ demands that they be allowed to transport fuel up to Gaidakot, they stopped transporting it for 11 days. Had the government agreed to their demand, the tanker operators would have made extra money, but consumers living around Gaidakot area would have been forced to pay an extra 50 paisa on purchase of every litre of fuel.
Again today, they stopped transporting fuel demanding that arrest warrants issued against 15 persons involved in theft of 17,000 litres of diesel be withdrawn.
THT’s attempt to contact the leaders of tanker operators went in vain, as most of them are involved in fuel theft case and are at large.
‘My way or the highway’ attitude
• In the third week of April, when NOC wanted to fetch fuel from Bhalbari depot, tanker drivers refused to
drive petroleum products
• On April 29, police recovered 17,000 litres of diesel stolen by tanker drivers
• Around six months ago, a group of around 40 to 50 tanker drivers raised their fists when discussions during a meeting called by NOC to clear the air on allegations of fuel theft levelled by pump owners got heated
• Each of around 60 tankers in operation make up to Rs 36,180 per trip because of the business created by NOC, but the state-owned oil monopoly does not have a single tanker of its own