Consumer Protection Council, Rourkela
(As the readers might remember, CPC, Rourkela through its initiative in 2000 brought to light the widespread supply of under filled cooking gas refills. Since this initiative of the Council failed to elicit a positive action from all those concerned, it filed a case, OP No. 224 of 2001 in the NCDRC and the matter is being heard. In the meanwhile Govt. of India constituted a Committee to study the various aspects and submit a Report. CPC, Rourkela was also a member of this Committee. Recently the Committee submitted its Report and the same is reproduced for the benefit of the readers. Hopefully all the recommendations will be implemented by the oil companies within the next 2 years. - Editor)
The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Department of Consumer Affairs has been receiving a number of complaints regarding short delivery of LPG in cylinders at consumer's level. A number of public complaints appearing in the news paper indicate that the shortage of LPG in cylinders delivered to consumers is prevalent throughout the country. A Voluntary Consumer Organisation in Rourkela conducted tests for net contents of LPG gas in cylinders at the retail point in Rourkela and found large numbers of under filled cylinders. The inspection report from the weights and measures department of four States indicated a high rate of prosecution. 1653 inspection over a period of 6 months resulted in 163 prosecutions, mainly on complaints of short filling.
Inspection at some of the bottling plants in the country indicated that there was much scope for improving the system which could bring down the incidence of short filling and short delivery to consumers. On a reference made by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Delhi, the IIT Kharagpur had done a study on the Carousel machines used for LPG cylinders. The report indicated that the present Carousel machines used for filling domestic LPG cylinders is not capable of filling the LPG cylinders within the prescribed tolerance limit of ± 150g. Copy of the Report of IIT Kharagpur is enclosed at Annexure I.
Taking into account the above issues the Department of Consumer Affairs constituted a committee under the Chairpersonship of Smt. Satwant Reddy, Additional Secretary to the Government of India. Copy of the Order of constitution of the Committee is enclosed at Annexure II.
The Committee had two meetings at Mumbai and in Delhi where in the issues were examined thoroughly. Inspection visits were also made to bottling plants of BPC at Mumbai and Delhi. The Committee formed an Expert panel for studying the problems associated with the short filling of LPG cylinders. Order of constitution of the Pannel is annexed at Annexure III.
The Panel had discussions at the BPCL plant at Mathura. Based on the discussions in the Committee, the Panel discussions and visit to the bottling plants, the Committee prepared a report for implementation by all concerned so that the problem of short filling and delivery of short filled LPG domestic cylinders could be brought down substantially. The Committee recommends that the guidelines suggested below should be implemented uniformly in all the LPG bottling plants in the country and efforts should be made to modernise the bottling plants over a period of 2 years.
For simplifying the issue, the Committee divided the entire operation from the filling of the LPG at bottling plants up to the delivery of the cylinder to consumers into four segments as given below for analysing the intricacies involved in each, for improvement:
LPG bottling plant
The committee makes the following recommendation for adoption uniformly by all the companies in the best interest of consumers.
LPG bottling plant :
i) The filling and operation procedure adopted in various bottling plants vary considerably. It is suggested that a standard procedure should be prepared as guidelines and adopted in all plants.
ii) Tare weight of the cylinder: A large variation in the tare weight of the cylinders have been observed [15.5 kg to 18.5 kg] in comparison to the tolerance on net content permitted for the product; namely, ± 150 g on 14.2 kg. One of the main reasons for this large variation is due to variation in the steel sheet used for making the cylinder. Though a tolerance of ± 50 g is allowed on the weight of each individual empty cylinder, it is desirable to control the tare weight of the cylinder to a closer tolerance at the filling points. This could be done by either controlling the sheet metal of the cylinders appropriately or provide for a provision for adjustment of the tare weight of the cylinder to bring it within the suggested permissible limits. It is suggested that the variation in the tare weight of the cylinder should be restricted to 17 kg ± 500 g. A Check weigher with the least count of 20 g should be introduced before the cylinder enters the filling station to remove cylinders whose variation in the weight is significant. This should be adopted in all plants as a basic requirement before the cylinders enter the filling point.
iii) The system of washing and air drying of the cylinder before filling should be adopted uniformly in all plants.
iv) The tare weight indication on the cylinders is not legible in many cases. It is recommended that the better method of printing the tare weight should be adopted, like screen printing etc.
v) The method of tare neutralization adopted in the Plant needs urgent consideration. In the mechanical plants the tare adjustment is done by an operator. The smallest division of measurement made in the plant is 100 g. While adjusting the knob for tare neutralization an operator gets 2.5 seconds only [Carousal machine with 24 fills nozzles making 1 rotation every 65 seconds] to turn the knob and with in a few minutes of operation fatigue sets in resulting in large error as high as 30-40 %, even though the operators are rotated every 30-40 minutes. The same problem as stipulated for manual tare neutralization has been observed in case of electronically operated machine also. It is therefore necessary that the tare be neutralized automatically by a suitable weight reader in the filling system. This should be achieved in all the plants over a period of 2 years. Till this arrangement is made, it is recommended that the following procedure be adopted immediately in all the plants:
a) in mechanical Plants: The tare neutralization may be done by a operator not more than 15 minutes and 100% filled cylinders shall pass through a check weigher having least count of at least 20 g.
