Tanker drivers who have earned notoriety for driving the state-owned Nepal Oil Corporation into a corner also possess artful wiles of taking fuel pump owners for a ride.
Here’s a case in point.
After a year in petroleum business, Jakir Ahmad, who owns Barkati Fuel Centre at Nawalpur Chowk in Sarlahi, was shocked to find his enterprise was operating in the red. He had invested around Rs 4.5 million to start the fuel station in January 2011. The 38-year-old got into petroleum business on simple assumption that he would not incur losses as it is protected by NOC, which also extends certain profit margin. But Jakir was losing money, and that too, as per him, to the tune of over a million rupees. “To find out what went wrong, I checked my ledgers. Everything seemed okay. Cash flow was fine as I was selling most of the products, and I had not extended huge credit line to my clients,” Jakir told THT over phone from Sarlahi.
So, why was he losing money?
“I later found out that tanker drivers were cheating me,” Jakir claimed. Interestingly, he was being robbed by tanker drivers right in front of his eyes.
Tanker drivers apply a simple theory of surface tension to hoodwink pump owners like Jakir who are novice in petroleum business, NOC Spokesperson Mukunda Ghimire said. Using this technique, they manipulate the measurement process and steal significant amount of petrol, diesel and kerosene. Jakir later filed a report with police. “But nothing happened. And about a year ago, I took the matter to District Administration Office, seeking action against Sudama Sah Kanu, president of the Nepal Transport Independent Workers’ Union (Amlekhgunj chapter), who had robbed the most from me,” he added.
Sarlahi Chief District Officer Dinesh Kumar Ghimire confirmed that a petition was filed. “But they agreed to settle the issue themselves and left,” he said. Jakir admitted that he had agreed to settle the matter outside after Kanu pledged around Rs 700,000 in compensation. “But he failed to keep his word,” he added. Kanu, however, dismissed Jakir’s claims. “Yes, I used to deliver fuel to his station. But I never stole fuel, and I never promised to give him the money. He’s trying to harass me,” Kanu told THT.
But nonetheless, NOC officials agreed that tanker drivers do apply the surface tension theory ‘to steal oil’.
How do they do it?
When a straw is inserted into water in a glass, the water tends to flow up in the straw due to the effect of what is called capillary action. Just like the straw, different chambers in fuel tankers contain pipes of around one-and-a-half inches in diametre. These pipes are fixed to the mouth of the tanker’s chambers, but do not run down to the bottom of the tanker. Measurement of oil is then made by inserting dip rods into these pipes in which holes are made evenly so that equal pressure is exerted to maintain proper surface tension, as a result of which capillary action makes oil flow through the pipes. “What some tanker drivers do is cover these evenly made holes with thin metal sheets,” an official at Nepal Oil Corporation said on condition of anonymity. Once the holes are covered, the level of fuel in the pipes goes above than the level of fuel in the tanker. Since measurement of fuel in the tanker is made by inserting a rod into these pipes and not into the chambers, the pump owners are bound to get less amount of fuel, despite the measurement showing more fuel in the tanker.