Scam: 120 Kerala agencies to lose licences

Thiruvananthapuram: Nearly 120 gas agencies in Kerala may lose their licences, with allotments across India being cancelled after allegations of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led union governments favouritism.

There have been allegations that Petroleum Minister Ram Naik misused powers of patronage in doling out favours to the kith and kin of BJP leaders and their supporters by allotting them lucrative dealerships for cooking gas, petrol stations and kerosene vends. Following the scandal, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ordered that these licences be cancelled.

In the last two years in Kerala, 179 agencies secured approval, including allotments to soldiers killed in a border conflict, ex-servicemen, handicapped people and similar categories. Many who secured licences reportedly had to pay hefty sums to middlemen. The issue has upset the Kerala BJP.

State BJP president C K Padmanabhan tried to put up a brave faced when he told domain-B: [The Kerala BJP] has not come under any severe criticism. In fact, many people are upset that the party was not able to secure licences for its well-wishers. What I have come to understand is that the selection process this time was a stiff one and the party never intervened in it.

Naturally, the general impression many have is that the party had intervened and was able to get licences for many. The truth of the matter is different, but at the same time one must not discount the possibility of some getting it through the influence of the party, he added.

The cancellation of the allotments has sent shock waves among those who have already commenced business after investing huge sums. Reports indicate that some invested nearly Rs 1 million to start cooking gas agencies.

The spouse of one such licensee said their gas agency was opened only last month in Thiruvananthapuram after investing around Rs 7 lakh. For the last several months we were running from pillar to post to get the required papers and finally we heaved a sigh of relief when we commenced business.

The couple is keeping their fingers crossed. We continue to do our business and what we have been told by the oil company is that we can do business till we receive a formal letter.

Reports indicate that the Kerala BJP is divided on the amount received by way of donations for such licences. While some say it was around Rs 30 million, the others think it was around Rs 50 million.