What an irony that in the last two days Chennaiites have scrambled to tank up, even if in the process they paid roughly 30 % more in black market rates over the prevailing price of petrol . We Chennaiites cannot be in denial anymore - we are enslaved by fuel, even if she were to behave like a demanding, coquettish flirt.
Last Thursday, fuming over the proposed Rs 7.50 per litre in petrol prices, Chennaiites were ready to spurn the liquid gold. Some said they would shift to public transport, others began oiling their old bicycles, while car pooling once again became the favourite topic among office goers and school moms. People did the math over the hike and vowed to cut down their dependence on the greedy guzzler. Both the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK, which is also a part of the UPA government in the Centre, have announced protest rallies /demos against the fuel hike by the Centre, but before that could happen, people were forced to realise how much they were dependent on petrol
By Sunday, when news of petrol shortage spread across town, the mood changed completely. No one even felt like singing the dirge when Chennai Super Kings lost the IPL 5 finals on Sunday night. No one had the time to get into a heated argument over the turning point in the match, and if indeed it was the Bill Hilfenaus' no ball in the 19th over that cost the Kings the crown, in what would otherwise have been a hat -trick. Everyone was busy rushing to the petrol bunks, driving across town, in search of a bunk that did not have the red tape strung across the entrance signalling ‘no stock’.
Even Shah Rukh Khan’s apology for his behaviour at the Wankhede Stadium which would normally have been a major side show in the media merited only one straight story. No reactions or people’s voices were sounded out. After all, who had the time to dwell on all those pleasures, when the petrol scarcity fueled people into thinking out of the box to fill up their petrol tanks amidst fears that stocks would arrive only after three days?
R Kasturi had not filled his Etios after the price hike came into effect on Wednesday, hoping for a roll back . However, he ended up paying Rs 100 a litre in the black market. N Arul, an architect student who had watched the IPL match on Sunday night, hot footed it to a bunk in LB Road at 6 am on Monday, but he had to pay the auto rickshaw driver who had tipped him off. Many others suffered like V Asha—driving to half a dozen outlets before she found a bunk open for business, but she had to spend three hours waiting to fill up.
Officials have explained it all saying it all happened due to supply constraints, (dealers are unwilling to lift stocks of petrol alone ) specially because of the spiraling demand for diesel, but that the arrival of three fuel tankers at Chennai Port would ease the crisis.
Experts say the consumption of petroleum products in India has jumped by nearly 50 % from the 1988-1999 figures of 90.162 million metric tonnes (MMT). And in Tamil Nadu where there has been a power cut in place since February, the consumption of diesel has gone up considerably, even as it went up by over 11 % nationwide in that month. And that demand is only set to climb higher.
So, what can be done to ensure people don’t relive the agony of fuel scarcity, complete with the cascading effect of price rise in other areas such as vegetables becoming more expensive? N Veeraraghavan, a senior citizen says Tamil Nadu government should reduce the VAT from the existing 27 % , and work at reducing the power deficit in the state on a war footing. "The city simply needs to reboot its transport and traffic policies," says G Sethumadhavan, a corporate executive.
Experts say that market correction ( a situation where the consumer and the supplier take corrective action) can happen only in the long term. But sporadic—as opposed to chronic—shortages can turn into major irritants, say experts.
The supply situation may have improved, the politics of price roll back could take centre stage , but it is the common man who pays a heavy price , mentally and monetarily.Other columns by the author.... Booze curfew stifling Chennai's IPL fun Swamy Nityananda & an unholy controversy over MuttsSchool fee issue: Should TN look at an annual hike structure?Who's behind Leela Samson's ouster from Kalakshetra?Time for Tamil Nadu to rock the cradle Karunanidhi's wrong call for Tamil 'Eelam'
Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist