Supply of LPG as kitchen fuel is covered by the Essential Commodities Act, which requires the cylinder to be delivered at home within 48 hours of booking. However, many get it up to a week or even a fortnight later. Some activists have invoked the RTI Act successfully to shake up the oil companies and the gas agencies
LPG kitchen fuel is covered by the Essential Commodities Act. But how often has the gas agency not taken you for a ride, rarely delivering the gas cylinder within the stipulated 48 hours? A common complaint is that it takes up to a fortnight to get a gas cylinder at home. Or, that no one answers the phone at the agency. So, you have to go personally to the agency to pick up a cylinder. Or, you may have doubts over the weight of the cylinder.
So, what are the rights of consumers under the Essential Commodities Act 1955 and the corresponding LPG (Regular Supply & Distribution) Order 2000? Here are some not-so-well-known aspects.
* Bookings for the gas cylinder must be accepted over the phone.
* 100% home delivery.
* The gas cylinder should to be delivered within 48 hours of booking.
* The customer has the right to weigh the cylinder on taking delivery.
* Gas agencies must be open for business between 10 am and 6 pm, except on public holidays and Sundays.
Now, were you aware that a gas agency must accept bookings for cylinders over the phone and that you should not be asked to collect the cylinder from the agency office (for the purpose of safety)? And that it is mandatory for the delivery man to carry a portable weighing machine and weigh the cylinder at your doorstep?
And are you aware that most of the times the LPG shortage story concocted by gas agencies is absolutely false? That it is because the agencies indulge in large-scale illegal sale of domestic cylinders to commercial establishments that you do not get your cylinder in time? Look around and you will find that street-side vendors and even kitchens of big restaurants use the red-colour gas cylinder (that is supposed to be only for domestic use) and not the blue-colour ones (which is meant for commercial establishments and is more expensive).
Recently, former petroleum minister Ram Naik stated that scarcity of LPG cylinders has reached dangerous proportions all over the country and he requested Jaipal Reddy, the current petroleum minister, to check this. Many a time, the ministry of petroleum releases advertisements to announce that there is no scarcity of LPG cylinders. Hence, almost always, the root of the problem is the illegal sale of cylinders, and so you as a domestic consumer must not take this injustice lying down. Invoke RTI to scare the gas agency and compel him to do his duty.
In Pune, for example, a leading LPG distributor stated that around one and a half lakh domestic gas cylinders are sold to commercial establishments, thus the delay in delivering cylinders to homes. The problem is never sternly addressed by the district collectorate and the petroleum company, putting the housewife to constant inconvenience.
Pune-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar has made it his mission to help people overcome poor service by gas agencies. His own experience steered him to help others. Way back in 2005, he was hassled with his gas agency who took three weeks or more to deliver the cylinder. He addressed a query under RTI to the Hindustan Petroleum Company (HPCL) asking for details of the distribution of cylinders by Kankaria Gas agency in New Sangvi (a fringe neighbourhood of Pune). The questions in his RTI application were as follows:
1) How many domestic and commercial cylinder gas customers does Kankaria Gas Agency have (the period of information was for one and a half year) and if there was any fluctuation in the number of customers in any month;
2) The number of domestic and commercial customers having one, two, and more than two gas cylinders?
3) Between 1 September 2005 and 30 November 2005 how many gas cylinders did the Kankaria Gas Agency procure from HPCL (information to be given date-wise); and
4) Whether HPCL has taken action against any gas agency in Pune regarding the erratic distribution of gas cylinders-if so, the names of such agencies.
While the officer is allowed by law to take 30 days to answer a query, Mr Kumbhar got a shock when, within two hours of his filing the RTI application, his wife called him to say that the dealer had sent the gas cylinder. This showed a strange nexus between the gas agency and some officials at HPCL. Ever since, Mr Kumbhar has urged many people to invoke the RTI and remind the respective gas agency that it cannot take consumers for a ride.
There are three main LPG suppliers-Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (www.hindustanpetroleum.com), Bharat Petroleum (www.bharatpetroleum.com) and Indian Oil Corporation (www.iocl.com). In order to file an RTI application under Section 6 of the RTI Act, you should visit their websites depending on which LPG gas you are using and click where the names of Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) are given, depending on which city/town you reside.
As per a central government gazette notification on 26 April 2000, the dealer of LPG is required to display the stock of LPG as follows:
Sometime in 2005, the then Sangli collector Manish Mhaiskar had raided all gas agencies in Sangli and taken action against those indulging in blackmarketing and delaying delivery. For more than a couple of years thereafter, Sangli had the best record of door delivery within the prescribed time. It is necessary for the collector's office to take such action and sustain it.
In case you are harassed by delay in delivery, you may ask the following questions under RTI, addressing it to the PIO of the particular petroleum/oil company under which your gas agency operates:
1) How many domestic and commercial cylinder gas customers does the (write name here) gas agency have (the period of information could be 10 days) and if there has been any fluctuation in the number of customers in any month.
2) The number of domestic and commercial customers having one, two, and more than two gas cylinders.
3) In the 10-day period, how many gas cylinders did the gas agency procure from the petroleum/oil company (details of demand and supply to be given date-wise)?
4) Details of the demand and supply of cylinders to customers of the particular gas agency (for the 10 days) to be given in the following format.
5) Whether the petroleum/oil company has taken any action against any gas agency regarding erratic distribution of gas cylinders; if so, the names of such agencies and the details of action taken.
Believe it or not, it works like magic.
Here are some things to keep in mind about your gas connection.
When receiving the gas cylinder, you should be vigilant about
When taking a new connection, remember it is not mandatory to buy the gas stove, mixer, pressure cooker, tea boxes or any other consumer product.
Ask for a complete breakup of the cost at the time of paying for a new connection. This includes the deposit, regulator charges, cost of cylinder, stamp duty, documentation and administration charges, and in case you are not buying a gas stove, some basic charge to inspect the gas stove at your house as a safety measure.
And some safety tips
And if you feel inspired to do more, when you find restaurants using domestic cylinders, report this misuse to the concerned authorities.
(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected].)
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