HPCL and BPCL, two of the largest retailers, are migrating to automated printed bills; Question is: Will the ink last till you file for tax relief at the end of the year?
Company-owned retail outlets of BPCL have now completely stopped issuing manual receipts. Pics/Sameer Markande
Here's bad news for motorists who stash their petrol bills for reimbursement - Bharat Petroleum (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum (HPCL) have decided to do away with manual receipts and will only issue bills on thermal paper, which fades after a few days. This will have a direct impact on employees who prefer to ask for manual receipts that they can then store for tax benefits and reimbursement from their workplace.
Most of the company-owned petrol pumps in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai have already stopped issuing manual bills, and upon receiving complaints from consumers, the staffers response is that they are merely following the orders from the company headquarters.
HPCL-owned outlets will issue manual receipts if a customer insists on it.
Fading bills are useless
A motorist at the BPCL-owned petrol pump in Kharghar told this paper, "Until two weeks ago, I have been getting both manual and automated bills, but suddenly, the petrol pump staff stopped issuing the manual bills. The thermal bills fade after a few days but petrol reimbursements are usually done at the end of the month or quarter, or even at the end of the financial year. What is the use of a bill that fades before that?"
A petrol pump staffer, when asked about the notification, said, "We have got no official notification in hand, but have been asked by the company depot manager to give such feedback to customers who insist on manual bills."
The depot (COCO) manager Deepak Wagh said, "All our petrol pumps are fully automated and we have stopped issuing manual bills; only automated thermal bills are issued."
Vehicle Identification System (VIS) stickers on the windshield will store information about the customer's fuel consumption.
He added that they got notification through an internal mail from superior officers, and a notice board has also been put up to instruct the public that only automated bills will be issued hereafter. "We have apprised our senior marketing officials about the issue that customers have raised, and they are looking into it."
A senior bureaucrat from the marketing department of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Delhi, told mid-day, "To my knowledge, there is no such notification issued by the petroleum ministry on making thermal bills compulsory. Nor there is any mandate for having the bar code/RFID sticker on the windshield. I will have to check with the oil companies to see if they have taken this decision."
NH Nahar, Chartered Accountant from Nahar & Company confirmed that companies will not accept faded bills from employees for reimbursement. Activists have also slammed the practice of pasting an RFID bar code on the windscreen of motor vehicles, through which their fuel consumption pattern is recorded.
Not all is lost, however. At HPCL petrol pumps, if a motorist insists on a manual bill, the staffers have been instructed to comply. And at dealer-run fuel stations - whether they are tied up with HP or BP - motorists can still expect the old-fashioned manual bill or at least a computer print-out.
A petrol pump in Mulund, associated with BPCL, said, "We issue print-outs from our computer to the customer as we are aware that thermal paper print fades. We are giving a value-added service to our customers by giving them computerized bills. Also we do not make it mandatory for customers to affix RFID stickers on vehicles, as we do not want to force anything on our customers."
At Grant Road, an HPCL petrol pump dealer said, "We issue manual bills, and do not force customers to accept the thermal bills."
Advocate Godfrey Peminta, of the Watchdog Foundation, said, "The cash memo generated on thermal paper fades over time. Under the Consumer Protection Act, Sale of Goods Act or the State Value Added Tax, a consumer cannot be denied a proper receipt.
Imposing the RFID stickers on motorists to understand their consumption pattern is totally uncalled for. We fear that the data gathered by such methodology will be illegally given to vehicle manufacturers at a premium," he cautioned.
"This is an anti-consumer and unfair trade practice, and we demand that it be stopped forthwith," he added.
"We were the first oil company to start automated billing system in phased manner since 2008, but it was never fully workable at ground level due to some issue or other. Today, we are at phase 8 of automation, wherein the emphasis is to strictly implement issuing automated print and gradually do away with the manual bills.
However, we have already instructed all our dealers that manual bill should be issued to any consumer, if he demands it," said GSV Prasad, executive director (Retail), HPCL. He added that the RFID stickers are only used at select outlets to ensure that the machines automatically fill the right fuel (petrol or diesel) based on the consumer information.
"Retail outlet automation ensures that the customer gets an auto-generated cash memo for the exact quantity of fuel dispensed, and eliminates the possibility of malpractice, thereby safeguarding customers' interests. Such type of cash memos are being issued by various other agencies - toll gates, retail establishments, etc.
The cash memos can be photocopied and preserved, if required," said SS Sundararajan, chief manager (Brand & PR), BPCL. He added, "When a customer with a Vehicle Identification System (VIS) sticker drives in for fuelling, the EDC reader captures the customer data and eliminates any possibility of wrong product being fuelled in the customer's vehicle erroneously. SMS is also trigged automatically to the customer with the fuelling details. It is entirely a voluntary programme for customers, who are invited to register under the initiative free of cost."