New Delhi: The nationwide strike of executives from state-owned oil companies crippled fuel retail services by disrupting production and refining as it entered the second day on Wednesday.
“We have been managing the situation till now, but there are supply constraints. If the strike continues, we might see dry-outs from tomorrow (Friday),” said Sarthak Behuria, chairman and managing director, Indian Oil Corp. (IOC), India’s largest fuel retail and refining company.
Out of fuel: A deserted petrol pump in New Delhi. The strike has severely disrupted production and refining services in the hydrocarbon sector. Shahbaz Khan / PTI
The strike is spearheaded by the Oil Sector Officers’ Association, or OSOA, an umbrella group that is demanding a pay increase for the 55,000 employees it represents.
While services in the power, fertilizer, steel and aviation sectors were affected, the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance government stuck to its stand and public sector units sacked 67 executives for joining the strike.
However, the two OSOA union officials, who were arrested under the Essential Services Maintenance Act (Esma) on Wednesday, were released on bail on condition that they will not participate in the strike.
Union petroleum secretary R.S. Pandey told reporters that Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd (ONGC) terminated the services of 64 employees and IOC sacked three. GAIL (India) Ltd is also initiating action against striking employees, he said.
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Gas production was also severely hit with output at ONGC fields falling to 7.02 million cubic metres per day (mcmd) from 17mcmd on Wednesday, which affected gas-based power generation, steel and fertilizer production. The normal production is of 50mcmd.
Compressed natural gas, or CNG, pumps in Mumbai went without gas after officers at ONGC stopped natural gas production off Mumbai. Delhi may also see a CNG crisis on Friday. In Delhi 40% of BPCL and IOC petrol pumps were not working, and overall 120 outlets out of 400 in the capital were not working, Pandey said. In Mumbai at least 100 outlets were not working. “There is no clear picture (from) all over the country as the oil marketing companies do not have information from the states,” Pandey said.
An OSOA spokesman blamed the government for the continuation of the strike. “The government is very adamant. The minister is not willing to meet us.” Pandey, however, countered the association’s claim and said, “These people are not talking and when they do, they want their pound of flesh.”
“ATF (aviation turbine fuel) operations are on but delays have been reported. This is an unfortunate situation. Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have invoked Esma... Haryana has already invoked Esma. There are no estimates of losses as of now,” Pandey added. “There is not a single petrol pump open and no petrol and diesel is available anywhere. There are very few vehicles plying on the roads because of this. It is most inconvenient,” said a harried customer in Chennai who asked not to be identified.
Extending their support, officers of NTPC Ltd on Thursday decided to join the strike from Friday, while officers of NHPC Ltd, Coal India Ltd and Steel Authority of India are contemplating similar action.
In a related development, the strike called by the All India Motor Transport Congress, or AIMTC, entered the fourth day with the association claiming that nearly six million trucks stayed off the road.
At the Choudhary Heera Singh Fruit and Vegetable Market in the capital, market committee officials said while inflows into the market had not been affected much, outflow, especially to the southern states, had been hit.
“This is a lean period anyway. But the truckers don’t want to take the risk of going to the southern states,” said Raj Kumar Bhatia, a market committee member. Bhatia said fruit prices had fallen by as much as 10% for apples, but inflows into the market, which sees as many as 2,500 trucks carrying produce through the day, had not been affected.
Around 40% of the country’s freight moves by road and a prolonged strike could impact supplies and stoke inflationary pressures.
“We are businessmen. We are affected. They (the government) are bailing out all the other sectors. What do you expect me to do? Why are they talking about Esma? We are not stopping anybody on the road from driving,” said AIMTC president Charan Singh.
In a faxed statement, AIMTC said the organization had called an emergency meeting of managing committee members on 9 January to decide on future action. The association, whose members own and operate 4.8 million trucks, has demanded that diesel prices be lowered by Rs10 per litre. It has also sought the withdrawal of service tax on truckers and a waiver of interest on truck finance for six months.
Rahul Chandran, PTI and Reuters contributed to this story.
Video by Nidhi Bhardwaj