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Parliamentary Panel Asks Government To Keep A Check On Benami Operations Of Petrol Pumps

A parliamentary panel has appealed to the Centre to oversee oil marketing firms, asking them to perform frequent surprise inspections to review "Benami operations” where petrol pumps are being operated in the name of SC/ST applicants by general people

Photo Credit : Bank


Flagging the possibility of petrol pumps being operated in the name of SC and ST applicants by general people due to changes in allocation guidelines, a parliamentary panel has appealed to the Centre to oversee oil marketing firms, asking them to perform frequent surprise inspections to review such "Benami operations”. 

Submitting its report to the Parliament on Tuesday, the panel asked about the changes in the guidelines post-2014. It came down laboriously to the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas for giving its authorization. The committee noted that the ministry had itself diminished its reputation to that of just a rubber stamp by handing over complete freedom to public sector oil marketing companies (OMCs) in the matter.

The committee instructed that the proof of ownership, caste certificate and office accounts or ledgers bearing the signature, history of payment details, and the owners' names should be checked impromptu", with mandatory presence of the owners to affirm the genuineness of their ownership.

The committee further recommended that the government undertake this exercise within three months of the presentation of the report in both the Houses of Parliament and should also notify the committee of the improvement made in this concern.

The panel said that the committee is stunned to note that the ministry, in its written responses, has been relatively elusive regarding how the existing guidelines were prepared and its authorization process. While bringing the evidence before the committee, they were oblivious and confused about their compliance, the committee reported. No clarity had been proposed about whether the policy was approved at the Board or Ministerial level.

The committee further pointed out that including such a clause was an "open opportunity" to deprive poor SC/ST individuals, who have a combined stake of 22.5 per cent in the ownership of petrol pumps, of benefits. The committee opined that the increasing number of SC/ST owners is a blatant manifestation of the same, wherein the petrol pumps are recorded in the name of SC/ST only on the document but are being operated by others who provide land to these SC/ST applicants to earn dealership and in lieu pay a meagre amount to these naive SC/ST people. 

The committee felt that the ministry and the OMCs were allied and did not want to put sincere measures into surveying suitable lands to set up petrol pumps and gas agencies. The panel stressed that the current guidelines "clearly" favoured OMCs, whereby they were "absolved" from chasing suitable sites for starting petrol pumps and gas agencies. This is why the ministry, in its response, has considered reverting to the earlier policy, which favoured SC and ST candidates, as a backward step, it stated.

Urging that the Centre protect the interest of SCs/STs with utmost seriousness and accountability, the panel advised that the guidelines for the selection of dealerships and distributorships of petroleum products, as well as essential policy matters that were framed and carried out by the OMCs, should foremost be vetted and ratified by the ministry before their execution.