Amid COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown, the Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) is playing a crucial role in ensuring the crucial supplies of Liqueified Petroleum Gas (LPG) and other fuel products across India. While the central government has already put its 52.98% equity stake in BPCL for sale, observers argue that the government must open its eyes in realising the BPCL’s role in the crisis and retain the profit-making oil marketing company within the public sector.
According to BPCL officials, the entity has been at the forefront in addressing the fuel challenges including free supply of LPG cylinders under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana during the country-wide lockdown.
“We have a large workforce consisting of our employees and those who are employed with more than 16,000 fuel stations and 6,000 Bharatgas distributors, tank trucks crew, who are out in the field playing a pivotal role in provision of vital products and services that fuel the nation. LPG has seen spurt in the demand, however, we are extremely proud of the fact that they have risen to the occasion and are doing phenomenal work ensuring home delivery of LPG cylinders to consumers, across the nation, despite the huge challenges,” said a press statement issued by BPCL on 10 April.
However, the central government is going ahead with its divestment plans. On March 31, the government extended the deadline for bidding to buy BPCL stake to June 13 from the previous deadline of May 2, amid lockdown.
Since the government first announced its plans to hand over BPCL to the private sector last year, it has attracted massive opposition from numerous quarters against the move. Although the central government under Narendra Modi had earlier aimed at completing the BPCL divestment by March 31 this year, it’s ‘haste’ for privatisation was opposed by trade unions and opposition political parties.
“The BPCL has been delivering LPG and other fuel services at a war-footing pace across the country ensuring the government’s measures despite massive demand due to lockdown. This would have not been the case if the entity is run by private players,” said K N Gopinath, joint convenor, Kerala Central PSUs, Centre of Indian Trade Unions.
On the other side, reports suggest that the divestment may happen only after October this year, owing to lockdown and decline in BPCL.
“This is the right time to come down on its plans to privatise BPCL and other maharatna entities in the country,” argued Gopinath. He told NewsClick that thousands of BPCL employees joined by trade unions including CITU, Indian National Trade Union Congress and officers’ association have protested against the strategic divestment for continuously three months before the lockdown.
BPCL has four refineries located in Assam, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra with a combined capacity to convert 38.3 million tonnes of crude oil into fuel.
“Besides serving the country’s fuel needs, BPCL is one of the few entities that could yield better financial results even during these pandemic times,” said Kamble Snehal, founder of India Against Privatisation campaign in Mumbai. She told NewsClick that the Modi government has provided no rationale behind selling stake of BPCL at as low as 5% to 10% of its real value. “It is crucial for the government to realise the importance of PSUs which are the backbone of Indian economy,” she added.