Kolkata gets desperate for LPG after auto strike

After a flash strike by Kolkata's autorickshaw drivers yesterday over the poor availability of liquefied petroleum gas, the authorities promised that the LPG situation would improve in two months.

As in almost all Indian cities, autorickshaws are the transport lifeline of middle-class citizens, as the public transport networks remain primitive. Forced to sit up and take notice, West Bengal chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakraborty has called officials of all three oil firms to Writers' Buildings on Wednesday to thrash out the issue.

Transport minister Ranjit Kundu said that if oil marketing companies stick to the capacity addition blueprint for Kolkata and its neighbouring areas, the problem will be permanently capped by the year-end.

Kundu added that state advocate general Balai Roy would move the Calcutta high court today to seek permission for refuelling autorickshaws directly from mobile LPG tankers. However, oil industry experts are reported to say that mobile dispensation of the fuel is both impractical and hazardous.

Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOC), Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) have 18 auto LPG stations in Kolkata and its suburbs North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly. Seven more will be added by March-end. The tally is expected to rise from 25 to 49 by this year-end.

Auto drivers say this is a running nightmare for them. ''On Friday, I queued up at the Kankurgachi outlet at 8 pm. My turn came at 11.30 pm. Imagine our plight, waiting for over three hours in the (January) cold,'' The Times of India, quoted one of them.

Though the autos have a 17-litre tank, only seven litres are allotted to each so that refueling stations do not run out of stock. Hence, autos have to queue up daily instead of once in three days, as would be the case if they could fill up their tanks.