Upcountry petrol pumps run dry as demand spurt stretches tanker fleet

NEW DELHI: Upcountry petrol pumps of state-run fuel retailers are suffering intermittent dry spells as curtailment by private players drives retail and bulk consumers public sector outlets, stretching their tanker fleet that were already coping with rising demand from the farm sector and holiday season road traffic. Panic buying has added to the problem by creating a run on fuel stocks at pumps and led to long — and often chaotic — queues at the outlets.

While the metros and cities closer to supply depots have been spared, dry outs at pumps have been reported from parts of Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Senior marketing brass of state fuel retailers insisted there is no shortage of fuels and dismissed talks of supply curtailment as “canards” being spread by private players to “cover their own deeds”.

“Our direction (from the government) is clear. We have to get fuel to every corner of the country. There is no need to panic. There is no shortage of any product. Our refineries are running at near-full steam,” V Satish Kumar, marketing director at IndianOil, which has 52% share of the fuel retail market, told TOI. He said a sudden spike in demand has given rise to “logistics issues”, because of which some pumps in some areas could run dry for some time.

“IndianOil is meeting demand. But yes, logistics is under strain as companies are suddenly seeing over 50% monthly growth in petrol, diesel sales because of a shift in the market,” he said.

Trouble has been brewing for months now. Private players such as Reliance and Nayara have been curtailing sales as losses on petrol and diesel rose because state retailers, who control, 90% of the fuel market, did not raise pump price in tune with crude. The current retail rates refer to $85 per barrel of crude, which is hovering at $120.

As the losses shot up to Rs 21 per litre, the private players recently stopped supply or are replenishing stocks to dealers and charging Rs 2-3 per litre more as a sales barrier. “If you look at the numbers for Rajasthan, you will get an idea of the spurt in demand, which has already been rising due to higher consumption in freight, farming, tourism and power generation. As the tanker fleet is stretched, replenishment may get little delayed at some far-off outlets,” Bharat Petroleum executive Abbas Akhtar told TOI. “We are committed to ensuring unrestricted supplies in all markets where we have presence,” he added.