Petrol consumers have been left high and dry. They expected petrol at cheaper rates in keeping with Wednesday`s Supreme Court order but they did not get any fuel even at the prevailing prices. For, the Cabinet refused to decide whether to effect the recommended price reduction, or not, on the grounds that the Supreme Court order concerned had not been intimated to it and that it needed to peruse it.
Private fuel station owners were wary of ordering petrol at the current prices as they feared they would have to dispose of it at a huge loss in case of a downward price revision. As expected, the Supreme Court ordered that petrol be sold at Rs. 100.00 per litre. They are still in two minds as no final petrol price adjustment has been determined so far. But, the question is whether the fuel retailers would have acted in such a manner, if petroleum prices had been jacked up. They, it may be recalled, lost no time in matching the revised rates overnight and making huge profits on the existing stocks, when the government increased prices suddenly a few months ago.
The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) has sufficient stocks and is willing to sell petrol, but it is without enough filling stations to cope with the huge demand. At least now, we must realise the need for a strong distribution network at the disposal of the State.
The petrol shortage has affected millions of people. Their consternation is understandable. Worst affected are the smalltime commercial operators like trishaw and cab drivers. Businesses are also affected as people cannot take out their vehicles for want of petrol.
So, it is incumbent upon the government to stop dithering and take action to restore the petrol supply without subjecting the public to any more suffering. First of all, it must deal with the filling stations that refuse to purchase and distribute petrol.
Meanwhile, what is more disturbing is that the petrol issue has resulted in some friction between the Executive and the Judiciary. Dilatory tactics that the government has adopted in handling the situation smacks of a move to jealously guard its turf.
The wellbeing of a democratic society depends on healthy relations among the arms of government as well as other State institutions, based on their independence and mutual respect, the absence of which usually brings about suspicion, mistrust and even animosity. A prerequisite for their peaceful co-existence is their ability and willingness to overcome hegemonic tendencies and act with restraint without treading on one another`s corn.
The need of the hour is to pour oil on troubled waters without letting the country be plunged into another crisis.
The petrol issue is highly inflammable and it needs to be handled with great care.