How effective is the ‘National Fuel Pass’?


The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) distributed petrol and diesel at its filling stations for the first time in three weeks, using a number plate system. As part of a pilot project, the National Fuel Pass system was tested at six filling stations in Colombo.

After 23 days, CPC last week started supplying petrol through their filling stations islandwide. According to an announcement made by Minister of Transport, Dr. Bandula Gunawardena on 27 June, fuel was only to be supplied to essential services prior to this, given the delay in fuel supplies entering the country.

Even though the Government promised that everyone would have access to petrol on 10 July, the process took longer than expected, with CPC continuing to supply fuel to essential services, while Lanka IOC became the only distributor of fuel to ordinary citizens.

Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera said fuel distribution will take place according to the last digit of the licence plate.

How was the fuel distribution system implemented?

The CPC began distributing fuel on 21 July after a two-week delay based on the final digit of the vehicle’s number plate. Six filling stations in Colombo and its surrounding areas have begun testing the National Fuel Pass programme’s pilot project.

Long queues could be seen at the majority of filling stations in Colombo and the suburbs despite the Government’s advice not to wait in line. The Tri-Forces and the Police were also in charge of some filling stations.

The CPC was able to deploy six officers to cover the six filling stations where the pilot project to test the fuel pass programme were conducted.

The National Fuel Pass system was introduced and tested at Colombo 4, Colombo 2, Colombo 7, Kaduwela, Madiwela, and Marine Drive filling stations. The National Fuel Pass will be gradually implemented at other filling stations in the coming days. As the National Fuel Pass system was announced, the ministry reports that over three million persons have registered.

Did fuel distribution based on the licence plate fail?

Regardless of announcements or warnings, fuel stations across the country were flooded with vehicles. People had been queuing for days. However, when contacted, Prasanna Jayasinghe, the officer in charge of the Colombo 7 fuel station, said they began fuel distribution based on the number plate.

He also said only licence plates ending in the numbers 3, 4, and 5 are permitted to enter the filling station and receive their quota. According to the officer, the distribution of fuel based on the number plate was a huge operation.

When queried about what happened to the people who had been waiting in line for days, he said the CPC, in collaboration with the Ministry of Power and Energy, made every effort to make the public aware of the importance of arriving at the filling station on time.

He said people were present, and when the distribution began, people stormed the filling station. However, he said fuel station owners warned troublemakers that they will not be provided with fuel and urged them to come on their respective days.

“There were people who came close to assaulting us. However, we explained it to them. We said if they were only allowed to get fuel for the day, the entire system would be changed,” he said.

Meanwhile, when contacted, Nirmala Ashanka, the officer in charge of the Marine Drive Fuel Station, said it is difficult to make everyone feel comfortable with a new system at first. “On 21 July, we felt the same way. Even though it was unable to be implemented on the first day, we tried to resolve the bug, and get it working before 25 July. However, no significant fuel lines were observed at Marine Drive,” he said.

However, he asserted that they made it clear before opening the filling station that the fuel would be given to the appropriate number. “Every customer was dissatisfied with us. But there was nothing that we could do. In addition, the fuel station owners extended their fullest support,” he said.

When contacted, Yasith Subasinghaarachchi, the officer in charge of the Madiwela fuel station, said there were no major issues at the filling station.

“We started this as a pilot project as a corporation today (21) at six filling stations in Colombo. This will allow all customers to receive fuel. After 25 July, the entire island will run on this software,” he said.

Did the QR code system fail?

The QR code system was supposed to go live at 1:00 p.m. on 21 July. However, many vehicle owners unexpectedly began or have begun to download the QR code. The officers in charge said the QR code system was implemented after numerous tests. However, an unanticipated event occurred.

Meanwhile, they said the software developed by the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) was designed to function on 25 July, but the system was overwhelmed.

The ICTA engineers then stopped scanning and testing the QR system, and they provided fuel to customers based on the numbers on the licence plate.

