Embargo fears set off gasoline panic buying

- Rajesh Khanal, Kathmandu
Rumours about a possible embargo started flying from Sunday, leading nervous motorists to besiege gasoline stations almost immediately

Mar 29, 2016-Worries of another trade embargo by India has set off panic buying of fuel in Kathmandu with long lines of motorists forming in front of gasoline stations from early in the morning.

Lalitpur local Bikram Shrestha said he arrived at the Sajha Petrol Pump at Pulchok at dawn on Monday to find that there was already a long queue. “I came here as early as possible after hearing that India was imposing a blockade once again,” said Shrestha who was waiting in line with almost 100 other motorcyclists.

He seemed convinced that India would launch another blockade as Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had signed a transit agreement with China.

During the recently concluded trade embargo that lasted four and a half months, the country was crippled by a fuel shortage forcing the government to sell firewood in the Kathmandu Valley so that people could cook their food.  

Meanwhile, the state-owned oil monopoly Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) said that fuel shipments from India were normal, and that there was no sign that they would be reduced.

Rumours about a possible embargo started flying from Sunday, leading nervous motorists to besiege gasoline stations almost immediately. Crowds could be seen at gasoline stations operated by Sajha and the security forces as private pumps were closed.

The two designated private pumps that were open—Harisiddhi Oil Store at Shantinagar and Three Brothers Oil at New Baneshwor—were likewise mobbed.

The general public has not been assured by NOC claims of regular fuel supplies as the state-owned monopoly has not been able to normalize diesel and cooking gas deliveries even one and half a months after the embargo was lifted.

An attendant at the Sajha Petrol Pump at Pulchok said rumours of an imminent embargo had sparked panic buying. “Many motorists were buying gasoline in jerry cans as the hardships caused by the recent trade embargo were still fresh in their minds.”

Likewise, householders hoping to buy LPG could be seen rushing to gas depots to be first in line. Anjana Tamang, who had joined a queue at the Nepal Gas outlet at Mandikhatar, said she was afraid of not being able to get cooking gas for a long time like during the embargo. “I have put my name on the list at the depot, but the proprietor said that I would have to wait for at least a month for my turn,” Tamang said.

Meanwhile, NOC has been asking consumers not to run after rumours. “Indian Oil Corporation has been issuing adequate gasoline to our tankers almost everyday,” said Mukunda Ghimire, spokesperson for NOC. The Indian supplier only stopped deliveries on Wednesday and Thursday due to the Holi holidays, he said.

Gasoline dealers blamed the panic buying on NOC as it had not been issuing adequate quantities of fuel. Lilendra Prasad Pradhan, president of the Nepal Petroleum Dealers’ Association, said the corporation should deliver fuel even on public holidays as the people were still jittery due to the recent blockade.

“The people have just started to feel some relief after a long period of hardship, so NOC should distribute adequate fuel even on holidays to boost their confidence,” he said.

According to NOC, it supplied 300 kilolitres of fuel on Saturday and Sunday, but increased deliveries to 600 kilolitres on Monday due to the rush at the petrol pumps.

“Gasoline stations will start distributing this batch of fuel by Monday evening,” said Ghimire, claiming that supplies would return to normal on Tuesday.

Published: 29-03-2016 08:30

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