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India Installs Measures to Fight 'Oil Mafia'


India says new measures will be in place nationwide within six months to combat the problem of fuel tampering by criminals. This comes two days after a law enforcement official was burned alive as he approached the scene of a suspected tampering.

Indian Petroleum Minister Jaipal Reddy says state-run oil companies will offer about $56,000 in compensation to the family of a law enforcement official killed Wednesday in the line of duty.

The official was approaching suspected fuel tamperers when a scuffle broke out Tuesday in the state of Maharashtra. Thugs doused him with kerosene and burned him to death. The brazen attack drew widespread outrage, and hundreds of thousands of government workers went on strike to protest it.

Reddy called on Maharashtra to track down and punish the attackers, and said the incident has a significance beyond the individual tragedy.

"We condemn the incident ... but this incident has once again highlighted to problem of adulteration," Reddy said.

Adulteration of fuel is widespread in India and is blamed on criminals commonly labelled as an "oil mafia" by local media. Tamperers intercept shipments of expensive oil and gas, then thin it down with much less expensive kerosene. Kerosene is highly subsidized by the Indian government as a cooking and heating fuel for the country's hundreds of millions of citizens living in extreme poverty.

Reddy ruled out reducing kerosene subsidies, but says authorities must do more to track movements of the fuel supply.

"We therefore propose to reintroduce the system with a new marker, within six months, all over India," Reddy said.

A marker is a chemical agent which would be added to kerosene, making its presence in other fuels easily detectable. A similar marker system was abandoned several years ago in India, amid concerns it was too easy to remove and that it posed health risks. Reddy says research has since made the use of markers more feasible.

A key element of the new anti-tampering policy is to increase the use of Global Positioning System technology for the movement of fuels.

Reddy pointed out, oil companies already use GPS extensively to monitor whether a fuel truck makes any unscheduled or unduly lengthy stops, or whether it deviates from its planned route.

"It has worked successfully with oil companies," Reddy said. "The same, I think, should be introduced by the states in regard to kerosene."

Reddy says GPS data and other information related to fuel transport will soon me uploaded to servers using the internet, for more careful tracking. He says the central government will lend technological and management assistance at no expense to the states to upgrade their fuel transport systems.

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    Diaa Bekheet

    Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets. He is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com. @voajazz  facebook.com/jazzclubusa

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