RAHIM YAR KHAN: A pipeline has been laid for a petrol pump near Muslim Chowk from where smuggled petrol and diesel is supplied to sale points. — Dawn

RAHIM YAR KHAN: A part of the national highway between Sadiqabad and Zahirpir has been a hub of smuggled Iranian petrol and diesel for a decade allegedly with the connivance of police, customs intelligence and smugglers.

There are several discreet warehouses at Bahadurpur, Muslim Chowk, Iqbalabad, Sardargarh and Zahirpir where smuggled Iranian oil is unloaded from tankers and later supplied to petrol pumps and petroleum agencies.

According to a goods transport association, almost 200,000 to 500,000 litres of oil is being transported to Rahim Yar Khan daily through various routes. Initially, the tankers carrying this smuggled oil entered Balochistan from Iran and after passing through dozens of customs and police checkposts they enter Rahim Yar Khan from Kashmore, Kot Sabzal and Shaheed Benazir Bridge at Chachran Sharif.

These tankers then unload the petrol and diesel at specific warehouses from where this oil is shifted to various petrol pumps either in company tankers or small tankers of petroleum agencies.

According to sources in the deputy commissioner’s office, there are 297 petrol pumps in the district and more than 53 applications for establishment of new ones were pending approval. Petroleum agencies have been completely banned since 2003 and Civil Defence officials have registered around 1,100 first information reports against these illegal establishments in the last 15 years, but almost 2,000 were still operational.

A civil defence employee, requesting anonymity, said that they had registered cases under section 285 and 286 and the suspects would get away by paying only Rs500 to Rs2,000 as fine. The department did not include Section 26/44 to the case where a suspect would be fined Rs15,000 or more with one-year imprisonment due to pressure from influential patrol pump owners.

These illegal petroleum agencies running several petrol mumps were the main beneficiaries of the smuggled petrol and diesel as they would purchase the fuel for Rs20 to Rs30 per litre.

According to Rehmat Wardag, who owned several petrol stations across the country, 95 per cent of the petrol stations sold smuggled petrol and diesel directly or after mixing it with the fuel supplied by a petrol company. He said that he had handed over to the patrol company two of his stations at Kot Sabzal because he could not sell substandard smuggled oil on controlled rates and would not earn any profit if he sold the petrol supplied by a company.

Another petrol pump owner, on condition of anonymity, alleged that president of the district petroleum association, PTI MPA Asif Majeed, never raised his voice against the sale and purchase of smuggled petrol and diesel. Not only was such fuel being sold, but some brokers were also selling fuel produced with chemicals on lower rates to petrol pumps and agencies. Both smuggled and chemically prepared petrol was harmful to vehicle engines.

A customs intelligence officer told Dawn that his department had confiscated several tankers of smuggled fuel, but there was a whole mafia running this business. This business of smuggled oil was not new, but going on for many years and it was a threat to tax collection.

As president of the district petroleum association, MPA Majeed claimed that only 10pc of the petrol pumps in the district were selling smuggled fuel, adding that the government would take steps to eliminate this practice. Bahadurpur Chowk was wrongly notorious for being the hub of smuggled oil because this practice was going on from Karachi to Wah on the national highway. Smuggled petrol and diesel were available in large quantities especially in Sindh, he added.

Sadiqabad Senior Customs Intelligence Officer Muhammad Akmal Hashmi told this correspondent that Customs Director Multan Rubab Sikandar has strictly ordered to monitor smugglers. During the last 10 days, his team had confiscated eight oil tankers containing 224,000 litres of Iranian diesel, 130,000 litres of kerosene oil along with other valuable items during a crackdown on smugglers.

Deputy Commissioner Jamil Ahmed Jamil did not respond despite repeated attempts to get his comments on the story.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2018