PETROL MIXING : Biggest scam of India

Vivek Agrawal, Mumbai

From the kitchen to the car. Alternative fuels – like compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) – are being used to run automobiles.

And why not, when even unleaded fuel (petrol as well as diesel) is being mixed with kerosene and naphtha, defeating the basic purpose of introducing unleaded fuel. Little wonder that Mumbai ranks as the second most polluted city in the country after Delhi’s intimidating 1046 tonnes.

Unleaded fuel was so far being used only by vehicles fitted with catalytic converters. Fitting converters on new vehicles has become mandatory since April 1995, but the country still has a large population of old vehicles not fitted with these converters. Mumbai alone has over 400,000 cars, 500,000 two-wheelers and 100,000 three-wheelers. According to studies, about 65 per cent of air-pollution is caused by auto emissions. And that too, where only 10 per cent of the population use motorised transport.

Sadly, however, autowallahs, taxidrivers, trucks and tempos, all go in for spurious fuel, which obviously comes cheaper. For example, a new spurious substitute for petrol ‘Rexon’ is being sold for as low as Rs 12 to Rs 14 a litre (a litre of petrol costs Rs 48 Approx). Though this chemical greatly increases pollution and reduces engine life, “kya karega, mehengai ke zamaane mein yehi petrol sasta padta hai (In this age of inflation, only this ‘petrol’ is affordable),” confesses Ramesh Prasad, a taxi driver from Lower Parel.

HOW IS FUEL ADULTERATED AND DISTRIBUTED?

Naphtha is extracted from the crude oil bought from oil exporters, or procured through dubious methods from oil companies. The owner of the petrol pump, mixes the petrol supplied by the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), Hindustan Petroleum (HP) or Bharat Petroleum (BP) in the ratio of 3:1 (naphtha:petrol).

Fuel adulteration is a multi-crore racket, successfully operated with help from government, police and oil companies. According to sources, tankers and goods vehicle owners/drivers pay Rs 1,000 per month per vehicle, only for the non-implementation of the anti-pollution norms.

TYPES OF FUEL (INCLUDING ADULTERATED ONES)

Rexon’ looks like water and is adulterated with an amber dye to make it resemble petrol. This chemical has already edged out other petroleum substitutes like ‘patrex’, a mixture of ethanol and naphtha costing around Rs 22.

Diesel run vehicles are known to be more efficient (more kilometre per litre), emit less carbon oxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. Further, in case of diesel the critical aspect is the sulphur content—-it is 0.25 per cent as against the required norm of 0.05 per cent. The health issue of concern is that of the suspected link to lung cancer arising from higher particular matter (PM) emissions from diesel, thereby putting diesel non-commercial vehicles (private cars) under the threat of a ban.

The higher emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and benzene from petrol vehicles are greatly polluting too. If a ban is imposed on diesel vehicles, the demand will have to be met by petrol-driven vehicles.

CNG, obtained from gas which was otherwise being flared up in the air, is both eco-friendly and locally available. In Mumbai, about 10,000 taxis run on CNG. Unlike LPG, CNG is not officially permitted to be used in vehicles, though it is proved to reduce pollutants in auto emission to an extent of about 70 per cent. Di-Methyl Ether, which can be obtained from natural gas is being talked as the 21st century fuel and a project is being set up in the country.

LPG meant for domestic consumption, is the most friendly form of fuel. An LPG kit costs around Rs 20,000 while CNG kit comes for Rs 35,000. Most car owners thus opt for LPG over CNG. The only disadvantage of LPG being, its availability largely depends on imports, causing a heavy drain on foreign exchange. Consumers have expressed fear that the use of LPG for four wheelers would lead to a shortage and subsequently, higher prices. The government, however, is planning to keep supplies of LPG as domestic fuel and automobile fuel, separate.

WHY ADULTERATION?

The difference between the prices of kerosene and diesel, is one of the main reasons for the adulteration of petroleum products. In neighboring countries, the difference is minimal – 39 paise per litre in Pakistan, five paise in Bangladesh and Rs 1.60 in Sri Lanka – as against Rs. 11.45 in India. In Europe, both petrol and diesel are evenly priced and concern for the environment is high…. nearly 25 per cent vehicles are diesel-driven.

