Fuel dearth sparks another crisis

- Manish Gautam, Kathmandu

Oct 25, 2015-As the country reels under an acute shortage of petroleum products owing to the “blockade” imposed by India, people are resorting to unsafe ferrying of fuel in passenger vehicles risking flames on leakage.

Many of the buses coming from places close to the Indian border have been stealthily bringing petrol to Kathmandu without proper safety measures.

Such unsafe ferrying became a cause for concern when eight people died while more than 10 sustained serious burn injuries after a passenger bus loaded with petroleum products caught fire in Banke. The bus (Lu 1 Kha 5828), en route to Kohalpur from Butwal, was set ablaze immediately after an accident at Khaskushma-8 in Banke district. Police said most of the passengers were carrying petroleum products with them which fuelled the fire.

Dr Raja Ram Pradhananga, former head of the Central Department of Chemistry, Tribhuvan University, said petrol needs special carriages as it is volatile. “In high temperature, more vapour is formed. If it comes in contact with an electric spark or any source of fire, it burns,” said Dr Pradhananga. “Plastic containers are not suitable for carrying petrol which needs non-porous metal objects for safe transport.”

The danger of an untoward situation in the buses is heightened also by the poor state of highways and a high rate of traffic accidents. In a major impact of an accident, ensuing sparks cause ignition in the vehicle.

On Friday and Saturday morning in Kalanki, where buses entering the Capital from the plains meet, people were seen carrying jerry cans full of petrol and refilling plastic bottles. Roman Kafle of Koteshwor ordered 10 litres of fuel from Kakadvitta, Jhapa, from his relatives. 

His bill was Rs180 for each litre of petrol smuggled from India, Rs80 for the plastic container plus extra charge for the bus ferrying it. “I don’t think I got quality fuel but I have no option,” said Kafle.

Interviews with the people in the area suggest that fuel is being brought from Hetauda, where people travel to Raxaul, India, to refuel their vehicles. Fuel was brought also from Nepalgunj and Bhairahawa. There was also a stark difference in the price people pay to get the fuel--from Rs180 to Rs250 a litre. Even police did not take the case seriously until the Banke disaster. Deputy Superintendent of Police Dilli Raj Panta, chief of the Metropolitan Police Circle, Thankot, admits that no strict prohibition has been imposed. “It’s up to the transport management committee to take up the issue. Until grave danger was seen, I saw no point in cracking down on such vehicles,” said DSP Panta. Officials from the Federation of Nepalese Transport Entrepreneurs said they have asked all their committees across the country to restrain from carrying such flammable goods. Dol Nath Khanal, general secretary of the FNTE, said they were also working closely with the District Administration Offices to curb the practice.

Published: 25-10-2015 08:15

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