The safe and environmentally sustainable transportation of fossil fuels, especially liquid and gaseous, is the result of decades of improvement to a point where we seldom hear about accidents of any sort in marine tanker ships, refineries or terminals. Globally, the same safeguards are taken forward through pipeline and rail or road transport to final depots, tank-farms and other agencies which then deal with the end consumer, you and me.
At a certain level, you and I in India can see the improvements and adherence to a near-global level, in the automobile industry, both at retail outlets aka petrol pumps and filling stations, as well as fuel tank design in motor vehicles. Likewise, if you look out of the window or porthole of an airplane, the tanker trucks or underground tank pipelines and procedures used for bunkering aircraft are as good at major airports in India as they are anywhere in the world.
Close to this, compressed natural gas (CNG) refilling stations for cars, trucks and buses, are well equipped from safety and environmental point of view—though the end-point staff could do with better training. It helps that CNG is lighter than air and in case of a leak, does tend to disperse itself into the atmosphere fairly quickly almost every time.
Piped gas to your homes is still a bit of a question mark on safety practices, the present lot is still not very careful in some parts of India, but competition from the private sector may help improve matters. I personally choose to not use piped gas as yet because I do not find their procedures very competent in execution.
But have you seen any change in the last 50+ years in the way cooking gas cylinders are delivered to you at home or office, by the public sector giants responsible for this task? Has there been a visible change in the last mile here to your observation or opinion?
Here is an unconnected dot to join - steady customers like the Indian Navy are quietly moving to non-PSU suppliers for lubricants and even bunker fuel, it is whispered, because of safety, quality and environmental concerns. Security vehicles of VVIPs are already in another league.
But we the public, the common men and women, mere citizens, have no choice but to accept our cooking gas cylinders from untrained and unqualified last mile delivery persons representing our monopoly PSUs, Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum or Hindustan Petroleum, whether they arrive on bicycle, cycle rickshaw, donkey cart or three wheeler auto rickshaw. Have you ever asked them what their training for the job is, leave alone qualifications or competencies, and whether they have any sort of exposure to best practices to follow in the safety and environmental aspects of movement of petroleum products of which they are as much a part as a highly trained master mariner on a ship?
Unlike in the rest of the civilized world, India is probably the only country where retail outlets and consumer-facing personnel, dealer principals and their senior staff, are not trained for safety in handling petroleum products, liquid and gas. Sure, for larger corporate customers (naval, airline, commercial, or VVIP) there are standards to be adhered to as are prevalent in the oil terminals and oil transport business. But for retail consumers - there are no standards.
Citizens charters talk about "technicians" but there is no compliance because there simply are no standards. Some agencies I am told have operated for three generations without any form of formal training to anybody at the top of the pyramid at agencies dealing in petroleum products, liquid and gas, and it appears to be merrily continuing with applications for thousands of more dealerships in a similar manner.
Look closely at the advertisements for dealerships of liquid fuel and gas - it is all about commercial considerations, nothing about a minimum level of qualifications or competence in handling dangerous goods and hazardous materials by the dealer principals or key personnel. Leave alone the customer facing staff.
I asked friends of mine abroad in the business of petroleum products retailing, some are seafarers with oil business experience going back decades, and not only did they as well as others working for them need to be qualified and competent to operate agencies, but they had to renew and upgrade their qualifications every 3 or 5 years, depending on the nature of the competency.
I asked a senior person in the PSU oil industry in India if he could even enter a refinery or oil tank farm or stockyard without renewing his certification, and he said absolutely not, the question did not arise. I know my own lapsed qualifications and certifications simply will not work anymore at sea or terminal.
I asked a tanker truck driver in India if he could enter a tank farm to pick up a load of any fuel if his certification had expired, and he told me, no way, he could not even drive a fuel tanker on public roads if his documentation, training, and certification was not up to date.
So it is not as though we, our PSUs, cannot implement this for the last mile delivery to your and my and even their own homes.
It is just that at this critical point emerges a "private dealer", usually from the good old days, when it was all about political patronage as the essential component to be in the customer facing oil retail business, liquid and gas - I mean, even ex-prime ministers have been and continue to be in the business.
The "private dealer", therefore, is assumed to not need any competencies, qualifications, or certifications. As long as the Diwali gifts keep flowing. Yes, all sorts of local municipality certificates will be hanging behind a table in an office, but the person who comes to deliver the gas cylinder to your home will have zilch by way of training, and it is your and my fault that we do not demand any form of change in this serious hazard to our lives.
A few days ago, I had an episode pertaining to a leak in the cooking gas configuration at home. What happened next would have been funny if it was not so dangerous.
I stayed without cooking gas for five days till I got this point across to people reasonably senior at Bharat Petroleum aka Bharat Gas. Finally I had to point to their own Citizens Charter and basic PESO (Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation) regulations.
Next time you receive a cooking gas cylinder, please ask the dealer if the rickshaw or cycle or auto delivery person adheres to PESO guidelines. And do let me know the answer you get please. My gas dealer had not even heard of PESO.