With the price of a litre of petrol inching towards the 100-rupee mark, fuel stations across Kolkata are seeking new electronic display panels that accommodate five digits, without which the maximum price that can be currently shown correctly is Rs 99.99. This problem is not observed nationwide, though.
The last time such a change was necessary was back in October 1990, when fuel prices had first breached single digits to clock Rs 12.23 after a Rs 2.39 increase.
In Kolkata, the price of a litre of high-octane petrol has already pushed beyond the 100-rupee mark, even as that of the regular variety is set to follow suit any day now.
Since most fuel pumps in the city still have those display panels (not to be confused with dispensing panels, which can display many more digits), they are either switching it off or resorting to old-school handwritten price-charts.
Sumit Sharma, the manager of an HP petrol pump in Behala, said no one could perhaps expect fuel prices to cross the three-digit mark so early. “We noticed the trend across other states and cities and have requisitioned a new set of display boards from the company, but are yet to receive those. Hence, for the time being, we are keeping the display boards switched off to avoid confusion.”
At multiple petrol pumps across north and south Kolkata, some operators continued to use the old display boards. While the boards were displaying correct prices for petrol and diesel, they were showing “00.00” for high-octane petrol as they cannot show more than two digits before the decimal point. “We will replace the boards once the new ones arrive. But, for the time being, we are keeping the old ones,” said OP Mishra, manager of a petrol pump in Maniktala.
To avoid confusion, operators such as Supratik Dey of a pump in Fariapukur, gone back to handwritten boards.
On 2 July, the price of petrol crossed the 100-rupee mark in Bengal for the first time at several places in North Bengal. On Sunday, the mark was breached in some other districts, like Nadia. In Kolkata, the price was Rs 99.65.
Prior to Bengal, petrol prices had breached the 100-rupee mark in Punjab, Maharashtra, Bihar, Rajasthan, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Odisha, Manipur, Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. A petroleum expert said the price of petrol in the city, too, would have touched the three-digit mark had the state government not reduced taxes on the fuel by Re 1 earlier this year. The taxes in petroleum products include customs duty, excise duty, cess and sales tax.
Senior officials of oil companies said they were aware of the issue and “necessary steps” were being taken to replace the digital panels. “We have upgraded most of the dispenser machines. The digital boards are there just for displaying the day’s fuel price. Even they are in the process of being changed very soon,” said a senior HPCL official.
A source in IOCL also said they were in the process of changing the panels. He said the company had taken a “2 + 2 approach” (two digits before and two after the decimal) while constructing the panels, as no one had thought the prices would rise so much in such a short time. “But the company will make the necessary changes,” he said.
Bengal behind rest of India
With petrol prices in the country breaching the Rs 100 per litre mark in February, petrol pump owners had said there was no issue with regards to display and billing of the commodity in three digits as most pumps in the country are already upgraded with the digital billing system.
In District Ganganagar of Rajasthan, prices shot up to Rs 100.13 per litre for non-branded petrol on 17 February. The prices of branded petrol had already breached the Rs 100 level a fortnight ago. A host of other cities in Rajasthan, as well as Madhya Pradesh, are also on the verge of crossing into three-digit values. In Madhya Pradesh’s Rewa, for example, a litre of petrol was being sold at Rs 99.57 per litre.
The rising prices raised concerns, whether dealers stuck with old pumps would be able to display and more importantly charge and bill consumers with three-digit values. The dealers association has however played down any such concerns.
“This is a very small issue. Most of the pumps in the country today are digital and there is no such concern with them at all. In some cases where old pumps are in operation, the new rates can be easily displayed and communicated with stickers,” said Ajay Bansal, the president of All India Petroleum Dealers Association (AIPDA). “There are three separate displays on the pump for the current price per litre, the quantity of fuel being filled and the overall cost which the customer needs to pay. The third display was anyway capable of four digits so it does not make any difference.”