Over the last two years, efforts to curb black market sale of fuel in the suburbs of Islamabad and Pindi have had no effect. The cycle has become predictable: the police raid fuel depots and auto workshops, arrest suspects, which have included employees of the government and the local police, and draw up charges; for a while the illegal trading ebbs but a few weeks later it resumes with even greater impunity.
In the second week of March, Javed Masih, a driver of a local government department, was caught red-handed by the police in broad daylight at an oil depot siphoning fuel from a government-owned vehicle.
Further interrogations revealed that there was an entire racket of low-level employees who were siphoning fuel from government vehicles and selling it in the black market.
The trail started with Inspector Mubarak Ali of the Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) intercepting a vehicle with four large containers in the Dhoke Abdullah area of Sector G-12. On examination, he found the drums filled with petrol and diesel.
When Inspector Ali asked the driver of the vehicle where he had purchased the fuel from, the driver replied that he had bought it from an oil depot in Dhoke Abdullah and was taking it to Haripur. On further grilling, the driver admitted that the oil depot was an unauthorised outlet where fuel stolen from government vehicles was sold at rates lower than the market.
Soon after Inspector Ali left with his team for the oil depot. During the raid, the CIA team recovered 1,100 litres of fuel from the depot. It was there that they also arrested Mr Masih as he siphoned off diesel from an official Hino truck.
Mr Masih told the raiding party that he had joined government service in 2005 and had been stealing fuel for the last four years.
Police sources informed this scribe that he would sell 150 litres over five visits every month. “He used to sell 30 litres per visit, and charged Rs75 to Rs80 per litre,” the police added.
It was during the interrogation only that Mr Masih claimed that other drivers of his department were also involved. This was an assertion made by oil depot owners who had been arrested in the first week of March by the Golra police.
The Golra police had raided workshops located at Dharik Mori and Banni Stop at Golra Road and arrested five shopkeepers, who were selling fuel at lower rates without an NOC (no objection certificate) under the cover of auto workshops. The shopkeepers also alleged that they were supplied fuel by drivers of official vehicles of different government departments who sold it for Rs25 to Rs30 cheaper.
“The workshop owners would sell the same fuel to customers for Rs15 to Rs20 less than the market rate,” a police source close to the investigations told Dawn. “Locals and people from nearby districts would purchase the fuel from the workshop for their personal use or to further sell it in the market. They had been actively involved for the last few months,” the police added.
A senior police officer told Dawn that the raid had come about because of suspicions of police vehicle drivers of selling fuel.
“Our vehicles had been consuming fuel more than the average consumption,” he claimed.
The senior police officer gave more details and said that to avoid being caught, the rackets had middle men involved.
“Drivers of other government departments and state-run educational institutes are also involved in this practice. Many of them have an agent who siphons the fuel from official vehicles and shifts it to illegal oil depots. This way neither the drivers nor the oil depot owners are able to identify each other,” he said.
This has affected the current investigation as well since the arrested oil depot owners are unable to identify the culprits.
“The police are investigating the matter and in this regard a surveillance was mounted in the rural areas, especially Golra, Tarnol, and Sihala to trace and arrest the drivers and purchasers,” he added. “We are also writing to government departments, whose drivers have been caught red-handed in the practice.”
The police clearly need to take stricter long-lasting action if it want to see an end to this practice for a long time, otherwise expect a repeat performance in the next few months.