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Valley gasoline stations go dry as shortage fears spark panic buying

   March 18, 2020        198        Shuvam Dhungana

Deyan Sunuwar, 20, of Mulpani was finally able to refuel his motorcycle at Shakti Devi Petrol Pump, Lagankhel run by the Nepal Army after driving halfway across the valley to buy gasoline.

According to Sunuwar, most of the gasoline stations were closed as they had run out of stock, and the few that were open were already besieged by motorcyclists.

“I went to more than 10 petrol pumps to refuel my motorcycle, but none of them was open,” said Sunuwar. “Those that were opened had a long queue in front of them.”

Rajesh, 32, of Pepsi Cola had a similar tale of woe. He stood in a queue for an hour at the army petrol pump at Lagankhel to refuel his scooter. Panic-stricken, he topped off his gas tank and also bought extra fuel in a plastic jerry can that he had brought with him.

“It is not sure for how long the petrol pumps will be closed,” said Rajesh who only gave his first name.

Rajesh and Sunuwar are among the hundreds of frantic motorists who were frantically driving everywhere to fill up their tanks on Tuesday.

Gasoline stations in the Kathmandu Valley have been operating for only brief periods since Saturday as they run out of stock as soon as they open. No one knows whether it’s a real shortage or an artificial shortage.

Nepal Oil Corporation, the state-owned oil monopoly, said that fuel supply had not been halted. But demand has surged due to panic buying after the government decided last week to shut down most of the transit points on the Nepal-India border in a bid to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The normal petrol demand in the Kathmandu Valley is 650 kilolitres. But on Tuesday, the corporation supplied 1,000 kilolitres,” said Birendra Goit, spokesperson for Nepal Oil Corporation. “The sudden rise in demand may have resulted in a temporary shortage.”

According to Goit, the corporation has been issuing gasoline in a full-fledged manner to prevent shortages. Despite the corporation’s claim of distributing sufficient fuel on Tuesday, a majority of private petrol pumps in Kathmandu were closed.

Petrol pumps operated by the Nepal Police, Nepal Army and Sajha or cooperatives saw large crowds on Tuesday.

Nepal Oil Corporation slashed the price of petrol, diesel and kerosene by Rs2 per litre on Monday following a global drop in oil prices. Petrol now costs Rs106 per litre while diesel and kerosene each cost Rs95 per litre.

Uttam Raj Subedi, chief of the Kathmandu Metropolitan Police Range, said panic buyers had started hoarding fuel, even filling plastic jerry cans, amid fears of a shortage, and this had led to shortages in the market.

“Motorists fear that they won’t get petrol due to the coronavirus outbreak,” said Subedi. Besides, valley pumps have limited storage facilities, he added.

“However, we have increased our vigilance in the market. If we find there has been black marketing of petroleum products, like it happened with surgical masks, we will take action immediately,” Subedi said.

There are other government departments checking market malpractices, but the Nepal Police will also inspect the market on their own,” said Subedi.

The Kathmandu Post

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