LPG distributors plan to stop doorstep delivery of cylinders

Sep 25, 2012, 09:42 IST | Varun Singh and Priyanka Dhomse

'Can't verify signatures', 'How do we know it is the correct person'... These are a few of the excuses that LPG distributors plan to use to hold crores of customers to ransom by not delivering LPG to homes. (But won't the same 'problems' remain even if the customer picks up the cylinders at the store?)

As if the Central government’s decision to supply only six subsidised gas cylinders per family per year wasn’t enough, the LPG Distributors Federation has decided that you will have to trudge the extra mile (and back) even to get your hands on the few cylinders that you are entitled to. The federation of distributors, which caters to nearly 65 crore Indians, has suddenly decided that it won’t do doorstep deliver any more, shifting the onus of claiming cylinders on consumers, who will have to lug the heavy vessels from the agency to their homes.

Kuldeep Singh, lookalike of  PM Manmohan Singh, protest
Firing on all cylinders: Kuldeep Singh, a lookalike of PM Manmohan Singh, at a protest against the Centre’s recent decision. PIC/Datta Kumbhar

The federation also threatened to go on strike on October 1 against the government’s decision to subsidise gas, on the grounds that they cannot police the multiple rate policy.

Adding insult to this injury is the specious logic that the federation has provided for suddenly washing its hands of a task on which the smooth functioning of crores of lives depends. Ironically, the federation claims that not delivering cylinders to consumers will help it curb malpractices and ensure that the six subsidised cylinders reach deserving families.

If the distributors act on their threats, consumers will soon have to carry the heavy and hazardous cylinders all the way to their homes from their respective agencies
Weighed down: If the distributors act on their threats, consumers will soon have to carry the heavy and hazardous cylinders all the way to their homes from their respective agencies. File pic

Chief of the federation Pratap Doshi said, “We have asked the government to come up with a proper distribution system. At present our deliverymen go to homes, and after dropping off the cylinder they take the signature of the consumer on a copy of the receipt. How do we know for sure that the person who signed on the receipt is the valid authority? If someone comes the next day and says that the deliverymen offloaded the cylinder at the wrong home, and claims that the signature on the receipt is not his or hers, who will be responsible?”

Other experts believe that these claims are hard to swallow, and that the real reason for discontinuation of home delivery is that distributors want to eliminate delivery men and so make profits.

According to Dr M S Kamat, honorary secretary of the Consumer Guidance Society of India, “A deliveryman gets Rs 5 per delivery. A distributor has nearly 20,000 connections. So by eliminating the deliverymen, the distributor will save Rs 1 lakh every month. The rest of their claims don’t make any sense.”

Kamat attributed the bedlam to the ambiguity inherent in regulations governing sale and delivery of gas cylinders. “The problem is that the government didn’t think things through before announcing how it would tackle such problems. The gas cylinder distributor can go ahead and claim that it gave the six cylinders to a household, and in reality there are full chances that no one would have got the cylinder. How can one check it?” he asked.

Blue book
Perhaps the distributors have forgotten that every consumer has a blue book, which provides a foolproof means of curbing malpractices and recording details on delivery and sale of cylinders to each consumer.

An activist confirmed, “Every consumer is given a blue book in which records of delivery are maintained. At any given point, if the agency feels that the consumer isn’t speaking the truth, this book can be checked.”

For this too, distributors have a ready excuse. “Many consumers do not have the book. Our deliverymen usually ask for the book when they drop off cylinders. To our surprise, many do not keep or maintain the books. We don’t want to face any sort of trouble in future for the same, and want consumers to come to our centres and collect the cylinders to avoid any confusion,” added Doshi.

Shirking duty
Advocate and consumer activist Shirish Deshpande opined that the distribution of cylinders is not a privilege or favour offered by distributors, something that can be subject to their whims. “Delivering the cylinder to a consumer is the duty of the distributor. Earlier, if a consumer ran out of gas before scheduled arrival of a new cylinder, he would be forced to collect it from the distributors’ agency. The same distributors would then warn us that carrying such cylinders is risky and illegal. How have they changed their stand all of a sudden? How has the same thing suddenly become legal? Let the distributors announce the decision publicly, and we will challenge them,” he said.

A senior officer at HPCL said on condition of anonymity, “Delivery of cylinder gas falls under the Essential Commodities Act. If the distributors are not delivering cylinders, we would talk to the state government to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act.”

The federation has even informed individual distributors about the plans and has sent mails to them. There are 8,000 such distributors across the country and 13 crore households will be affected by their move.

The federation is also negotiating with the government to push its demand for the implementation of a foolproof delivery system. Doshi claimed that the federation does not want consumers to be affected and hence is in talks with the Central government to brainstorm for a fresh plan. “We are negotiating with the government and expect to have a concrete strategy in place by the end of this month,” he said.

This will adversely affect me, as I am not a piped gas user. This decision will make my life difficult, as I will have to go and fetch the cylinder on my own now.
Renuka Mani (48), Shivaji Park

To go and get the cylinder from the agency is not an easy job and it’s risky too. Already prices of cylinders have been hiked and now this is a new bother.
Ramola D’souza (36), Bandra

It’s definitely going to cause inconvenience to the common man. This would also mean unemployment for the delivery boys. It will also boost the black market.
Janki Pandya (23), Vile Parle

It’s not possible to fetch the gas cylinder every month. What about senior citizens like us? How can we lift the heavy cylinder by ourselves? It is not as simple as carrying a shopping bag.
Arnaaz Turail (66), Parel

This decision is going to force people to buy the cylinders in black. So it will promote illegal practices.
H R Masani (68), Parel

I am not happy with this decision. It not only brings a lot more inconvenience our way but also robs the delivery boys of their bread and butter.
Hilla Ranji (60), Parel

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