Petrol dealers, beware! ESMA can be invoked if bunks are shut
Petrol dealers' associations have said that they would shut fuel stations on Sundays in select states starting May 11. While the Petroleum ministry has categorically stated that it does not support the move, the government has the power to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act against such dealers. Petroleum products are classified as essential commodities and if the shutting of bunks causes inconvenience to the people, action can be initiated.
The petroleum ministry in a series of tweets on Wednesday made it clear that 'it neither endorses nor approves of the move by a small section of dealers to keep their petrol pumps closed on Sundays'. The ministry also said that the closure would cause inconvenience to the people.
The petroleum ministry claimed that the move to shut petrol bunks on Sundays and work in fixed shifts was not endorsed by major dealers federations. Some dealers associations have announced that their push to shut bunks on Sunday was in line with the government's advice to use less fuel. While on the surface, it seems like dealers' want to support the government's initiative to reduce fuel usage, the real reason for the shutdown is a private protest.
Dealers have demanded a hike in the margin they receive. The dealer commission on petrol is Rs 2.56 per litre and Rs 1.65 for diesel currently. The dealers have demanded a hike in the margin and have claimed that without a hike they will be forced to sack all their temporary employees. While dealers want to use the 'Sundays off' to arm-twist oil companies, they should remember that shutting down petrol bunks and causing inconvenience to the public can lead to ESMA being invoked against them.