Are ordinary citizens ready for change?

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Ordinary citizens will adopt a new fuel distribution system on 1 August. The question is, are they ready for the change?

The public will receive their weekly fuel quota by using their National Fuel Pass and displaying the QR code issued by the system.For Sri Lankans, receiving a weekly fuel quota via a QR code is completely new, but because of the Government’s stringent regulations, the general population is now compelled to limit their trips to a certain extent.

However, a pilot project was conducted prior to the introduction of the QR system, and Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera declared that the project was a success and that the roll out will go ahead as planned on 1 August.

But during the past two weeks, fuel has been distributed based on the last digit of the vehicle’s licence plate, which has led to a number of uncomfortable situations, threatening behaviour, and other illegal activities. CEYPETCO and Lanka IOC customers began criticising the Government for failing to regulate privately owned filling stations.

Further, in recent weeks, political gangs and members of the underworld have been seen loitering close to the fuel stations. After the fuel stations decided to issue petrol based on the last digit of the licence plate as well as the QR system, tense situations were reported islandwide.

Brawls at filling stations

A brawl that broke out between two groups waiting in line to purchase diesel at the four-way junction of Viharagala Road, at a Lanka IOC filling station, resulted in the stabbing of a 47-year-old, who was rushed to the Suriyawewa Regional Hospital. A dispute broke out between two groups waiting in the diesel line in the early hours of 28 July. At around 5:45 a.m., the fight got out of hand, and one of the parties used scissors to attack a person who was approaching a fuel truck.

There had been an altercation between a group of individuals who had arrived at the Hindagoda Fuel Station that afternoon to purchase fuel, and that group came under gunfire. Several Police teams were deployed to further investigate the matter on the orders of the Senior Superintendent of Police-in-Charge of the Badulla Division Sujith Wedamulla, and the suspects were rounded up.

In a related incident, it was reported that an individual who arrived with a chainsaw when diesel and petrol were being dispensed at the Deiyandara Fuel Station begged the manager to give him some petrol. At that point, fuel pumping was halted. The individual was later arrested by the Deiyandara Police and produced before the Deiyandara Magistrate.

A suspect who rode a bicycle to a fuel station in Divulapitiya town and started swinging a knife was ordered to be remanded until 2 August by Minuwangoda Magistrate T. Thenabadu. According to the Police, the suspect does not own a vehicle. When the suspect attempted to cause a public disturbance by cursing the populace and the Government and swing a prohibited knife, a number of officers, including Sub Inspector Nihal Dissanayake, who was on duty at the fuel station, arrested him.

The Police and the public got into a heated argument when there was a fuel scarcity at a filling station in the Veppamkulam neighbourhood of Vavuniya, leading to the arrest of seven persons. On 24 July, fuel was distributed at the Veppamkulam IOC fuel station, where the Police intervened to resolve a conflict between those waiting in line for fuel.

How will the Police respond?

It is only normal that lengthy queues of vehicles form and people must wait all night close to the filling stations that are slated to receive fuel shipments, which are, however, insufficient for even 50 per cent of the vehicles in queues. Not all filling stations receive fuel stocks daily. People become irate, unable to handle even the smallest irregularity. The Police play a huge role in maintaining peace and order.

Since the Army stopped policing filling stations, according to SDIG Central Province
P. P. S. M. Dharmaratna, there are now at least ten Police Officers for every station. He claimed that the role of Police personnel includes both reducing traffic congestion and preventing acts of violence. He added that the Police Officers would be present in the appropriate fuel lines round the clock. He was confident that the QR system would work and that the lines would at least shorten by one-fourth.

L. S. Pathinayaka, SDIG North Western Province, said the fights and tense situations started at 12:00 a.m. He indicated that they would stop distributing fuel at midnight. He said he understood the plight of those waiting for a single fuel bowser.

DIG Matara and Hambantota District
S. W. M. Senarathne said, they had to deploy more Police personnel both now and in the future. There has not been an upsurge in disputes over petrol lines, according to SDIG Eastern Province M .D. R. S. Daminda. If a fight arises, the Army will unquestionably come to their aid.

SDIG Sabaragamuwa K. P. M. Gunarathne said, there have been some serious problems as a result of issuing fuel based on the last digit of the licence plate. He claimed that after receiving fuel, vehicle owners go home and drain it, before re-joining the line. Gunarathne advised the proprietors of filling stations to follow the newly set out limitations as soon as the QR system is put in place and made mandatory.

A new system

To speed up petrol distribution and deter hoarders, a new system based on the last digit of car registration numbers and a QR code was introduced. However, there are still protracted lines of vehicles near fuel stations in every area across the country, and many customers go home disappointed after waiting for hours in lines. Additionally, contributing to the issue is the fact that most fuel stations do not receive regular petrol deliveries.

Customers complain that having to pump fuel according to the QR code has caused many difficulties. They claim that even if they queue up in an orderly fashion, they will still have to leave empty-handed if the outlets unexpectedly run out of fuel. They claim that as a result, they must wait till the following day to obtain fuel in such situations. Additionally, they note that no system has been set up to receive fuel the following day, if the fuel bowsers do not arrive on the allocated days.

Until now, days have been assigned to essential services, but with the implementation of the QR system, fuel station owners claim that in addition to the people who use those services, they should also queue up to obtain fuel. As a result, employees working in the health sector, education sector, and Police are forced to take time off work to visit fuel stations. Thus, consumers urge authorities to address these issues.

The Galle Police say there is a scam, where the fuel lines in Galle city are reserved and sold. According to the Galle Police, those who do not own vehicles advance in the line and keep various items, claiming that the space is reserved for their vehicle. The Police promptly removed the people who had reserved the space. The spots were being sold for Rs 1,500, according to intelligence.

Owners of handwritten, non-computerised vehicle registration documents from before 2003 are reportedly unable to apply for a National Fuel Pass. Vehicle owners claimed that even if the information needed to obtain the National Fuel Pass or QR code is entered, the data is displayed as incorrect, putting them in a quandary. This is because the certificate of vehicles registered before and after 2003 was handwritten and lacked a stamp. The Government has made the National Fuel Pass or QR certificate mandatory to get fuel as of 1 August.

Efforts to contact the Department of Motor Traffic in Narahenpita have been futile. Thus, there are many vehicle owners with non-computerised registration certificates, and the bulk of them have been unsuccessful in obtaining the National Fuel Pass.

Later, the 1919 Government Information Centre advised vehicle owners to WhatsApp a photo of the vehicle registration certificate or the page in the owner’s book containing the vehicle information to 0707677877 if there is a handwritten car registration certificate that is not computerised. According to information provided on WhatsApp, owners with non-computerised registration documents will be able to apply for the National Fuel Pass once they have completed the relevant procedure.

By Thameenah Razeek