At a time and age when call centres across the country can operate 24/7 thanks to shifts, the recent claim by petrol dealers that they 'need' to close on Sundays is quite strange. To add to the oddity, there is an attempt to somehow rope in PM Modi into the issue, thanks to the claim that the closure is in line with his call to conserve oil in his latest 'Mann Ki Baat'. 

It is evident that the PM's call was a general 'let's save the fuel' call, and does not imply that bunks should close down across the country for a day. Rather, the suspicion arises that this is merely the latest fallout in the ongoing battle between the dealers and the oil companies over increased commissions to dealers. 

The demand for increased commissions has been a longstanding issue. However, the government has not shown as interest in hiking the commission. The call for Sunday closures (and perhaps an 8-hour working day) can be seen as a pressure tactic. 

Interestingly, the dealers themselves seem divided over the idea. The Consortium of Indian Petroleum Dealers (CIPD), which claims to represent some 25000 dealers, has called for the Sunday shutdown. But the All India Petroleum Dealers' Association has distanced itself from the plan, as reported by Business Standard. 

The CIPD has clarified in statements to the media that they will keep one attendant in the bunk for 'emergencies' and will provide fuel for emergency vehicles like ambulances. How this is supposed to help a fuel-starved nation was not clarified. 

The petroleum ministry also quickly made its position clear on the issue. In its tweet, it said - Petroleum Ministry neither endorses nor approves of the move by a small section of dealers to keep their petrol pumps closed on Sundays. Such closure of petrol pumps by a small section of dealers will lead to inconvenience to general public,"

This is true. The closure of an essential commodity as petrol on Sundays will cause chaos. Sundays is usually a day of outings, shopping and restocking for most families in the country. And even if we keep that aside, petrol is a must have, and denying the public such a vital product for a whole day in a country like India will not only lead to misery but could even cost lives or large sums of money, in case of an emergency. 

When one sets up a petrol dealership, profit motive aside, one has to keep in mind that one is dealing with a product that must be available at all times. While most bunks have reasonable working hours, many choose to be 24/7 simply because the demand for fuel is that high. Petrol cannot be denied to citizens on a whim.

The government, for its part, cannot allow such tactics in the country. Petrol is an essential commodity, and the Centre should invoke the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) to ensure that the bunks stay open.