However, every officer in the filling stations that also use the QR code system said the people were very enthusiastic about registering. He claimed that even three-wheeler drivers, the newest fuel hoarding black marketeers, have begun to use the QR code.

Minister Wijesekera said the National Fuel Pass QR system was successfully tested on 21 July, following initial technical challenges. He added that the pilot project will continue before going national next week, and the Last Digit Number Plate Fuel Quota will help to ease fuel lines in the coming days, with distribution speeding up islandwide.

Public support

Due to an insufficient amount of fuel released to essential services, a tense situation arose at a CPC filling station in Union Place. Fuel was also distributed at Matara and Godagama CPC filling stations based on the last digits of the licence plate.

Security Forces, on the other hand, have taken steps to remove vehicles which weren’t supposed to be there. Meanwhile, the Lanka IOC fuel station in Badulla received fuel on 21 July after five days, leaving people disappointed when the filling station announced that fuel would be distributed based on the last digit of the licence plate.

Tensions were reported islandwide, and at some filling stations, people attempted to bypass the line in order to obtain fuel, which was later controlled by Security Forces. Meanwhile, a group of people who came to the filling station for the second time attacked the employees after the latter refused to issue fuel.

None of the filling stations in Mawanella, Horana, or Galle had received fuel as of 21 July afternoon, but people were lining up according to the last digit on their licence plate. People were waiting in line despite the fact that the CPC filling station in Kandy had not received fuel.

Meanwhile, people were alarmed to learn that the Ambalangoda Lanka IOC, which is affiliated with the Cooperative Services, is only providing fuel for Police Officers.

What do others think?

While the QR code system or issuing fuel based on the number plate system is acceptable for some, others claim that they have been waiting in line for more than 20 days, all before the ministers and systems were put in place.

“We were waiting in the queue for more than ten days before the QR codes came, and now they are saying that fuel will only be given to those with a QR code. People who have never seen a queue are now coming in to get fuel,” said a lorry driver who had been in the queue for days at the Madiwela filling station.

Fuel from CPC filling stations can only be dispensed in amounts of Rs 1,500 for motorcycles at a time. The fuel limit for three-wheelers has been set at Rs 2,000.

People expressed their dissatisfaction with this, claiming that it should be fair because they could not operate their hires with fuel for Rs 7,000. They also claimed that around Rs 5,000 is spent on food, and that if fuel costs Rs 250 per litre, the Rs 7,000 limit is reasonable.

A three-wheeler driver waiting in line at the Maradana CPC filling station expressed concern about what they would do in the coming days, as fuel is only dispensed twice a week.

“I believe this is tolerable. Nobody can bypass the line. The three-wheelers carried enough fuel to fill a bowser. Three-wheeler drivers pump fuel, then empty the tank, and return to the queue. This is a very sequential method,” said another three-wheeler driver.

Fuel distributors’ view

President of the Ceylon Petroleum Private Tanker Owners’ Association, Kusum Sandanayaka praised the QR system. He said fuel station owners will not consider how long you waited in line, but will only consider the last digit of your licence plate.

However, in addition to the Government’s mechanism to restore fuel distribution, some groups are now attempting to fool the system by changing number plates. A car carrying a contradicting vehicle number plate with her licence in the top of the car, while a Dio brand scooter has a number plate with only two English letters and when checked the number plate belongs to a Scooty Pep brand scooter, were seen.

Meanwhile, National Youth Council and National Youth Corps members and volunteers were busy registering for the National Fuel Pass. They also taught the public about the programme at fuel stations islandwide, while some organisations in the country have begun to generate income by educating groups, with a maximum of Rs 3,000 earned for every QR code download.

While thanking the fuel station owners who supported, the public who adapted and assisted, the Security Forces and volunteers who assisted in the implementation, Minister Wijesekera also mentioned that some fuel stations did not adapt, and some individuals manipulated, falsified, and did not want this implemented. He did, however, vow that the system will be implemented islandwide.

(Pix By Ministry of Power and Energy)

By Thameenah Razeek