Technicians of six major companies that supply fuel dispensers to petrol pumps across the country are under the scanner of the Thane Police for their role in allegedly colluding with the owners of these pumps and filling less fuel than what customers were charged for.
Police suspect that besides a large number of petrol pumps in Maharashtra, consumers were shortchanged in other states too. A similar racket had been unearthed in Uttar Pradesh in April, when the Special Task Force (STF) carried out raids and arrested 27 petrol pump owners. Two of the accused were arrested from Dombivli, Thane, a month later.
Thane Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh told The Indian Express, “Prima facie, technicians involved in fitting these petrol vending machines are suspected to be involved. There are six major companies, also known as Original Equipment Suppliers (OES), that supply these vending machines across the country. We are taking the help of these companies to zero in on the technicians involved in the scam.”
In raids conducted since June 16, police have arrested seven people, most of them petrol pump owners or managers, and found at least 11 petrol pumps in Thane, Bhiwandi, Kongaon, Pune and Nashik to be allegedly involved in the racket.
An officer linked to the probe said there were at least three methods used by the accused to dupe those coming to the petrol pumps. The most rampant one was to solder an electronic chip into the pulsar of the vending machine that would then dispense less petrol than the quantity displayed on the machine. “In a petrol pump in Thane, for 5 litres, the machine dispensed 4.8 litres petrol, while in Kongaon, it went down to 4.3 litres, 700 ml less than the quantity the customer paid for,” Singh said.
The technicians also allegedly made changes to the software in the vending machines to ensure that the display panel featured a higher amount than the actual quantity dispensed. Besides, they would also make changes to the keypad attached to the vending machines.
Commissioner Singh said, “We suspect 90 per cent of the roughly 6,000 petrol pumps in the state to be fudged. Seven teams led by Deputy Commissioner of Police Abhishek Trimukhe have been sent across the state to raid petrol pumps. We suspect the scam has been on for at least a year.”
An officer said the system used by the accused was so sophisticated that it eluded the Weights and Measures Department during tests. “When a team from the Weights and Measures Department would come to check, the operators at the pumps would pull the lever attached to the nozzle twice, thereby ensuring that the actual quantity of fuel that appeared on the display machines was given out. Once the inspection was over, they would be back to supplying lesser amounts,” Singh said.
Thane Police have also written to state-owned Indian Oil Corporation seeking information about automated outlets — where information about stock and dispensing is maintained centrally — so that the difference between the fuel supplied and that reflected in the records can be tallied. They have also asked for technicians to be nominated to accompany the police teams raiding petrol pumps.
In UP, the Food and Civil Supplies Department has so far conducted inspections on 5,300 of the 16,500 petrol pumps in the state.
Additional Commissioner, Food and Civil Supplies, A K Singh said, “We are going through the reports and only then will we be able to confirm how many of them are involved in the racket.”
Lucknow’s District Supply Officer K L Tiwari said that following directives from the district magistrate, 10 different teams had been formed to check all 202 petrol pumps in Lucknow. “The inquiry has been completed and the report has been sent to the government to take action against erring petrol pumps,” he said.
On April 27, the STF raided seven petrol pumps in Lucknow and found that their dispensing machines used “remote-controlled electronic chips” to dupe consumers.
The raids were conducted after the STF arrested an electrician, Rajendra, who revealed that he had sold electronic chips to some petrol pumps and inserted them in the dispensing machines to reduce the flow of fuel. Rajendra also told investigators that these chips were controlled by remotes, which petrol pump employees carried in their bags. He said workers at the pumps would disable the chip during inspections.
Rajendra revealed that he learnt about the chip and its use in fuel dispensers around five-six years ago after he came in touch with a few people from New Delhi.
He also told police that to insert the chip, he had to get to the electronic circuit box fitted inside the machine, which is usually sealed by the Weights and
Measures inspector. Rajendra said a worker at the petrol pump would get the seal opened while the machine was being repaired, install the chip, and seal it again.
Senior Superintendent of Police, UP STF, Amit Pathak said their officers were in regular touch with their Mumbai counterparts and shared developments of the case.
“We have also collected information about the place from where these chips are procured and informed police in Mumbai about this,” he said.