Can we attribute it to the stubbornness of the Indian Oil Corporation or is it because the fuel transporters have become spoilt, little brats, who are forever ready to throw a tantrum, if the chocolate or the ice cream is not given to them on time or when demanded ? Or is it a case of complete indifference whether the people of Manipur are getting their share of petroleum products on the part of the IOC ? There can be no shades of grey here, and the answer to these questions should not come shrouded under the mysterious veil of some official terms and terminologies, which will be Greek to the common people or which border more on the jargon rather than words or terms used in official works and processes. These questions gain credence in the backdrop of the numerous different and opposing tales that have been coming from the side of the transporters and sources from within the esta- blishment. All those involved in the process of lifting fuel, transporting them to Imphal and then allotting them to the retail outlets, cannot simply wash their hands off the ugly scenes that we have been witnessing and are ready to witness once again, if the posture of the fuel transporters is anything to go by. The issue remains the same and it is shocking that the same issue has been dogging the supply chain of petroleum products to the State all this while. The issue merits a discussion on a priority basis and it makes no sense to keep it dragging on, which has become so synonymous with the culture of Babudom and Bureaucracy in India. We all know the treacherous terrain that all goods carriers, especially fuel tanks have to pass through whenever they venture outside the State to pick up goods and other essential commodities. National Highway-39 is fine only in comparison to National Highway-53 and its condition does not merit it to be called a National Highway by any stretch of the imagination, even by Indian standards, a country and a people who take great joy and pride in extremely mediocre performances. So far we have heard the story of the transporters in greater details than the version of the IOC or the Government and this is not surprising for the IOC is a Government set up where protocol is the defining characteristic and of course not everyone in the hierarchy of this company, like any other formal set up, are authorised to speak to the press. That is why newspapers and reporters have to resort to the unnamed sources when reporting any story from the side of the authority or the Government. If the versions of the IOC appear sketchy compared to the stories devoted to what the transporters have to say, pardon us, but the fault does not lie with us, but with the policy of the authority concerned or the Government, which strictly believes in the dictum of what should be kept strictly out of the public domain. It would not be surprising if the IOC has kept some classified information tucked away in a corner of the Godrej almirah or digitally locked up in a computer, where the password is to the knowledge of only a few select persons.
This is not the first time that fuel transporters have been at loggerheads with the IOC on issues concerning them, and the surprising thing is the adhoc approach adopted to tide one crisis or the other. This brings an old African saying to mind, which says that when two elephants fight, it is the grass which suffers. Here in this case it is not two elephants but the IOC and the fuel transporters, both powerful and influential in their own way and of course it is not the grass, but the common people who are at the receiving end whenever such a stand off develops and cuts off the supply chain of fuel to the State. As things stand today, another bout of fuel shortage may just be around the corner, if what the fuel transporters have to say has any significance. December 31 is the deadline that has been given and amid this gloomy picture and never ending cycle of crisis after crisis, the one bright spot, which gives us hope for the future of Manipur is the fact that at least the two parties have been honest to say that money or transportation charge is the key issue. That this blunt honesty has come at a time, when money and terms like profits and capitalism, are taken with a pinch of salt, is extremely significant. Manipur is a land, where donation cards are served to the trading class with the amount already decided and written down by those collecting the money for some cause or the other. Extortion has been interpreted as taxes and this is the amusing part, for this is nothing but an attempt to say that it is not only the legally elected Government which can levy taxes on its citizens but also other power centres and entities. To many, who have not yet gotten over the era of the socialist model, championed by Nehru and Indira Gandhi, money, profit, capitalism, private ventures etc are all dirty words which should find no place in society. In other words, the penchant to glamourise poverty still rules the mentality amongst many people, but the blunt manner in which the IOC and the Transporters have laid down their cards on the table is something significant, when every monetary issue comes under the mask of some high sounding philosophy. The stand of the transporters is clear. Review the rate quotation for the hiring charge to ferry fuel for they are in the business to make profit and money and not to fatten the purse of anyone or to do some social work. With such honesty, without hiding the real agenda, which is monetary in this case, we are confident that the crisis will blow over and the two sides will come to a mutually acceptable point.