With the evolution of transport and the convenience it brings, there has been a considerable increase in the number of vehicles being registered every year. This rise in vehicle sales is coupled with a rise in petrol pumps and gas stations where every vehicle is taken to be filled with fuel. Before the machine operator inserts the fuel pump into the fuel tank, he always asks the customer to pay attention to the numbers that are being displayed. This is to ensure that, as customers, we pay attention to how fast or slow the numbers change so that we can catch any irregularity. This, however, is hard because the numbers increase at a fast pace and we often lose track of how they escalated so quickly. Customers tend to pay little to no heed to the words of the operator and this makes them more liable to be cheated by the meter. Tampering with a fuel meter essentially means that the operators do not fill as much fuel as the customer asks for but ensures that the customer pays for more fuel than he received. A small discrepancy like a 0.3% shortage is hardly noticeable and it takes a considerable shortage for the customer to realize that there has been some malpractice. Luckily there are laws in place in case such a situation does arise.
Consumer Rights in case there is meter tampering
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is a welfare legislation enacted by the Government of India when the rise in consumerism brought with it a realization of the need for consumer rights. The Act aims to keep consumers informed about the various reliefs that can be sought by them in case they have been affected by any unfair trade practices or malpractices. Under the Act, a consumer is any person who “buys any goods for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment and includes any user of such goods other than the person who buys such goods for consideration paid or promised or partly paid or partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment when such use is made with the approval of such person, but does not include a person who obtains such goods for resale or for any commercial purpose.”[i] The Act protects those consumers who buy any good or avail any service and selling fuel comes under the scope of ‘service’ provided in the Act. Therefore a consumer has the right to approach a Consumer Redressal Commission in case there is any deficiency in the service or if the service provider has engaged in any unfair trade practices.
Steps to file a complaint in a Consumer Redressal Commission
The Consumer Protection Act aims to provide speedy redressal to the affected party and to do this, the Act has set up Consumer Forums at the District (jurisdiction for cases only up to ₹20 Lakhs), State (jurisdiction for cases from ₹20 Lakhs to ₹1 Crore) and National Level (jurisdiction for cases above ₹1 Crore). The customer/consumer can bring a case in any one of these Commissions depending on its jurisdiction. For example, if Z, a customer at a petrol station, notices that the numbers on the display started from zero but as soon as the tank hit 3 litres it skipped the number 4 and directly went to 6 he can inform the management and file a complaint in any of the Consumer Redressal Forums/Commissions.
Steps to avoid being duped at petrol pumps
Even with a remedy mechanism available through the Consumer Protection Act, it is necessary for consumers to be aware of ways in which they prevent meter tampering. Here are some steps that can help:
- Choose a petrol pump that is Company-Owned and Company-Operated (COCO) or a pump where there are digital meters as these pumps are more reliable than others.[ii]
- Be aware of common tricks used to dupe customers. One of the most common tricks is the ‘stop-start’ trick.[iii] This is where the meter operator will stop filling fuel midway and when made aware of this fact, he will pretend to restart the meter and fill again but he won’t so the meter continues from where it stopped. Therefore, the unknowing customer actually pays more money for a lower amount of fuel.
- Keep an eye on the numbers on the display screen and intimate the authorities as soon an there is any irregularity or discrepancy.
- Lodge a complaint if there is any malpractice as this will result in the management of the petrol pump having to pay compensation and it will create more awareness for other customers of that particular petrol pump.
Although these steps look simple, they are imperative in order to reduce the number of cases filed for meter tampering and to improve consumer awareness as well. A case was filed recently by an advocate named Amit Sahni in the Supreme Court, with a plea to improve transparency in the petrol pumps to reduce the systematic cheating by the management.[iv] The plea called for regulations like transparent pipes for fuel vending and transparent dispensers with electronic displays, but no action has been taken so far. Therefore, till then, customers should be cautious and look out for malpractices using the steps mentioned above.
Edited by Pragash Boopal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, No. 68, Acts of Parliament, 1986 (India).
[ii] Sudhir Bisht, How not to be cheated at the petrol pump, Rediff (August 5, 2019, 9:30 PM) https://www.rediff.com/money/2006/oct/04petrol.htm.
[iii] Devansh Sharma, You are probably getting conned at petrol pumps but there’s a way to find out, The Economic Times, July 8, 2018, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/et-explains/you-are-probably-getting-conned-at-the-petrol-pump-but-theres-a-way-to-find-out/articleshow/64895241.cms.
[iv]PTI, Plea in Supreme Court to ensure transparency at fuel stations, The Economic Times, January 14, 2019, https://auto.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/industry/plea-in-supreme-court-to-ensure-transparency-at-fuel-stations/67521457.