A severe fuel oil crisis has hit filling stations in Sylhet amid a shortage of freight trains carrying the fuel to the region, coupled with an increased demand for fuel oil for irrigation purposes.
Fuel oil comes to Sylhet from Chattogram by freight trains. Frequent accidents on Sylhet-Akhaura route and the shortage of wagons are the main reasons behind the crisis, according to people concerned.
Besides, production of fuel from by-products of natural gas obtained from gas fields in Sylhet has stopped for about six months. As a result, the fuel crisis is intensifying in the region.
According to officials of the state-owned oil marketing companies in Sylhet, three to four oil-carrying wagons used to come to Sylhet from Chattogram every week.
Each wagon used to carry an average of three lakh litres of fuel oil. But since the middle of January, the number of wagons has dropped to one per week.
Currently, not a single wagon is coming in a week. A wagon carrying fuel oil arrived in Sylhet after about eight days on Monday night, the officials said.
Freight trains carrying fuel oil met accidents on Sylhet-Akhaura route in November and December of 2020 and in January and February this year.
A railway official, seeking anonymity, said there was a shortage of wagons. Many wagons become dilapidated, he said.
Besides, repairing of the freight trains damaged in the accidents was going on, he said.
The freight trains now ply the route slowly due to the frequent accidents, he added.
As a result, it takes now five days for a wagon to reach Sylhet from Chattogram whereas previously it took two days, according to the official.
There are 114 filling stations in four districts of Sylhet division. Of them, 70 are located in different areas of Sylhet district, including 45 in Sylhet city, according to Bangladesh Petroleum Dealers, Distributors, Agents and Petrol Pump Owners Association.
All the filling stations are now facing fuel shortage.
The crisis of diesel is more acute. The filling stations are not getting even half of their demand for diesel, claim the fuel traders.
During the dry season, the daily demand of petrol, octane and diesel at the filling stations is more than 10 lakh litres.
According to the leaders of the association in Sylhet, the demand for fuel oil, especially for diesel, increases during the dry season in the region as the demand for diesel doubles for irrigation to Boro paddy fields.
Jubayer Ahmad Chowdhury, central secretary general of the Bangladesh Petroleum Dealers Distributors Agents and Petroleum Owners Association and general secretary of the CNG filling station and the Petrol Pump and Owners Association's Sylhet divisional committee, said, "We often have to face such situation as fuel supply to Sylhet depends on wagons."
Besides, the plants in Sylhet, where the by-products (condensate) obtained from the gas fields were used to be converted into fuel oil, had been closed for about six months, he said.
However, if the fuel crisis was not resolved soon, petrol pumps in Sylhet would call for an indefinite strike, added Jubayer.
Baki Billah, in-charge of the Sylhet office of state-run Jamuna Oil Company, said, "The oil crisis is caused as the wagons now come to Sylhet irregularly."
Meanwhile, the CNG filling station and the Petrol Pump and Owners Association had set 28 February as the deadline for resolving the crisis.
As the situation has not improved, the association was supposed to sit with the deputy commissioner of Sylhet on 1 March over the issue.
Khalilur Rahman, manager of Sylhet railway station, said, "The travel of fuel oil-carrying freight trains to Sylhet has decreased. But I do not know the reason behind it."