As a consumer, you can book more than 12 refills of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and there is no waiting period of 14 days between two bookings, a reply received under Right to Information (RTI) shows. This clarification will give a relief for lakhs of domestic LPG customers, who are restricted from booking more than 12 refills a year or denied booking a second LPG cylinder within 14 days after receiving the first refill.
Replying to my RTI application, the central public information officer of Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd (HPCL) says, "There are no rules, regulations or guidelines which prescribe a time limit of 14 days for domestic users and also there is no restriction on ordering more than 12 cylinders in a financial year."
It started in February, when I ordered LPG refill for home. However, before it could be delivered, the second cylinder that we were using also got exhausted. When I tried to book a second refill on HPCL's helpline (8888823456), I received a voice-over message that I cannot book it and will have to wait for 14 days. I even tried to book it on the HPCL mobile app, but there too I received the same message.
Then I used Twitter and sent messages to HPCL as well as to MoPNG e-Seva, which is the official social media-based grievance redressal platform for the oil & gas sector. Two days later, I was informed that since I took a refill on 22nd February, I am not entitled to book another cylinder.
For my first tweet, MoPNG e-Seva had responded saying, "We have forwarded your details to the concerned authority. We shall get back to you at earliest."
But no solution was provided. I told them, I pay full amount for every LPG refill I order, since I do not avail any subsidy. Also, since I am buying at the market price, why are there restrictions in an open market on buying a second refill for home consumption? There was no reply.
The next day, I received a call from an official from HPCL's Mumbai office. He also told me the same thing and advised me to wait for 14 days before I could book a second LPG refill. When I asked why there are such restrictions in an open market, he had no answer. He, however, told me that he would see if something can be done from their end so that the second refill can be booked offline.
The next day, when I called him, the official was not at his desk. However, after hearing my name, his colleague told me that there was a message for me asking me to wait for 24 more hours and then try booking the refill.
Since there was no option, I waited for 24 more hours, and then was able to book the refill through the mobile app.
But this type of restriction made me curious and I decided to find out the truth. I filed an RTI with HPCL as well as the ministry of petroleum & natural gas.
In my RTI query, I had sought the following:
1. Copy of the Rules, Regulation or Guidelines that prohibits domestic LPG users from ordering more than 12 refill cylinders in a financial year. If no such Rules, Regulation or Guidelines exist, then kindly state so.
2. Copy of the Rules, Regulation or Guidelines that prohibits domestic LPG users, who do not avail any subsidy and buy refill at the market rate, from ordering more than 12 refill cylinders in a financial year. If no such Rules, Regulation or Guidelines exists, then kindly state so.
3. Copy of the Rules, Regulation or Guidelines that prescribes a time limit of 14 days for domestic LPG users, who do not avail any subsidy and buy refill at the market rate, from ordering more than 12 refill cylinders in a financial year. If no such Rules, Regulation or Guidelines exists, then kindly state so.
In response, MP Rethees Kumar, chief general manager-LPG and CPIO at HPCL, says there are no rules, regulations or guidelines that prohibit ordering more than 12 LPG refill in a financial year and there is no time limit of 14 days before the customer can order second refill.
I had also asked for information about the total number of HPCL domestic LPG consumers and the total number of LPG refills consumed by them, month-wise over the past 12 months till January 2021.
Here is the reply I received from the CPIO…
As per the reply, over the 12 months till January 2021, the total number of active LPG consumers of HPCL increased by 2.35 million to 78.9 million. However, there is a pattern in the consumption of LPG refill as it keeps increasing or decreasing every month. For example, the number of LPG refills consumed was 38.5 million in March 2020, which increased by over 500,000 next month to 39.1 million. However, in May 2020, it again fell to 37 million.
Interestingly, despite the change in the number of LPG refills consumed every month, it has remained at nearly half of the total number of active consumers. For example, in February 2020, there were 76.6 million active consumers, who consumed 36.5 million LPG refills. Similarly, in January this year, HPCL had 78.9 million active consumes, who used 40.4 million LPG refills.
Another interesting observation from the data shred by HPCL is while in November, total number of active consumers come down by 3.81 million to 74.5 million from 78.3 million in October 2020, consumption of LPG refills declined only by 859,000. Even in January 2021, while the number of active consumers increased by over 200,000 consumption of LPG refills fell by nearly 1.7 million cylinders.
Since, under RTI, we cannot ask questions, and can only request information available on record, we may never know why there are frequent changes in total number of active consumers and number of LPG refills consumed by them.
Here is the reply received from HPCL under RTI...