Says Vice President of the Petrol Dealers Association Ravi Shinde, “Use of spurious fuel is the choice of auto drivers who are not always the owners of the vehicles”. Little wonder, the pollution drive carried out in Mumbai found hired taxis and autos emitting more smoke than those run by owners. Similarly, private vehicles were found be meeting the emission norms. Says Nitin Dossa, former President of the Western India Automobiles Association (WIAA), “It is how you maintain your cars. Even our vintage vehicles run on the roads and do not emit smoke”.

Erring petrol pumps continue to supply spurious fuel, with the state government having limited penal powers. Note that the government cannot even seal pumps selling spurious fuel, as it can only seize the adulterated petroleum products.

Interestingly, a major chunk of the money petrol pump owners make goes into the pockets of Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) inspectors and senior officers and the police, without whom they cannot run their business. Pump owners say it is a vicious circle. “Since we have to pay so many people, we have to sell adulterated petrol to recover cost”, admits a pump owner at Andheri.

Navi Mumbai is one region where the business of petrol adulteration is at its blatant best. The production cost of the naphtha produced at the Uran factory is just Rs 6 per litre. It is sold to agents for Rs 8. The agent, in turn, sells the product to petrol pumps for Rs 11 (the agent pockets a cool Rs 36,000 per tanker which normally has a capacity of 12,000 litres).

Says the manager of a Navi Mumbai petrol pump, which is an authorized dealer of IOC. “I have to shell out at least Rs 50,000 to the sub-inspector, just to turn a blind eye.” Infact, so much is the power of money, that the raiding party goes directly to the residence of the petrol pump owners, collects the money and submits a favorable report. The failure of the Pollution Under Control (PUC) checks, which have been bogged by corruption, Says a member of the WIAA, “Most vehicles obtain the certificate without actually conducting the test”.

However, thanks to a Bombay High Court order for coming to the rescue of Mumbaikars. While the SC swung into the rescue of the national capital region, with a series of directions against polluting commercial help, Mumbai (where 69 per cent of the pollution is automobile exhaust) continued to breath polluted air.

HOW TO CHECK FOR ADULTERATED FUEL

Petrol consumers are equally responsible for adulterated petrol being in circulation. Picturise this. A Maruti Esteem with tinted glasses moves into a petrol pump for filling petrol. The driver hands over the key to the worker at the station, collects the money from his boss and forgets about the petrol The boss on his part is too occupied to check whether he being provided with pure petrol.

Note that notices put up at the petrol pumps on checking for adulterated petrol go unchecked (though it is mandatory for petrol pumps to put up boards showing ways of checking adulteration, most do not oblige). The litmus test is the most easiest method of checking adulteration in petrol. Every customer can insist on being provided a litmus paper (blue/red) and and conduct a dip test in the petrol. If the paper changes colour, the petrol is adulterated.

Then there is the density test, where the heaviness of the petrol supplied to the customer can be checked. However, since kerosene and diesel belong to the ‘middle fraction’, naphtha and benzene belong to the ‘lighter fraction’ which if mixed with petrol, cannot be detected in a density test.

PUNISHMENT

Mumbai has one of the highest vehicular density in Asia, about 500 vehicles per square metre. Most of these vehicles emit black smoke which is one of the largest contributors of vehicular pollution.

The state government and traffic authorities have been directed by the high court to ensure that all vehicles plying within the limits of Greater Mumbai strictly comply with the emission norms stipulated by the state government under Rule 115 of the Motor Vehicle Rules.

Non-fulfillment of the emission norms, calls for a fine of Rs 1,000 on a vehicle found to have violated the prescribed emission norms. Such vehicles cannot be used till it has been rectified and found to comply with the norms.

Immediate suspension of the registration of the vehicle for a period of 15 days and ensure that it is not used in Mumbai during that period. If the vehicle is found to violate emission norms for a second time, the passengers, if any, shall be directed to forthwith alight and cease using the vehicle. Even after the period of suspension has expired, any such vehicle will be permitted to be used only after it has been tested and found to comply with emission norms.

Cancel registration of the vehicle if found violating emission norms for a third time.

Forthwith impounding of vehicles and prosecution according to the law against the owner and driver of the vehicle found to be used during the period when its registration is suspended or after registration has been canceled. Entry of such violation or offence shall be made in the original registration book of the vehicle.

A sticker shall be prominently affixed on the front and rear windscreen of the vehicle notifying that its registration has been suspended for breach of emission norms.

To sum up, the move towards cleaner fuel, along with a compulsory PUC certificate for buying fuel, is expected to improve the ambient air-quality, especially in Mumbai.

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