Barwani: As one passes the city of Sendhwa in Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh and enters the village of Palasner in Maharashtra, one finds a petrol pump on National Highway-3 between Mumbai and Agra.
A signboard there essentially reads that a litre of diesel is Rs 3.50 cheaper than the same in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. There is another signpost at the same petrol pump, which reads: “Diesel dalao, upar se inam pao (Buy diesel and get a prize)”. It adds that if a trucker buys 800 litres of diesel, he will get a mobile phone. A gold coin awaits one who buys 15,000 litres. The story goes on. There is the added incentive for those who buy 20, 000 litres, a television set.
This is the first petrol pump from Maharashtra that one finds after MP’s Sendhwa; it lies on the NH-3 in Dhule district. A large number of truckers queue up outside the pump, and yet its owner says sales have gone down by 25%, partly due to skyrocketing fuel prices and due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
On the other hand, a petrol pump in Sendhwa, just 30 kms from the one in Maharashtra, tells a different tale.
The owner of this petrol pump cannot find a buyer due to higher taxes imposed by the Madhya Pradesh government.
MP levies a VAT of Rs 31.55 a litre on petrol (33 % VAT + Rs.4.5/litre VAT+1%Cess) – the rates being the highest in the country – and Rs 21.68 on diesel (23% VAT+ Rs.3/litre VAT+1% Cess) – the second highest in the country after Andhra Pradesh at Rs 21.78. The Maharashtra Government levies 26% VAT+ Rs 10.12 litre additional tax on Petrol and 24% VAT+ Rs 3 a litre additional tax in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai, the number being marginally low in other parts.
This particular pump looks deserted most times. Its owner, Sanjay Karma, says sales have declined by 80% – from 12,000 litres per day to 2000-2500 liters a day – since COVID-19 hit. Karma says he himself buys petrol from Maharashtra to save a pittance.
He adds that he spends Rs 1.35 lakh on salaries of employees and electricity bills every month. “Truckers or long-distance vehicles enter the pump, but drive away after seeing the rates, saying, ‘Maharashtra me bharwayenge, wahan sasta hai’”, he elaborated.
Shyam Singh, the manager of the petrol pump in Maharashtra, says despite all the offers, his sales have too reduced by nearly 25%.
When this reporter visited petrol pumps at the border on August 19, the price of Petrol was Rs 108.27 and Diesel 96.01 a litre at the first pump in Maharashtra while it was Rs 111.83 and Rs 99.77 in the last pump within MP.
Locals say that it seems it is the first time that a petrol pump owner in the area has had to resort to a marketing strategy to sell fuel.
People may always have paid through their nose to buy a litre of Petrol. However, it is probably for the first time in recent years here that a petrol pump owner has had to come up with an innovative plan to increase his sales.
Refilling his bike with merely Rs 50 worth of fuel at MP’s last pump, Rakesh Yadav, a farm hand, jumps into the conversion with the pump manager. “Pehle Rs 50 me bike 30-35 km chalti thi, ab 15-20 me hi bund ho jaati hai (My bike would go for 30-35 kms on Rs 50 worth of fuel earlier, now it shuts down after 15-20 kms," he said.
Although the prices of fuel and daily edible items are going through the roof, wages have drastically declined, especially after the pandemic left many people unemployed.
A truck driver standing next to Yadav says that the surge in Diesel prices since the pandemic hit has left transport companies high and dry. "Many transport companies have either shut or run in losses as Diesel rates are soaring. But, transportation charges have either declined by 10% in some areas or remained intact,” he says.
Surrounded by five States, Madhya Pradesh sells the costliest petrol and second-most expensive diesel in the country. The neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh sells both petroleum products by Rs 8 to 10 litres lesser than MP. Just like Sanjay Karma, who refills his own vehicle in Maharashtra, many residents of MP in areas bordering UP cross over to refill their tanks.
Ajay Singh, President of Madhya Pradesh Petrol Pump Dealers Association, attributed the drop in sales of Diesel – by between 30-35% on highways – and the 20-25% drop in Petrol sales in cities, to higher taxes.
A truck driver who was refilling his loading vehicle at Maharashtra's last pump said that soaring fuel prices were ravaging the common man, and that if this persists, pushing a vehicle will be cheaper.