b) in electronic plants, the data of tare weight shall be punched by an operator before filling and shall be cross checked by another operation punching the same data after filling so the wrongly punched data cylinders could be isolated on the Check Weigher.
vi) Each of the filling machines is subjected to frequent adjustment and the variation observed is quite high, variation as high as 400 g to 500 g is said to have been noticed. It is recommended that the filling platform machine should be of suitable with 50 g least count of class III accuracy, prescribed under the Standards of Weights and Measures (General) Rules, 1987 for efficiently operating in the fixed tolerance limits.
vii) Data should be available in all the plants on the quantity actually filled in each cylinder, the average quantity filled in the cylinder, the quantity received in the plant and utilised during the operation of the 8 hourly shift. It shall be ensured that the average quantity filled shall be equal to or more than 14.2 kg., 5 kg. or 19 kg. net, as the case may be.
viii) The procedure adopted for calibration of the platform machines used in the Carousel should be documented for uniform adoption in all filling plants.
ix) The check weighing machine installed in the system should have a least count of 20 g belonging to class III accuracy so that the under filled or over filled cylinders could be detected and removed from the line.
x) The correction for the under filled cylinders should be done to ensure net content equal to nominal value as above.
xi) Every plant should have an automatic leak detection system installed on line. The leak detection tolerance may be ± 0.5 g per hour. A record should be kept on the rejection rate and the rejection should be kept below 10/6000 [per shift].
The filled cylinder sealing arrangement: A plastic seal or an aluminium
seal is applied to cover the valve of the cylinder. The plastic is sealed
with hot air at 225ºC. However it was noted that the plastic seal
could be easily duplicated in the market as the seals are being supplied
only by local manufacturers. The cost of the seal is only about 40 paise
per unit. Similarly the aluminium seal can be easily applied on the cylinders
at any level before it reaches the consumers and hence some arrangement
should be made to ensure that the tampering of seal is not possible before
delivery to the consumers.
xiii) The mode of transportation of the filled cylinders is a weak link which should be attended immediately. At present the filled cylinders are left to care of the transporter. This has left a big loop hole in the system. Though a system for checking 10% of the cylinders received through the lorries and returning the under filled cylinders in the same lorry is existing in some areas, its actual operation is seldom effective for various reasons. Uniform procedure of sealing the lorry carrying the filled cylinders should be adopted. The key for the lorry should be made available only with the dealer and then the dealer should be held responsible for any short delivery. The time of departure of the filled lorry and its reaching at the delivery point should be monitored. Centralised monitoring system should be created so that movement of each lorry could be automatically recorded.
Storage and distribution at Agents premises:
xiv) Godown checking should be done by joint team of different departments like Legal Metrology, Civil Supplies, company filed officers and police if necessary. A target should be set for such inspection.
xv) The use of gadgets like Bansuri, etc. has been reported widely. The gadgets were also demonstrated to the Committee members. Cases of filling the cylinder with 1-2 kg. of water to displace LPG gas has been reported from many parts of the country. The water remains in the cylinder continuously making short filling when sent for refilling. Stringent penalty should be levied for detection of the usage of such gadgets and also for the water filled cylinders under Essential Commodities Regulation Act (ECRA).
xvi) The computerised system of billing adopted is a good arrangement to track the records easily. This system should be adopted all throughout the country uniformly. The time of consumer registration of the refill cylinder and the time of delivery should invariably be monitored to minimise malpractice in between the godown and the consumer.
Delivery to Consumer's point:
xvii) Random checking should also be done of the delivery boys to prevent malpractice.
xviii) Only balances which have been verified by Weights and Measures authorities should be permitted to be used for demonstrating the net weight to the consumers at delivery point. The balances shall be periodically verified. In view of the importance, such balances should be verified every 6 months instead of 1 year.
xix) The introduction of special rubber tube "Suraksha" by one of the Oil companies for connecting the cylinder with the stove is a safety arrangement in the interest of consumers and should be used by all consumers. Wide publicity should be given to this arrangement.
One of the reasons for shortage in the cylinder is due to the price difference
between 14.2 kg. domestic cylinder rates and 19 kg. commercial cylinder
rates. It is proposed that the Government subsidy could be brought down
so that it becomes less attractive to divert the domestic cylinders for
commercial use. To understand the problem of diversion it is suggested
that a record of the 19 kg. cylinders returning for refilling could be
compiled in various regions and watch kept.