The government is preparing to invoke the Essential Service Act, if Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) bottlers halt the supply of LPG — popularly known as cooking gas — from June 4, if they go ahead with their threats delivered on Monday.
"The Department of Commerce and Supply Management will ask the Home Ministry to invoke the Essential Service Act if LPG bottlers make consumers suffer by halting the supply of cooking gas," said chief of the department Narayan Prasad Bidari.
The department will also take action against them, he said, without elaborating on what kind of action it was contemplating on to take against LPG bottlers.
Cooking gas comes under essential service, according to law. "Cooking gas is a sensitive issue," said Bidari, adding that the department will also take action against dealers if they try to disrupt supply.
The LP Gas Association had threatened to halt supply of cooking gas from June 4, if the government does not fulfil their 16-point demand, which includes a hike in commission rate to Rs 57.92 from the current Rs 28 per cylinder.
However, the department, state oil monopoly and Ministry of Commerce and Supplies have apparently understood their move to overshadow the dual cylinder plan.
The government has also asked Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) not to issue Purchase Delivery Order to those bottlers that do not separate cooking gas cylinders into red for domestic use and blue for commercial use.
No association has a right to create artificial shortage and make consumers suffer, Bidari added.
The government had set a deadline of June 15 for bottlers to separate the colour of cooking gas cylinders for limited subsidy to domestic consumers.
The association, however, is adamant with its demand and has threatened that all dealers and depots will shut shop from June 4. "The association will not take back its protest programme as our demand is genuine," said the association's president Shiva Prasad Ghimire, whose Sugam Gas was accused of illegally refitting gas cylinders with foot and neck rings in 2011. The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, had on June 10, 2011, decided to take action against Sugam Gas, after it was found to be involved in tampering with LPG cylinders. The Ministry of Industry had also decided to fine Sugam Gas Rs 500,000 and scrap its licence for six months. Two years back — during a raid carried out by Sunsari District Administration Office — the raid team had found some 1,500 tampered gas cylinders at Nepa Petroleum Trade Link in Khanar, Sunsari. But he escaped due to UCPN-Maoist's protection.
However, Ghimire today blamed NOC for taking more profit and sharing less profit with bottlers. "We will not be able to separate the colour of cooking gas cylinders if the government does not hike our commission," he said, adding that the chief executive of NOC Suresh Agrawal, on the occasion, had said that the state-oil monopoly can, however, not fulfil the bottlers' demand at present.
Requesting the agitating bottlers to settle the issue through dialogue, he said that NOC is in bad financial shape.
LPG dealers have also claimed that NOC has been making more profit on cooking gas and they have been suffering. "We have been forced to support the association's protest to hike the commission," they added.The country has a monthly demand of about 16,000 metric tonnes of cooking gas. About 1.1 million families and commercial enterprises have been using LPG across the country.