When Delhi woke up on Monday after an extended weekend, chaos awaited. From 6 am, nearly 400 petrol pumps went on strike—meaning no supply of petrol, diesel and CNG (from the petrol pumps). The news also broke that the transporters’ association had gone on strike. Pictures of the state carrier’s deflated buses began to surface. An ineffective strike call by taxi unions including cabs attached to aggregators—Ola and Uber—started showing its effects too.
Each group had different reasons to go on strike and were fighting against different governments and agencies.
The Delhi Petrol Dealers’ Association (DPDA) had announced that petrol pumps in Delhi will remain closed from 6 am on October 22 to 6 am on October 23. The dealers are protesting against the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government’s refusal to reduce the Value Added Taxes (VAT) on petrol and diesel. Even though the petrol pumps and the dealers’ association in Delhi had made prior announcements regarding the protest closure, bike riders and car drivers were spotted returning disappointed from the pumps.
Notably, the oil companies, in statements released earlier, had asked the pumps in Delhi to remain open on the protest day and not create any inconvenience for the public. However, this appeal or warning had little or no impact on the protest closure.
“The dealers’ association had clearly asked to keep the petrol pumps shut today. The government must reduce the VAT charges,” said Tejwant Singh Arora, manager of the HP petrol pump in South Delhi. When asked about the oil companies’ statement, Arora responded, “I have not come across any such statement from the oil company.”
The DPDA was protesting the Kejriwal government’s refusal to reduce VAT on petrol-diesel.
In South Delhi, Rajkumar Filling Station welcomed buyers with barricades and closure posters pasted on the vending machines. “We have been telling the customers in advance about the closure,” said 48-year-old Surendra Chawla, the manager of the filling station. “The oil companies have nothing to do with the strike. The dealers in Delhi are feeling the brunt of the differential rates in Delhi and non-Delhi cities such as Noida and Gurgaon.”
On October 4, under public pressure and outrage, the Central government had reduced fuel prices by ₹2.50 per litre. While the government was taking a hit of ₹1.50 per litre, the oil companies were asked to share the burden by reducing the prices by ₹1. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said the Centre would ask the state governments to cut the petrol-diesel prices too. The Bharatiya Janata Party-governed states had reduced the prices by another ₹2.50 by reducing the VAT. However, non-BJP states like Delhi didn’t follow the suit.
Dealers such as Chawla claim that ever since the rates were slashed in the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, sales have dipped in Delhi. He said, “The vehicles which travel to UP or Haryana buy only a few litres from Delhi and get their tanks filled in UP or Haryana. Also, the vehicles owned by outsiders used to buy petrol-diesel from here as the rates were comparatively cheaper. We have lost those customers too, ”Chawla said. He said that after the rates were slashed by the Centre, sales dropped from 10,000 litres per day to 8,000 litres.
Meanwhile, undeterred by the protest closures, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal launched his salvos at the BJP. Kejriwal and the AAP maintained that the protest closures were called under “pressure” from the BJP and that the dealers were threatened with raids. For Kejriwal and Co., the strike called by the dealers’ association was sponsored by the BJP.
Refuting these claims, DPDA president Nischal Singhania said the Delhi government’s decision to slash the fuel prices severely hit nearly 200 of the 396 petrol pumps operating in Delhi. He said, “The differential VAT disparity happened on October 5 and the initial figures till about October 14-15 suggest a 20 per cent drop in petrol sales and 30 per cent [drop] in diesel.”
Dealers say since rates were slashed in UP and Haryana, sales have dropped in Delhi.
Singhania added: “As customers come to know about the VAT disparity, they migrate to UP and Haryana. The drop in sales is going to increase.” According to the association, there are pumps which have lost 80 per cent sales and there are others who have lost 10 per cent sales too.
On October 4, the petrol and diesel prices in Delhi was cheaper than UP and Haryana. After rates were slashed by the BJP states, Delhi lost the battle against Noida and Gurgaon. Today, on the day of the strike, petrol in Delhi is priced at ₹81.44 and diesel at ₹74.92 per litre. In UP (Noida) and Haryana (Gurgaon), petrol is priced at ₹78.87 and ₹79.94 per litre and diesel at ₹72.89 and ₹73.59 per litre respectively.
Singhania said, “The comparison of petrol-diesel rates in Delhi should be made with Union Territories where it has always remained lesser. Also, in the case of Delhi, because it is surrounded by two big states—UP and Haryana—the customers have an option to travel 10- 15 kilometres and get cheaper fuel (if the rates are cheaper there.)”
Interestingly, Kejriwal had countered the demand for slashing the VAT by tweeting that petrol prices in Delhi were cheaper compared to other metro cities.
Meanwhile, another protest call was given by the Delhi Taxi Tourist Transport Association (DTTTA) and Uber and Ola against the Centre’s policies. The association was miffed over the mandatory installation of “speed governors” in commercial vehicles in Delhi. Sanjay Samrat of the DTTTA said, “The protest is against the Union government and Nitin Gadkari’s ministry. In name of speed governors, they are overcharging and looting the cab drivers. A device which should cost ₹1,000 is being sold at ₹8,500.”
Samrat said roughly 400 cab drivers attached with Ola and Uber attended the protest. According to the union, the aggregators have been reducing the commission of the drivers and owners attached to them and have started a practice of delayed payments. They are also demanding that cab drivers be treated as employees of the aggregators and that no unilateral action be taken against them based on complaints from customers.
Meanwhile, sources based in the industry and with leading aggregators said, “Even though there was preparation for strike and unrest, it fizzled out within hours. There was no strike or disruption of services in Delhi.” Rejecting the allegations of the unions, he said, “If the demands and allegations held any ground, people would have joined in large numbers. The fact that the protest fizzled out shows their claims are not strong enough.”
When asked about the trouble faced by customers on October 22, he said: “Whatever troubles were faced by customers—and that too only initially—was due to the strike by the petrol and CNG pumps in Delhi.”