“Rampant” adulteration of diesel was taking place in petrol pumps and millions of litres of kerosene were being siphoned off as owners and dealers were “very powerful people like politicians”, the Supreme Court said on Friday.
“It is not a happy situation. It is something which is rampant and unfortunate and very powerful people like politicians have petrol pumps. They can tamper with the machine. They are the people who will resist the change,” a bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur observed.
“Go to small and rural areas, all types of people are at play, criminals and politicians,” the bench said while expressing serious concern over the matter. “How do you prevent adulteration? How to stop it? Is there any strategy,” it asked, adding that “millions of litres of kerosene is siphoned off.”
The bench, which also comprised Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, made the remarks while ordering a probe by a joint secretary rank officer of Ministry of Petroleum against Uttar Pradesh Samajwadi Party MLA, Devendra alias Mukesh Agarwal, who has been accused by his rival BSP leader Seema Upadhyay of indulging in adulteration of diesel at petrol pumps owned or operated by him through benami names. It also asked Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar to file an affidavit on behalf of the Ministry spelling out measures to stop adulteration and siphoning off of subsidised kerosene. The bench, which did not pay heed to Kumar’s submission that private interest was being raised under the garb of PIL by a rival politician, directed that the inquiry report be submitted to the apex court within six weeks.
It said the inquiry officer should send notice to Agarwal, an MLA from Sadabad in Hathras district, to get his response on the allegation of Upadhyay, also a former MP.
It asked the Ministry to examine various options to check adulteration in petrol and diesel including the possibility of installing machines which can detect adulteration. Upadhyay’s counsel Rajeev Sharma said it was not a question of political rivalry between the two leaders but an attempt was being made to show how rampant adulteration in petroleum products was and how the “oil mafia” works.
The bench was further told that IIM graduate and Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) officer S Manjunath, who tried to stop such practice, was gunned down by a petrol pump owner in Lucknow some years ago and similarly, a government officer in Nashik in Maharashtra was burnt alive.
The bench said “there is a deep-rooted and serious problem” and asked Solicitor General to come out with a solutions, preferring technological ideas.
While ordering the probe, the bench said the licensing authorities for petrol pumps and district administration will have to provide full assistance and cooperation to the enquiry officer. Upadhyay, wife of senior and influential BSP leader Ramveer Upadhyay, claimed that there was a need for thorough probe by the CBI into business activities of Agarwal. The MLA’s counsel Rakesh Dwivedi refuted all allegations.
During the hearing, the bench was told that a question was asked in Lok Sabha earlier this month and it was revealed that there were 3801 cases of adulteration from petrol pumps with UP having the most - 672 - followed by 364 in Madhya Pradesh in the last three years.
While elaborating how the “oil mafia” worked, the petition alleged that subsidised kerosene, meant for persons residing in rural areas or below poverty line, has been long used for adulterating diesel and petrol, thus damaging both those for whom the oil is meant and those whose vehicles or engines are fatally damaged by the adulterated fuel.
“The resultant profit going into the pockets of fuel adulterators/black marketeers/mafias, is mind-boggling as kerosene oil is sold by oil refineries or their depots to the wholesalers at Rs 14-15 per litre enabling the retailers to earn 40-50 paise per litre,” the plea said.
It alleged that subsidised kerosene was sold by oil refineries to wholesalers at Rs 14-15 per litre and further sold to mafias and black marketeers at Rs 25 per litre.
“Kerosene oil is chemically treated with a view to discolouring the same and thereafter sold to petrol/diesel outlets at Rs 33 to Rs 35 per litre, from where it is sold as diesel at Rs 54 per litre and petrol at Rs 74 per litre,” the plea said.