Rise of the Fuel Mafia

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While the fuel crisis has been peaking up to an unprecedented level, it appears that local mafia bosses have shifted their focus towards the never-ending fuel queues. Fuel stations have become a target for these mobs, and over the past two months, Police have apprehended a number of unruly persons who have been causing mayhem. Despite the chaotic situation in most of the fuel situations it is mind-boggling to note that no effective counteractive measures are in place to bring the situation under control.

Even if the Government has deployed the Police and other law enforcement officers to maintain law and order at the fuel stations, the high intensity of emotions stemming from the fuel crisis and the resulting formation of long-running fuel queues have turned the public to boil with rage.The result being conflicts in every nook and corner.

The law-abiding citizens are reportedly in a state of fear psychosis since the thugs from the underworld or the fuel mafia have gradually taken control of the fuel stations.

People complain that hooligans and thugs are breaking into fuel stations, threatening,and pressurising to obtain fuel supplies to their henchmen. It has been revealed that hooliganism takes place despite the presence of the police and the military.

Though certain people are of the opinion that hooligans have a better control over the crowds at gas and fuel stations, they are at the same time terrified when they are pushed and forced to stand in fuel queues.

Information regarding organisations making money by smuggling motorcycles that have been involved in various accidents into the lines and then taking them out to create room for more motorcycles has also come to light in certain other places. Additionally, according to the Ministry of Energy, there have been several reports of persons obtaining fuel illegally using their vital service ID.

There is strong public outcry against the underworld thugs and gangsters operating in gas stations and are urging responsible authorities to take stern action and bring them to justice.

Failing which, it would be highly unfair by those who spend days and nights in fuel lines.

While long fuel lines continue to form day in, day out, the house of a fuel station owner cum dealer in Anuradhapura was set on fire by an unidentified group.

According to reports, perpetrators have thrown a petrol bomb at the two-storeyed house, the second floor had caught fire, and the house was set ablaze. The dealer, his wife, and the two children had been inside the house at the time of the incident but had managed to escape unhurt.

Blame game

When asked what defensive action the Ministry plans to take in light of these incidences, the Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera responded by stating that he is responsible for fuel supplies and not for providing protection to fuel stations.

“My role is ensuring delivery of fuel to the public and to provide updates on the availability of fuel. I oversee Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), which is responsible for distributing fuel and not keeping an eye on people who stockpile it or resell it on the black market. The security forces are responsible for it. We are aware that the underworld is currently fully operational, using vehicles to obtain fuel and joining the same line every day. However, we lack the authority to go after wrongdoers and arrest them. We anticipate the Ministry of Public Security to bring them to justice,” he said.

Speaking further, he added that despite his appeal for people not to form lines in one and the same fuel station he had observed many drivers waiting impatiently, even though there were fuel supplies in nearby fuel stations simultaneously.

Elaborating further he said that some people have access to more fuel than a bowser could hold. He pointed out that this is because fuel stations do not have a fool-proof system, and that devising a suitable regulatory mechanism is a difficult undertaking.

He also said there had been numerous reports alleging that some shed owners had been selling fuel in violation of CPC rules and regulations. As a result, the CPC has taken action to suspend the licences of several unscrupulous filling station owners.

Following the Cabinet meeting, Co-Cabinet spokesman Mahinda Amaraweera, stated that mobs are intent on causing unrest while pretending to be queuing to buy fuel.“There are rumours that those with political clout and criminals are stirring up trouble near gas stations and along fuel lines,” he said.

Furthermore, he said, certain people are taking undue advantage of the situation to incite violence while police and security officers are called in to defuse such turmoil and apprehend the rioters.

Lackadaisical approach to tackle the mafia?

Senior DIG Central Province P.P.S.M. Dharmaratne said there are several fuel mafias operating, and with the combination of the three, Armed Forces, it would be possible to combat this menace. He said, they have a robust police network to guard against outsiders infiltrating the gas stations and influencing the owners.

Senior DIG North Central Province W. K. Jayalath said there are no fuel gangs operating in the province, and no one is in the habit of hoarding fuel stocks. He added that at this juncture, stockpiling is difficult because the area only receives fuel once a week. Senior DIG North-western Province L.S. Pathinayake said there are no underworld gangster influences in the province’s filling stations, and no cases of fuel-hoarding have been detected.

Arrests

The Police have made numerous arrests recently in connection with fuel-hoarding and the threats by the underworld on fuel stations and fuel queues around the country. Thirteen persons have been detained for their unruly behaviour at a fuel station in Wellawaya town on 6 July. When it was revealed that the fuel storage tank was empty, the suspects had allegedly started throwing stones and bottles at the fuel station. The individuals waiting in queue outside the filling station had become violent, giving rise to a tensed situation. According to reports, the incident had left one police officer on duty hurt, and the gas station’s signboard damaged.

Individuals arrested in the Passara, Ethiliwewa, and Wellawaya Districts, ranged from 18 to 45 years. 20 motorcycles had also been seized by the police along with the 13 suspects.

In a related incident, two intoxicated individuals were detained in the Galgamuwa region for their disorderly conduct at a filling station, where they had verbally abused and threatened the management, the staff, and the on-duty police officers.

Later that day, the two detained individuals—a teacher and a local reporter—had been scheduled to appear before the Galgamuwa Magistrate’s Court.

The Police also confirmed that 103,095 litres of fuel that had been concealed by various people had been discovered.

Some 27,152 litres of petrol, 62,723 litres of diesel, and 13,220 litres of kerosene are among the inventories found to have been hoarded. Police report that 885 individuals have been detained and 954 suspects have been raided thus far.

Meanwhile, a 25-year-old male had been detained in Kilinochchi’s Karadibokka neighbourhood for illegally possessing 6600 litres of petrol. In Kilinochchi, another suspect had been detained for possession of 400 litres of diesel and 100 litres of gasoline without a permit.

The Meghathanna Police had detained three individuals who had been involved in a brawl on 22 June evening, outside the filling station in Pelawatta, Meghathanna. Regarding the arrest, the police stated that while there were longqueues close to the fuel station, two individuals had entered by-passing the fuel line, threatened the pumper, and had forcibly attempted to obtain fuel. In addition, another individual had been detained for blocking the road and causing inconvenience to the public. The police had detained three residents of Pelawatta and Upper Hevessa.

On 19 June too, a similar incident as indicated above had taken place at this petrol station. The army personnel who had been stationed at the time had fired shots in the air to calm the situation.

Three people had been detained by the Ja-Ela Police for attempting to steal a weapon from a Welisara Naval Base soldier who was on duty at a gas station along the Ja-Ela, Ekala, Gampaha route. The suspects who had been detained, had also been charged with trafficking in alcoholic beverages. The Nikaveratiya Police had detained another person for acting violently close to a gas station in the Magalle Village neighbourhood of Nikaveratiya.

According to the Puttalam District Customer Service Authority, a stock of gasoline had been hidden in the gas station in the Natthandiya Town. A group of officials from the Customer Service Authority who had gone there for investigation and had been kept waiting for more than two hours.

By Thameenah Razeek