After the Uttar Pradesh Police made two arrests in a multi-crore petrol pump scam on Monday, all 550 petrol pumps in Pune district have come under the scanner. A Special Task Force, set up by the Union Petroleum Ministry especially for Maharashtra, has so far inspected 18 petrol pumps in Pune, said sources.
The UP Police had made two arrests from Maharashtra, one from Pune and another from Thane, in connection with the scam, under which remote control-linked electronic chips were fitted in fuel dispensing machines to cheat consumers, by providing them less fuel than the amount they had paid for.
Arvind Chaturvedi, additional SP of UP Special Task Force, said they took action in Maharashtra only after those already arrested in the state had named the duo as masterminds of the scam.
The Special Task Force set up by the Petroleum Ministry includes three officials from oil companies such as HPCL, BPCL and Indian Oil Company, and one each from the Food and Civil Supplies Department, and the Weight and Measurement Department.
Ali Daruwala, spokesperson for the All India Petrol Dealers’ Association (AIPDA), said the task force had, so far, found nothing suspicious in the functioning of petrol pumps.
Daruwala said AIPDA president Ajay Bansal has informed Ashutosh Jindal, joint secretary in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, that the organisation would never shield anybody who indulged in malpractice.
“Each and every modern electronic dispensing unit, which is computer-compatible and has a motherboard (CPU), is fitted with intelligent K factor which records any kind of interference done with the fuel dispensing unit since last serviced by the company authority,” he said, adding that the AIPDA “supported the good work done by the police in arresting the accused”.
However, civic activists said the task force should have taken action earlier. “The moment the scam was busted, action should have been taken in Maharashtra and other states. Because of the delay, petrol pump owners got an opportunity to take corrective measures before their act was exposed,” said advocate Sushil Mancharkar, who has written a letter to the state government, urging it to initiate a probe in the functioning of all petrol pumps in Maharashtra.
On the other hand, Daruwala said it was possible to find out if the fuel dispensing unit had been tampered with. “… If there is any kind of tampering with the machines, if any part is changed or fitted, it can be detected through the K-factor… Everything gets recorded in the machine. The password for the machine is available with the manufacturer. A printout can be taken, and it will help provide the history of the machine, vis-a-vis any tampering,” he said.
Daruwala claimed that as per the information so far, the chips had not been used in Pune petrol pumps and customers had not been short-changed. “The task force will conduct random inspections of petrol pumps and we will soon… know the… result,” he said.
On Monday, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Amit Pathak, of UP STF, had said, “It is a widespread scam. We have informed the Ministry of Petroleum, and asked it to conduct checks at all petrol pumps in the country.”
Vivek Shinde, who runs a petrol pump at Chandni Chowk, said, “I don’t remember anybody approaching me to sell a remote or a chip. At our petrol pump, everything is legal…”
At a petrol pump on the Pune-Mumbai highway, the pump workers said they knew nothing about such a remote. “We read about it in the newspapers… that a chip is fitted to supply less fuel and charge more… and that a remote does the trick. I have never heard of the remote-controlled system,” said an employee who has been working at the pump for five years.
Suhas Sathaye, a two-wheeler rider who was refuelling his vehicle, said, “The entire petrol pump system needs to be investigated. The fuel should be checked for adulteration and all machines should be checked, to see whether they supply the right amount of fuel to the customers.”
On Sunday evening, officials of UP STF, along with the Crime Branch of Thane police, had arrested Avinash Manohar Naik, a resident of Chinchwad. Police also arrested Vivek Harishchandra Shetye, a resident of Dombivali East, Thane.
Naik worked with Vigil Systems, a shop located in Akurdi. The shop owner, Jeetendra Patil, said Naik was the lone employee working with him and denied any involvement in the scam. “We purchased the remotes from other agencies based in Mumbai and Delhi. We deal only with security systems for cars and motorcycles,” he said.
The UP police have, so far, arrested 28 persons in the case, registered at the Para police station in Lucknow, under sections 267, 420, 472, 473, 484, 485, 468, 471 of the Indian Penal Code.
STF Additional SP Arvind Chaturvedi said they suspect the petrol pump scam is worth Rs 800 crore per month in UP alone. The entire scale of the scam, across the country, could be more than Rs 8,000 crore per month, he said,