After Sonawane's death, Govt launches crackdown on oil mafia

Mumbai: As government employees went on a mass protest against the burning alive of Manmad Additional Collector Yashwant Sonawane, the government launched a crackdown on adulteration dens around kerosene depots across Maharashtra.

"We have already arrested more than 150 people," Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil said.

The crackdown came on a day the Union Oil Minister announced policy shifts to rein in the oil adulteration racket that, according to estimates, is pegged at Rs 10,000 crore.

Exclusive visuals with NDTV reveal how the racket unfolds on the ground. Kerosene is pilfered from tankers, adulterated with a cheaper fuel and then stored in drums meant for the black market.

"The oil company and the government should check how keys of the locks that are used for the tankers are available everywhere. Outside the depot, every transporter has a key," Nitin Dhatrak, President, Nashik Petrol Dealers' Association.

The oil companies store kerosene for supply to the government ration shops. It's this kerosene that is stolen and then sold to the poor at a hefty premium as ration shops are always in short supply of kerosene.

"The bigger thing is the difference between the kerosene prices we give through the PDS and the cost when it is adulterated with diesel. The difference is so huge that there is this activity going on in an organised way," Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said.

Jolted by the media outcry, the Centre has planned to reintroduce the marker system - a hidden chemical in kerosene that shows up if the oil is adulterated.

The CBI had last year given a clean chit to the programme but the Oil Ministry has been still dragging its feet on the issue.

"Second decision if a truck adopts a wrong route, this is noted in GPS and considered route deviation," Oil Minister Jaipal Reddy said.

But the Opposition is sceptical.

The BJP has alleged that the adulteration mafia operates with political support. It claims Maharashtra's ministers took a 25 crore kickbacks to allow furnace oil to be transported without checks a day before Sonawane's death.

"Concerned ministers and departments are involved. Even a Union Minister is involved," BJP leader Vinod Tawde said.

The government has said that it's too early to confirm a political nexus, but given how deeply the mafia is entrenched the questions are not going to stop.