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Car Owners Raise Concerns Over Quality of Fuel, Suspected Fuel Adulteration for Frequent Vehicle Breakdowns

โ€ฆ๐’„๐’๐’๐’„๐’†๐’“๐’๐’” ๐’Ž๐’๐’–๐’๐’• ๐’‚๐’” ๐’„๐’‚๐’“ ๐’๐’˜๐’๐’†๐’“๐’” ๐’”๐’–๐’”๐’‘๐’†๐’„๐’• ๐’‡๐’–๐’†๐’ ๐’‚๐’…๐’–๐’๐’•๐’†๐’“๐’‚๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’ ๐’‡๐’๐’“ ๐’‡๐’“๐’†๐’’๐’–๐’†๐’๐’• ๐’—๐’†๐’‰๐’Š๐’„๐’๐’† ๐’ƒ๐’“๐’†๐’‚๐’Œ๐’…๐’๐’˜๐’๐’” ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’„๐’‚๐’๐’๐’” ๐’‡๐’๐’“ ๐’–๐’“๐’ˆ๐’†๐’๐’• ๐’Š๐’๐’—๐’†๐’”๐’•๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’‚๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’

Phurpa Wangmo & Sonam Deki, Thimphu

Car owners and drivers have voiced serious concerns regarding the quality of fuel supplied by certain Petroleum Retail Outlets. They suspect that adulteration may be the root cause behind their frequent vehicle breakdowns and related issues with refueling. The practice of mixing kerosene or other liquids into diesel and petrol is believed to be widespread, prompting drivers to call for a thorough investigation by relevant authorities, such as the Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (CCAA).

Over the past month, numerous complaints of contaminated High-Speed Diesel (HSD) fuel in Thimphu were reported. The issue was initially reported at the Ramtokto Petroleum Retail Outlet (PRO) and later at the Chubachu PRO.

Pema, a car owner, expressed his frustration and concern, saying, “On two separate occasions, I felt utterly cheated.” He recounted, “The first incident occurred at the fuel pump near Bondey. I handed over Nu. 1000 to refill my tank, but to my dismay, the fuel gauge failed to display the usual readings after refueling. My brother encountered the same issue. Despite our suspicions, we decided not to confront anyone, dismissing it as a minor inconvenience.”

“On the second occasion, I refueled my car at one of the fuel stations in Samtse, but I noticed a significant loss of power in my car afterward. Worried, I took my vehicle to a nearby workshop for inspection. The mechanic’s diagnosis was troubling – the petrol filter had been contaminated with kerosene, which explained the strange smell I had noticed.”

Kinley shared his experience, saying, “I made the decision to stop fueling at Damchen fuel pump after experiencing two unfortunate incidents on the road due to their diesel fuel. Once, I fueled up from the Damchen depot at Olakha in Thimphu, and when I reached Phuentsholing, my vehicle started misfiring, causing significant problems. On another occasion, I fueled up at Khuruthang and Lobesa fuel depot, and again, I encountered the same issues with my vehicle. Moreover, the quantity of fuel they provide is consistently less than what I pay for.”

“Recently, my nephew’s car also faced problems after fueling up at Damchen fuel depot in Khuruthang. We have noticed the same problem. They never dispense the actual quantity of fuel that we rightfully pay for. Instead, they continue to use outdated machines that lead to discrepancies. When we request them to use the new machines, they simply respond with excuses like ‘The machine is out of order’ or ‘itโ€™s malfunctioning,โ€ he added.

Kinley emphasized that these recurring issues have left many drivers frustrated and concerned about the quality and accuracy of fuel being dispensed at various fuel stations. He called upon relevant authorities to address the matter urgently, ensuring that consumers receive the correct quantity of fuel and that the fuel supplied is of the highest quality to avoid further vehicle troubles on the roads.

Similar incidents have also been reported from other PROs. One driver in Thimphu said, “My car has been breaking down far too often, affecting my daily routine and productivity. I suspect that the fuel I have been using might be adulterated. I even reported this issue to CCAA and the State Trading Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (STCBL). An official from STCBL said they would maintain our car and bear the labor charges.โ€

Another driver, Karma Wangmo, expressed her worries, saying, “I rely heavily on my vehicle for my livelihood. However, due to these constant breakdowns, I’m losing precious work hours and money on repairs. The concerned authorities must take this matter seriously and find a swift solution.”

The suspicion of adulterated fuel causing vehicle malfunctions has created concern among drivers, who fear long-term damage to their vehicles’ engines. With many vehicles experiencing similar issues, drivers are seeking immediate action from the government.

Tshering Wangchuk, the Chief Executive Officer of STCBL, stated, “This does not involve adulteration. If we have made mistakes as a service provider, it is our duty to rectify any errors. We have received customer complaints and are currently investigating the matter. If these complaints are found to be valid, we are prepared to provide compensation.”

Sugan Pradhan, the General Manager of the Petroleum Division at STCBL, explained, “The issue stemmed from rainwater infiltrating into a 35kl underground tank through the decanting manholes positioned at a lower height. This particular manhole contained diesel, resulting in the mixing of water with diesel fuel. This incident occurred between the evening of August 13, around 7 PM, and the afternoon of August 14, concluding at 2 PM. Once we became aware of the problem, we promptly raised the height of the decanting manhole used for diesel storage.”

He further explained, “We received a total of 25 complaints from our customers. Most of these complaints were related to damaged filters and labor costs. For those who experienced significant damage, we are examining their cases individually.”

Pradhan also clarified, “There were several unfounded complaints from individuals seeking compensation for issues unrelated to our diesel supply. We are only addressing complaints from customers who purchased diesel during the period of August 13 to 14 only from Ramtokto PRO. To verify this, we requested these customers to provide screenshots displaying the timestamp of their purchases. For those who paid in cash, we conducted a thorough review of our CCTV footage. As a result, we have rejected numerous claims from customers who did not meet these criteria. There were lots of ghost hider customers taking advantage of the situation and had to send them back unentertained.”

Meanwhile, a staff member from Druk Petroleum Corporation Limited stated that they have not received any complaints from customers to date and have encountered no issues of fuel adulteration.

In August, the CCAA focused primarily on the PROs within Thimphu. Inspections took place from August 24, 2023, with the aim of verifying the accuracy of fuel volume dispensed. This included assessing the precision of the dispensed volume, proper display of the Retail Selling Price (RSP) of fuel, issuance of accurate receipts, use of standardized weights and measures, and adherence to minimum safety standards.

A total of seven PROs were covered, including Damchen Petroleum Distributor Private Ltd. (DPCL) in Changzamtog and Semtokha; Bhutan Oil Distributor in Motithang and Lungtenzampa; Druk Petroleum Corporation Ltd. in Chubachu; STCBL in Ramtoktok; and Druk Petroleum Corporation Ltd. at Langdro under Thimphu Dzongkhag.

At the time of inspection, all PROs were found to be in compliance with all rules and regulations, including the standards prescribed in the ‘Storage, Handling, and Dispensing of Fuels at the Fuel Retail Outlets’ guideline.

The CCAA also ensured that DPCL and STCBL would fully repair the 72 vehicles damaged by contaminated fuel. Rectification letters were issued to both companies to ensure safety measures are put in place to prevent such mishaps in the future.

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