When K Srikant Iyyer, a resident of CBD area, went to have his empty cooking gas cylinder refilled, he was taken aback when the vendor told him that the cylinder could not be exchanged as it had expired! He was instructed to buy a fresh one, which he did, paying OMR28 for a new one.
Ever since the government ordered taking expired LPG cylinders off the market, a year and a half ago, there has been a state of utter confusion in the market, with many costumers being completely unaware. And exploiting the situation, are many individual gas vendors, who seem to dictate their own set of rules to customers, compelling them to buy cylinders for a premium.
"I was told to dispose of the expired cylinder at the municipality yard by the vendor, as he said it could not be refilled or replaced. I did as he asked me to. I was out of gas and urgently needed it. I didn't know that this was not the right solution," said Srikant who, like scores of other consumers, was exploited by a gas vendor.
While it is true that the government has ordered to scrap expired cooking gas cylinders, the claim that the gas agencies refuse to accept the 'expired cylinders' may not be all that true. Gas companies say new cylinders are provided in exchange by authorised vendors or depots.
A senior sales official from National Gas (one of the 3 major LPG companies in Oman) said the cylinders were changeable free of cost. "Customers could turn over the expired cylinders to the authorized distributors or vendors, who would replace it with a fresh one immediately, without any extra charge." An official from the company's authorised depot in Wadi Al Kabir also clarified that his agency does accept expired cylinders.
"We have taken back thousands of cylinders, so far, from individuals who brought them to us."
In case any vendor or sub vendor did not oblige to replace the expired cylinder or unfairly charged for replacing it, customers should immediately contact the concerned gas agency and report the matter, the official said adding, "The gas company will address the situation swiftly, and as well as take action against the vendor concerned," assured the official.
Clearing the confusion about the expiry of cylinders, the official said, according to rules, a cylinder after 15 years of its manufacturing date, was deemed as expired. "A cylinder can be used for a maximum of 15 years, after which we exchange them for new ones. Holes are drilled into the old ones so that they do reappear in the market," the official said adding, as of now, cylinders, having a manufacturing date of 1996 or beyond were valid. The manufacturing date of the cylinder is clearly stamped on the collar of each cylinder.
Majid Al Balushi, a resident of Qurum, however, reasoned it should be the vendor's responsibility, and not the customer's to check the supplied cylinder is not expired or nearing it. "The vendors in the first place should not give us the cylinders nearing expiry or which have already expired. Why is the customer to be burdened with everything? The vendor comes and attaches the full cylinder, in the cylinder box outside the building. Often, we are not even present. It is not possible for us to always keep a check," he said.
Majid further added the absence of the gas companies to monitor the retail prices directly was also leading to price irregularity, with a new gas connection costing anywhere from OMR26 to 29, depending on the area and vendor. Also, most consumers pay a minimum of OMR3 for a refill, not knowing what is the actual price.
Acknowledging the lapses, the official from National Gas said such cases were frequently appearing before them. "We have authorised and licensed dealers and distributors which function efficiently. But these dealers have further sub-dealers like cafeteria owners and small shop owners over whom the companies have no direct control, and they are the ones who often mislead and exploit the customers," he said.
Another customer from Ruwi, Sadiq Ali Ahmad, said gas companies should also take over distribution from individual suppliers as it was hard to ensure that individual suppliers delivered gas on time and provided good service.
Some gas vendors, however, also blame the gas dealers for the situation saying it were the dealers who showed reluctance in accepting the expired cylinders.
"I don't have any problem in accepting an expired cylinder from a customer, but why should I accept it when I know the company might not receive it? I am just a middleman." said a vendor in Wadi Al Kabir area.
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