In January and February, newspapers were full of stories about the horrendous incident in which a senior Government Officer was allegedly burned to death because he had witnessed the pilfering of fuel by some people from a tanker in one of the towns in Maharashtra. The name Sonawane became synonymous with the name of an honest Government Worker! The news headlines reminded me about the various kinds of scandals we are famous for, like the 2G scandal, the CWG scandal, and now we had the so called fuel pilferage/adulteration scandal. I thought that like the other scandals, this too would die away, and thought no further! Little did I know about what was to happen to me.
One fine day, in the first week of February, (the second of February) I left school as usual after 2:00 p.m. for home. I was riding my bike at a steady pace, when, near T-junction on the road to Ashok Vihar, a place called Wazirpur Village, the engine of my bike sputtered to an embarrassing stop. Well I free-wheeled a bit switched the fuel tap to reserve, and then stopped the bike. I ran a mental check list of what could have gone wrong- spark plugs(there are two)-check, reserve fuel-check, tilt the bike to its side, use starter, and choke-done! All my activities were futile, the bike just wouldn’t start, it would start, sputter and then stop!
Sweating, fed up and angry, I went looking for a mechanic, and found one right next to a puncture-wala who had once sold me a substandard tube for the rear wheel. The fellow was busy and he told me to bring the bike to him! Couldn’t help it, I went back to the bike, and brought it to the mechanic. He started it, it spluttered and the engine note faded away. “Water” he said and went on to drain the carburettor. He showed me drops of water and said he would have to clean the fuel tank. “Well do it!” I said to him having no other option! The mechanic drained the petrol from the fuel tank, and what I saw shocked me beyond words! Out of the four litres of petrol drained from the tank, half a litre was water! The water had settled to the bottom of the pet bottle and the petrol was floating on top of it! Another mechanic arrived, looked at the dismantled tank and commented, “water in the tank, well this has been a common complaint during the month of January, especially after the hike in the prices of petrol!” I felt really angry that I had not only paid more for the adulterated petrol, but also had been stranded in Delhi and wasted so much time, and sweat!
It all connects.If fuel is adulterated in a faraway town in Maharashtra, then there is a chance that it would reach you in Delhi, and next be in your tank! It is infuriating to think that you have spent your hard earned Rupees on and already overpriced commodity which is also substandard. Adulterated fuel can also damage the engine of your costly car. Water has a corrosive effect, and it can eat away into the cylinder-lining. Kerosene in the petrol can lead to formation of excess carbon deposits in the cylinder head, and tappets. It is difficult to imagine the quantum of loss caused to the National Exchequer by adulteration of fuel in India. What I know is that the water in the tank of my bike caused me a great problem. I wasted a lot of time, had to pay the mechanic for cleaning the tank, and most of all had to sweat unnecessarily!
I remember Sonawane and this is a tribute to all those honest Government Workers who are waging a dangerous battle against pilferage and adulteration of essential commodities in India! Pilferage exists everywhere, and at all levels. I could not blame the petrol pump which I frequent regularly because for all I know, the petrol was already adulterated with water when it reached the petrol vendor. That this was not an isolated event was borne by the mechanic’s remark that he had received many such cases in the month of January and February.