Fuel stations in this dusty town in Marathwada are selling petrol and diesel dearer than any other place in the country, as Parbhani is situated farthest from the nearest oil depot. The national attention the town is getting thanks to its precarious situation is troubling and amusing to its residents at the same time.
ATIKH RASHID / SEPT 27, PARBHANI
EACH time NDTV India’s Ravish Kumar does a ‘Prime Time’ show on the issue of fuel price hike, youngsters in Parbhani brace themselves with cellphones firmly in their hands. As the graphics of cities and towns paying the highest price for petrol in the country are flashed on the TV screen, the cameras click to secure the moment. Parbhani, their hometown whose name hardly rings a bell outside Maharashtra or even within, always tops the list. These pictures are then circulated on social media with a sense of pride.
The fact that the town can ‘boast’ of something, at last, is enough for them. The last time it had made national news was in November 2003 when a bomb ripped through a crowded local mosque injuring 31 namazis gathered for Friday prayers. Itwas the first incident of a bomb blast at a Muslim place of worship.
On Wednesday, fuel stations in the district were selling petrol at Rs 92.05 a litre and diesel at Rs 79.27 a litre on Wednesday. And yes that was the most expensive fuel anywhere in India.
People of Parbhani, a town with a population just above 3 lakh, have very little they could boast of. The only thing that people find worth mentioning is that it headquarters the Marathwada Agricultural University, one of the four state agricultural universities in Maharashtra. The town hardly gets a national attention.
“We are used to reading and watching news about what’s happening elsewhere. Nothing happens here so we don’t make it to national news,” said Hasib Shaikh, a college student.
As per petrol pump owners, the reason for the districts in the mainland Maharashtra paying the highest price for petroleum despite enjoying a good railway and road connectivity, is the distance they are situated from the nearest refinery or the fuel depot.
As per Sanjay Deshmukh, President of Parbhani Petrol Dealers Association, there are two depots of the three oil companies namely Indian Oil, Hindustan Petrolium and Bharat Petrolium are situated in Manmad and Solapur. While the former is 311 kms away, the latter is 250 kms from Parbhani. Hence, if petrol price in Manmad is Rs 90.78 per litre there, cost of transport including toll tax adds about Rs 1 rupee and some paisa to per litre cost.
“There’s not a single refinery or a depot in Marathwada. If the depots were closer, the petrol price could have been slightly cheaper,” said Deshmukh.
‘Residents of one of the most backword districts are paying the highest for fuel’
Parbhani was among the 90 ‘minority concentrated backward districts’ in the country with “unacceptably low” infrastructure and social amenities as per a survey done by Ministry of Minorities Affairs in 2007. As per locals, in absence of any employment opportunities in the town, a majority of youngsters migrate to Aurangabad, Pune or Mumbai. There’s little for the educated to stick around.
This year a deficient monsoon has made things more difficult as the district is already staring at crop failure in the Kharif. Even though the end of monsoon is close, the district has so far received only 592.4 mm rains as opposed to the normal rainfall of 741 .6mm thereby falling short by 20 per cent. Inflation in fuel prices have only compounded the problems of the residents.
“You can gauge the state of the local economy from the fact that the average sale of petrol per customer is Rs 50. About 80 per cent of the customers that visit our petrol pump buy just about half a litre of petrol. Less than 10 per cent customers spend Rs 500 at one go,” said Musa Shaikh, an attendant at Bhikulal Petrol Pump. “It’s a big irony that residents of one of the most backward city are paying highest for the petrol.”
Situation is equally bad in Nanded (Rs 91.02) and Jalna (Rs 91.16) which had made to the list of most backward 115 districts in the country published by Niti Ayog earlier this year. In fact all seven districts in Marathwada, the drought prone region in Maharashtra, have crossed Rs 90 a litre mark about a week ago and are now inching towards a 100. The value added tax levied by Maharashtra on fuel is highest in the country (39.12 per cent in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane and 38.11 per cent for rest of Maharashtra for petrol) which includes surcharges such as drought cess, Krishi Kalyan cess and cess to make up for loss suffered by state during ban of sale of liquor along highways.
The spiralling price has expected effects on the local economy with prices for transport, vegetables and other essential goods going up. “Earlier we used to charge Rs 10 for a shared rickshaw ride from Railway Station to Jintur Naka. Now we are taking Rs 15 for the same distance. We lose some business due to the hike but if we continue to operate on the old rates, we don’t make any money,” said Akshay Kale, an auto-rickshaw driver..
At fuel stations people often carry one litre water bottle to make sure that they are getting the right quantity. They ask the attendant to put the hose inside the bottle instead of the fuel tank and observe if it’s the right quantity and the attendant is not cheating them by using some trick.
“We can’t afford to get cheated by the pump when the fuel is so expensive,” says a customer as he downs the bottle carefully in the fuel tank making sure that every drop lands in the tank.
On Wednesday, several opposition parties organised a protest rally in the dusty playground off the state transport bus station. At this rally, held opposite District Collector’s office in the town, speaker after speaker pointed out, in sarcastic tone, how the Central Government has ‘managed’ to give Parbhani an identity of its own on the national map.
“Outside Maharashtra, many had not even heard the name: Parbhani. But thanks to Modi Government, today the entire country has come to know our existence,” said a speaker, his tongue firmly in the cheek. “These days, whenever we travel to other cities, people ask us ‘Why is it that petrol is most expensive in Parbhani?’. How the hell we are supposed to know?,” he says adding a hint of anger to his tone as the audience laughs.