Many sweet shop-owners have decided not to go in for special Diwali sweets facing a severe shortage of LPG. Durga Puja festivities were affected in east and the entire north-east as people were seen standing in long queues for their LPG cylinders. Reports of cooking gas shortages have come in from other parts of the country as well including the south at a time when the festival season has begun. Reports suggest hundreds of people were waiting in a queue at Deorali in the north-east early last week when two trucks loaded with LPG cylinders reached there. With a limited stock so many people had to go back disappointed at a time when they are generally busy celebrating. In Delhi, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer had sounded rather over-confident when he said earlier last week that the LPG crisis would be over by October 10. The Aiyer deadline came and went away but the crisis stayed back. Ironically, the minister looked helpless when it came to dealing with the Reliance Industries. On the Reliance refinery shutdown due to a maintenance problem with the catalytic converter, Aiyer said the company had overlooked the problem ??for reasons best known to them??. The government, he said, was ??deeply concerned about this (shutdown) affecting supply?? during this period when supplies should have been stepped up. Reliance had shut its Jamnagar refinery'sfluidised catalytic cracking unit (FCCU), which makes gasoline and LPG.
As against conveying a mere ?concern?? to the Reliance management, Aiyer issued a threat to illegal diversion of the domestic LPG for commercial use. He does not think there is a shortage of a great magnitude. It is only a manipulation. The question is who has to stop this manipulation and where does the buck stop? Manipulations essentially arise because of the faulty price mechanism.There is a subsidy element built into the supply of a gas cylinder. No-one really understands how the subsidy mechanism works. It is not transparent. Logically, if Indian Oil Corporation, for instance, subsidises LPG supplies by Rs 100 per cylinder, will it be interested in shoring the supply line and losing money? Those who are not able to celebrate festivals due to shortage of cooking gas do not perhaps know that the hurricanes Katrina and Rita had their role as spoilsport. The hurricanes in the US have resulted in global shortages on account of a sudden spurt in demand in the US as their refineries had to be shut down. This led to imports not reaching India as fuel was being sent to the US. According to the minister another reason for the shortage in Delhi was a strike in one of IOC'sbottling plants in Delhi on September 29. Without disputing these ?official?? reasons, the question a housewife would ask is what is the role of the government and the Petroleum Ministry in handling any disruption in the supply-line? Does it have to act like a mute and helpless spectator or is there anything that a common man could expect? The chances are rather slim.