December 5, 2015
Because of the three-month Indian blockade at major entry points along the India-Nepal border and the coinciding Madhesi agitation over new constitution, thousands of Nepalis have become engaged in smuggling and peddling illegal petrol.
And the price for petrol has risen accordingly. The given rate for diesel, for example, is NRs 160, but the going rate is NRs 300-400, in some cases higher.
People are selling it on the streets in plastic soda bottles, from storefronts and sometimes from their rented rooms. Almost all small towns on the Nepal-India border have turned into fuel bazaars since many people on both sides have opted for the “fuel business”. Due to the embargo and the standoff on the border, many people have lost their stable jobs and have begun to smuggle fuel as an alternative to make money.
According to a spokesperson from Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), the country is receiving around 30% of its requirements from India since the embargo started, all of which is going to security agencies, top government officials, hospitals and the diplomatic community. All other fuel is being fulfilled by black marketeers. They use illegal routes to transport fuel and gasoline through motorcycles, tractors, scooters, cars, cycles and other forms of transportation. Their job is made easier by the fact that security personnel deployed at the border areas are accepting bribes.
"I am buying fuel in black market near Pashupati Nath temple area where dozens of buses bring petrol from Tarai and sell them," Hari Tamang, a taxi driver told IANS. He has been buying a liter of petrol for NRs.350 for the last three months. And as a result, he is charging commuters three times the actual fare.
Nepal's Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority had warned the monitoring authorities to be vigilant or face action, but the situation has not improved. Some NOC officials have been found involved in the black marketing and even the managing director of NOC, Gopal Bahadur Khadka, is now under suspicion of hindering the October 28 MoU signed by China and India, wherein China would provide fuel to Nepal to compensate for the blockade.
There is growing suspicion that the deal may be collapsing because the NOC is apparently so buried in bureaucracy that it cannot make any progress. In the last two months of the crisis, only three meetings of the NOC board, chaired by commerce secretary, were held and they were focused on monitoring and distribution of petroleum products rather than on expediting the business-to-business (B2B) deal with PetroChina. Some are asking if the delay is intentional: Is Gopal Bahadur Khadka trying to ensure that his privately owned company, Birat Petroleum, somehow directly benefits from the MoU?
One thing is certain, there is no dearth of corruption in Nepal, whether along the streets and alleyways of impoverished communities, or down the rarified halls of parliament.