Jaipal Reddy on oil mafia crackdown

New Delhi: After the brazen killing of Additional Collector Yashwant Sonawane, who was set on fire by the oil mafia in Manmad in Maharashtra, the government has decided to rehaul the sector to reduce opportunities for adulteration. Sonawane's driver has confirmed the police theory that Sonawane was burnt alive because he tried to film kerosene being stolen from an oil tanker on his cellphone.

Addressing a press conference, the newly-appointed Oil Minister Jaipal Reddy said today, "Yashwant Sonawane died while performing duty." The minister also said that oil companies were going to pay Rs 25 lakh to Sonawane's family, and announced that the government will introduce a three-pronged strategy to counter oil mafia. He had earlier called a meeting to discuss the issue of a nationwide crackdown on oil mafia.

"There was an urgent need to respond to oil pilfering in systemic terms. We will reintroduce marker system to stop oil adulteration. We will also ask state government to use GPS or the Global Positioning System to keep track of tankers. The ministry will help the states to put in place GPS for oil tankers," he said.

But Reddy ruled out deregulation of kerosene prices as suggested by Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia at Davos.

"It is not possible, (right now). Let me make it clear, I agree in theory that diesel prices should be deregulated, but whether it is practically and politically feasible is totally different", Reddy said.

The oil mafia in Manmad operates uninhibitedly. This is where nearly 300 tankers are filled everyday with fuel from massive oil depots. Manmad hosts a major intersection of four highways.  From here, oil tankers make their way to Malegaon, Nashik, Aurangabad and Nagar.  Drivers of the tankers are seen brazenly stealing kerosene from the trucks they drive. Tankers are locked after they are filled up, but the mafia has duplicate keys.  Highway robbery is a fact of life.

It was one such operation that Mr Sonawane stumbled upon while on an official tour.  He was reportedly trying to contact other government officers to ask for their help when a group of people poured kerosene all over him near a roadside stall.  The mob was led by Popat Shinde, who allegedly owns two tankers himself, and has been arrested several times in the past few years for stealing kerosene.  

Mr Shinde was injured in the attack he launched. He is now in a local hospital with serious burns.