Fuel black-marketing to take a toll on income, economy

Department of Commerce and Supply Management unable to control illegal trading of fuel

Kathmandu, November 18

Roshan Thapa of Bhainsipati does not panic when it is time to go to office these days. Reason: he has recently refuelled his car and will have no problem commuting for at least 10 more days. Soon after the fuel crisis hit the country in mid-September, Thapa had started cycling to office.

“That was not fun,” says the 40-year-old. “And the worst part was the journey back home as I had to cycle uphill from Nakkhu area, which was pretty tiring.”

After around two weeks of cycling, his dad arranged him some fuel, which lasted for a few days.

Around that time Nepal Oil Corporation, which had temporarily banned private vehicles from purchasing fuel, opened fuel stations for private vehicles for a day. But Thapa chose not to visit any fuel station ‘because of very long queues’.

“If I had stayed in the queue, I would have missed office,” he says. “Also, staying in those long lines did not make sense as NOC’s supply was not enough for everyone present at fuel stations.”

Then after the Dashain vacation Thapa did what he had long avoided: tap the black-market for fuel.

“It cost me Rs 400 per litre, which is a lot,” he says, without identifying people engaged in illegal trade. What Thapa paid for petrol is almost four times the current market price. But Thapa is not the only one who is paying exorbitant amount to purchase fuel from the black market.

No wonder, roads in Kathmandu are once again filled with private vehicles although NOC has opened fuel stations for private vehicles only twice since the fuel crisis hit the country. This practice of paying huge sums of money to purchase fuel illegally brought into the country from various border points has now become a norm for many who choose convenience over cost.

But this tendency is expected to grow frustration among people once they start realising that they are being forced to cut down on many other expenses just to cover excessive fuel bills.

This frustration is expected to further increase once they come to know that their salaries are not likely to go up in the near future because revenue sources of many enterprises have tapered due to fuel crisis. This will make people feel that they are getting poorer.

This implies black-marketing has to be stopped immediately, as it can take a toll on personal income and the economy.

“In general, black-marketing weakens fundamentals of rule-based market economy, where regulations should be paramount. So, inability to control black marketing can be detrimental to the economy,” says Swarnim Wagle, senior economist and former member of the National Planning Commission.

The Department of Commerce and Supply Management knows this. But it has not been able to do much to control illegal trading of fuel. “We know black marketing has to be immediately stopped and we have been trying to bust rackets operating here. But we have not been able to find one so far,” says DoCSM Director Hari Narayan Belbase.