June this year was the hottest one in four years in North India, but it wasn't the soaring temperatures that caused frayed tempers. Instead India was reeling under the news of a petrol pump chip scam-fuel dispensing units at petrol pumps across the country had been fitted with a special remote-controlled chip that would release 20-50 ml less for every litre of petrol/diesel that a customer purchased.
But since the electronic display would show the correct measure of fuel, customers had no way of knowing that they were being short-changed by 7-10% of fuel. As of December 1, over 100 retail outlets across India have been shut down on account of electronic chip manipulation in dispensing units.
Lesson learnt the hard way, all the government-owned oil marketing companies (OMCs) are reportedly focussing on complete automation and real-time monitoring of all their outlets. Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), Hindustan Petroleum Corporation (HPCL) and Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL) are now planning to introduce an "e-key" facility for tankers carrying fuel from depots to retail outlets.
According to the Business Standard, tankers carrying fuel from terminals to dealer outlets would not just have global positioning system (GPS) tracking but also an electronic key (e-key). The tanker can then only be opened through a one-time password (OTP) at retail outlets. "Even if we have centralized GPS tracking, people can manipulate it and divert routes. In this case, if a particular tanker takes more time to reach the particular destination from a terminal, the dealer will need special permission from the companies other than the OTP," said an official close to the development to the daily. He added that the end-to-end automation involves tracking of fuel gone through nozzles and tanks and will also transfer data to the central system. The ministry of petroleum and natural gas is hopeful that this strategy will reduce adulteration and diversion of fuel.
The e-key facility is already in place in 40-odd BPCL retail outlets in Delhi, and a tender to extend the facility to another 500 BPCL outlets will reportedly be floated early next year. The aim is to ensure real-time monitoring of all the retail outlets of government-owned OMCs-numbering 55,325 as of October-by December 2018. The OMCs will reportedly have to spend about Rs 4-5 lakh on automating each outlet, which will attract an overall investment of about Rs 2,000 crore in the marketing infrastructure. Currently, only around 20,000 retail outlets are automated.
According to a written answer by petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan in the Lok Sabha on Monday, a total of 5,732 cases of short delivery of fuel had been registered in the last three financial years and the current year till September-end. Given that each retail outlet sells an average 170 kilolitres of fuel a month, this drive towards automation and real-time monitoring will save the OMCs a pretty penny.