Punjab: A fear that didn’t turn real, thanks to LPG supply management

Ludhiana: Senior citizen Jagdev Singh Boparai, leading post-retirement life along with his spouse at Kharar, a small town near Mohali got panicky about supply of essential items when the Punjab government imposed curfew, a day after nationwide Janata Curfew. His skepticism about the typical government delivery system offered little relief. On the top of his worries was supply of LPG cylinder to keep running the family kitchen.

Almost similar was the response of Balwinder Singh Virk, a middle-aged government teacher living at Faridkot, a small district headquarter town and an erstwhile princely state in southwest Punjab. He too echoed the panicky concern about the daily needs supplies particularly the cooking gas as its regular availability is the key to survival during extended lockdown situation. “Getting panicky is a natural reaction in such crisis situation because the people had never, in the present lifetime, any experience of this gravity and magnitude,” commented Virk.    .

Even as the nationwide curfew/lockdown has extended after expiry of 21-day deadline, the LPG consumers across the state like Boparai and Virk are a relieved lot as they have not faced any problem in getting supply through the normal booking and delivery system. There may still be some complaints flying around about hiccups in door-to-door supply of vegetables, dry ration or other daily needs as per the system devised by the state government to ensure people stay indoors to prevent spread of Coronavirus, but hardly any report has emanated from any part of the state suggesting any panic situation vis-à-vis LPG supply.  

How did it happen across the state?

The answer is: A well-coordinated plan put effectively in place since the word go. “We were aware that it’s going to be a gigantic task to cater to over 85 Lakh consumers in Punjab. We did brainstorming and took all the stake holder oil companies on board. All the companies helped in execution of regulatory and enforcement measures. Initially, there were some anxious moments caused by curbs on the movement during the first two days or so after imposition of the lockdown but supplies normalized later,” said KAP Sinha, Principal Secretary, Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, Punjab.

The three oil majors operating in the state are Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum having over 55, 24 and 20 percent market share. The total 22,55,628 Lakh cylinder were delivered as on April 13, 2020, according to the data shared by the state Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs department. The current backlog for LPG cylinders in the state is around 1.5 days which is within the normal delivery time for a LPG cylinder.

“Our distributorships are well-stocked for the lockdown period and there is no shortage of LPG. Around 2500 Indane LPG delivery men are ensuring regular cylinder delivery across the state. To meet the demand, Our plants in Punjab are also working on continuous basis to ensure bottling of around 1,16,830 cylinders per day during lockdown period which is almost similar to the performance before lockdown. Customers are advised not to panic, or resort to hoarding and panic-buying ,” informed Sujoy Choudhary, Executive Director, Indian Oil and State Head-cum-State Level Coordinator.

Since lockdown, Indian Oil had delivered 10,29,043 domestic LPG cylinders across the state between March 23 and 31, 2020 through its existing distributorship network. This translates to average of around 1,14,338 cylinders per day which is similar to 1,16,312, the average number of cylinders delivered before lockdown between March 1 and 22, 2020. This pre and post lockdown data comparison by the market leader sufficiently proves the situation on LPG supply front was very much in control right from the beginning.

Giving an overview of the preparedness, Punjab’s Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu said though initially there were reports from one or two places about supply problem which prompt enquiry revealed happened due to miscommunication. He also attributed the hassle-free supply to close coordination between the oil companies and the state department. “We have instructed them to keep the cylinder meant for the poor being given free under Pardhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna. I am satisfied with the bottling and delivery performance by the companies,” he said.

Giving a peep into the situation in rural areas, Gurdeep Singh Grewal, owner of Malak Gas, a distributor agency of Hindustan Petroleum at village Threeke near Ludhiana, admitted the consumers resorted to panic booking after March 23 when the state government imposed curfew. “But the backlog was cleared by March 30, 2020. It’s normal now. The consumer books cylinder online and gets delivery within 2 days as we are receiving full load supply from Bhatinda bottling plant,” said Grewal whose agency has about 5500 consumers.  

The companies have passed strict instructions to the LPG distributorships to not deliver LPG refill from their godowns for ensuring the safety of all. Customers are also being encouraged to make digital payments wherever possible to avoid unnecessary handling of currency notes because of COVID-19. Even, the delivery men ensure all safety precautions like sanitising and social distancing at the time of delivery of LPG cylinders. To avoid panic booking, system has been placed for not accepting LPG booking within a period of 15 days.

“Even the cylinders before final dispatch from the bottling plants are fully sanitized, thus, ensuring the safety of the general public at every step,” added Choudhary. His claim was backed by Grewal who informed that his company has also issued an advisory about the workers safety. “We have provided masks, gloves and sanitizers in the delivery vans,” he said. Bam Shanker, a delivery man confirmed this.

So far, so good yet the real challenge for the state’s planners, administrators and the managements of the oil companies lies ahead given the rising incidence of COVID-19 in the country.