Even as truck drivers held rasta rokos in different parts of the metropolis on Wednesday, more than 50 per cent of the petrol pumps ran out of fuel because of a major disruption of the supply chain.
President of the Petrol Dealers' Association Chetan Modi told FPJ that his organisation had 150 members and over 75 of them complained of zero stock of petrol and diesel. Transport contractors who have a tie-up with oil companies simply refused to lift stocks because of which the supply chain was badly hit. This created panic among owners of cars and two-wheelers who made a beeline for the nearest petrol pumps to tank up their vehicles.
Cars wait in the queue for petrol and diesel at Nepean Sea Road petrol pump in Mumbai on January 2, 2024. | Vijay Gohil
Ravi Shinde, who has an IOC dealership in Chembur on MG Road, said, "Two nearby pumps ran out of fuel this morning because of which there was a heavy rush of people in my pump. My staff had to skip lunch to be able to attend to the customers."
Huge queues of vehicles could be seen outside several fuel outlets in the city and suburbs. With rasta-roko protests and long queues at petrol pumps, motorists and citizens had a bad start to 2024 on Tuesday. The Eastern Express Highway (EEH) happened to be the worst hit, as several truck drivers jammed the highway by halting and parking their heavy vehicles in the middle of the road. So much so, the drivers themselves threatened other motorists as to prevent them from moving forward, at both the bonds. Similarly, motorists have piled up their vehicles, extending up to the main roads as protests have triggered panic-buying among them.
Trucks parked at Sewree BPT Road due to ongoing strike by drivers in the country. | Vijay Gohil
What is the new law?
The rasta-roko is retaliation from truck drivers against the new law on hit-and-run cases. Under the new Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita, 2023, the criminal code law, which replaced the Indian Penal Code (IPC), drivers who cause serious road accidents by negligent driving and run away without informing any official are said to face imprisonment of up to 10 years or a fine of Rs 7 lakh.
At Vikhroli’s Godrej Junction at EEH, where truck drivers started the rasta-roko on Tuesday afternoon, the scenes questioned the law-and-order situation in the city. Talking to FPJ, a truck driver said, “The government wants us to rot in jail? We are not rich people; if we were, we wouldn’t be driving trucks to make a living. How do we pay Rs. 7 lakhs? This means they want us to rot in jail,” echoing him, another driver named Jagannath Choubey, said, “Till our voices are not heard, we will keep protesting. Since the government does not care about our lives, we don’t care if there is damage due to our protests. Let them come and speak to us!”
Truck drivers protest against the BJP at Sewree BPT Road. | Vijay Gohil
Vehicles remained jammed on EEH
For hours, vehicles were jammed at EEH, and later, the traffic cops instructed the vehicles to use the Powai route instead. “Traffic was diverted to ensure smooth movements,” said an official.
Triggered by this situation, two-wheelers and four-wheelers were prompted to get their petrol/diesel tanks full before the petrol pumps started to run dry. Almost all petrol pumps were reportedly jammed, extending up to the roads, to fill up their tanks. This is despite the order from the Maharashtra government’s Food, Civil Supply and Consumer Protection Department on Monday that asked the police to ensure a smooth and uninterrupted supply of petrol, diesel, and LPG cylinders in the market. The department had warned about what was already happening.
People wait in a queue for petrol at Agripada petrol pump near Mumbai Central due to shortage of petrol and diesel because of ongoing truck drivers strike. | Vijay Gohil
However, motorists refused to believe that the situation might bounce back to normalcy any time soon. Arvind Malvade, from Sion, stood in the petrol pump queue on Tuesday since noon; he said, “I waited up to 1.5 hours in the queue to fill up my petrol tank (two-wheeler). I heard the news on Monday but I ignored it at first, then Tuesday morning it looked like this was getting serious and dangerous. I have to make my livelihood by delivering items for which I use my two-wheeler, so I thought the risk would not be worth it.”
Jethalal Shah, a resident of Matunga, who was found at the petrol pump located in the Matunga circle area, said, “My son, who is studying at a medical college in Nagpur called me and told me to fill up the car tanks as soon as possible. He said the situation there is bad, and soon it would be worse in Mumbai as well. When I came out here I realised he was right.”
Talking to the in-charge of a petrol pump, he said, “People are panic-buying, just like they did before the COVID-19 lockdown. We are trying to make them understand that this situation would last only for some time, but as usual, they keep panicking and hoarding fuel in the name of emergencies. As of now, we don’t have any shortage, but given the situation, one cannot assume what’s coming.”
The adverse effect of these long queues won’t just cause a shortage of fuel but is currently affecting the traffic movements. The roads, which have petrol pumps, and the adjoining ones, are experiencing slow movements when it comes to traffic. “Even though some roads are internal (roads), narrow and away from the main road, with every minute of slow movement, backlog traffic accumulates affecting the overall movement. We have asked another team to be deployed for the management of the crowd outside the petrol pump. The current focus is to keep the traffic moving,” said a senior traffic official in the central suburbs.