Tuesday, July 5, 2022
Fossil fuels are highly flammable and must be handled with care, as everyone knows. Shortages of these could also be, in a manner of speaking, as evidenced by the way tempers flare in fuel queues, sparking violence. There have been countless unfortunate incidents at gas stations, some of which even had to be temporarily closed. The situation has recently deteriorated. Now protesters are directly confronting police and security force personnel. An armed soldier was stabbed at a gas station in Embilipitiya the other day, and an army officer was seen kicking a protester elsewhere. This is an extremely dangerous trend. When armed forces are deployed to control angry crowds, violent encounters are to be expected.
In May, the country saw a wave of violence following attacks by SLPP goons on Galle Face protesters. Organized gangs wearing full-face helmets carried out arson in a very systematic way, as if they had repeated these destructive acts. Fortunately, they failed to sustain the wave of violence, but they could achieve their anarchic ends if clashes between the people and the armed forces break out.
The best way to defuse widespread tensions is to make fuel freely available, but given the current forex crisis and consequent shortages of essential imports, the government must at least make a serious effort to ration fuel to be imported. and bring the profiteers to justice. Cynics say Sri Lanka has become something of an oil-rich country despite the fact that its gas station pumps have dried up. This has happened thanks to hoarders killing while ordinary people are left without fuel. At this rate, the government may not be able to solve the fuel shortage even if a dozen oil-carrying ships were to arrive in quick succession. Raids continue to produce huge amounts of accumulated diesel and gasoline, but we believe the police are only scratching the surface of the problem. If nice rewards are offered for information that leads to the seizure of hoarded fuel, and the raids are intensified with more decoys deployed, the police will be able to seize at least one shipment of fuel from the hoarders.
What characterizes the oil sector is total chaos with racketeers having a great time. Most vehicles, especially trishaws, do not leave queues even after being refueled; they keep coming back and getting diesel and gasoline at the expense of others, who are thus left without fuel. Most trishaws are not available for hire these days, as it is much more lucrative to wait in queues, get fuel and sell it on the black market, where a liter of petrol or diesel fetches as much as Rs. 2,000. The success of any strategy to distribute fuel fairly will depend on the government’s ability to keep the unscrupulous elements at bay until the fuel supply is restored to the pre-crisis level. The recently introduced token system has obviously failed, and it is only natural that the government has disassociated itself from this wacky scheme.
The government should urgently introduce fuel rationing. Perhaps he should seriously consider adopting even-odd rationing and having gas stations affix a mini-calendar to the back of each vehicle’s tax license so that the dates when fuel is issued can be overridden , at the pump, preferably by the police . This system, we believe, can help halve the number of vehicles waiting in fuel queues, instill confidence in the public and thus thwart speculation, which results in hoarding.
Meanwhile, when distributing diesel, priority should be given to public transport and tourist vehicles, trucks carrying basic necessities, fishing boats, etc. This is not currently the case; even owners of super luxury SUVs who do no more than four to five kilometers on a liter of gasoline or diesel have unlimited access to fuel. Many such gas consumers have been sighted at the CPC storage terminal in Kolonnawa, where fuel is said to be issued to so-called VVIPs, while the majority of private buses cannot operate due to lack of diesel.
The root cause of the fuel crisis is the shortage of foreign exchange, but the cavalier attitude of the government and its inability to introduce an adequate rationing system has aggravated it and risks plunging the country into anarchy with clashes with the police and armed forces, much to the delight of the so-called helmet brigade waiting in the wings for another opportunity.