LPG distributors in the city are at it again. Consumers seeking new connections are being forced to pay for bundled accessories such as LPG hotplates before their applications are processed.
This fleecing begins with distributors making consumers believe that the bundled package is mandatory with the new connection. This adds up to double the amount that consumers have to pay for the new connection, leaving them with things they often don’t need.
This is a repeat of the situation that occurred a few years ago, and distributors had to retreat after an uproar from consumers.
After receiving complaints from readers of the “illegal practice”, Pune Newsline visited several distributors and supply agencies and found out that consumers were led to believe that the rules mandated them to buy kitchen accessories from the dealer. Several consumers Newsline spoke to, said distributors “bullied” them into buying high-priced hotplates.
The case of Ram Shelke, a sales tax inspector residing at Pimple Saudagar sums up what consumers go through. “I wanted to get a new connection at a Indane Gas agency in Dapodi. They told me I needed to pay Rs 5,400 for one cylinder.
I was shocked to hear that as I know that a new customer needs to pay pay a deposit of Rs 1,400 for the cylinder and Rs 600 for a filling. Even if registration charge is considered Rs 500, then it should not go beyond Rs 2,500. But this was more than double. When I asked why, I was told that I was being charged Rs 2,775 for a hot plate and Rs 150 for regulator. I told them, that I did not need them as I already owned both. The distributor told me that I had to either buy the hot plate or some other kitchen utensils worth the same amount otherwise they wont give me a connection,” said Shelke.
He then dialled the helpline number and complained about the “bullying”. The distributor, unwillingly, gave in and charged Rs 2,700.
The practice is prevalent among distributors of all the three major LPG suppliers -— IOC, HPCL and BPCL.
“What they are doing is illegal. But even if somebody does not own a hotplate already, he or she shouldn’t buy it from the dealer as they charge exorbitant rates. For instance, a double burner gas stove which costs around Rs 2,200 in the market, is priced at Rs 2,775 by the dealers. When I told them I did not need one, the distributor coolly told me that he was ready to buy it back at Rs 1,500,” said Jaydeep More, a resident of Shivajinagar.
At many agencies, salesmen misled the customers into believing that if they already owned a regulator and a hotplate, it will render them ineligible for a new connection, as possession of the apparatus meant that they already had a connection.
A senior executive working with the LPG Helpine — a joint grievance redressal forum run by all three LPG supply companies — said that the distributors can’t compel a customer to buy. “If you have a cooking range, the same would be inspected by us within seven days from the date of payment of the inspection charges. Subject to it meeting the specifications, the connection will be installed immediately. Customers are free to buy a hotplate from a shop of their choice. They can call us if they come across such dealers.”
Usha Poonawalla, state president, All India Gas Dealers Association, said that the dealers push customer to buy products from them considering the safety aspects. “The hotplates, regulators, safety pipes and rubbers provided that these products are standardised.
The dealers also provide a two-year warranty on these products and these are co-branded by the LPG company. However, the dealers should not bully customers into buying them and try to persuade them. Also, these products should also be priced at a rate lower than the market price,” said Poonawalla.