Sri Lanka sends troops to oversee fuel distribution amid crisis
Sri Lanka has enlisted its military to oversee the distribution of fuel in the country, as citizens queue for hours outside petrol and diesel stations due to a severe shortage as the country grapples with a unprecedented economic crisis.
Two to four members of the military will be stationed in each gasoline shed at the state-run Celyon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), officials said Tuesday. “They will not carry any weapons, it is only to supervise and ensure the proper distribution of available fuel,” said army spokesman Brigadier Nilantha Premarathna. The Hindu. The CPC has over 1,000 gas stations across the island.
Military participation in civilian functions has remained a sensitive issue in post-war Sri Lanka, particularly in the predominantly Tamil north and east where army personnel can be frequently spotted, sometimes even regulating movement . The military has been involved in agriculture and more recently in the country’s response to the pandemic. Sri Lankan army chief General Shavendra Silva led a COVID-19 task force and was later appointed to oversee the “Green Agriculture Operational Centre”, established by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The UN human rights chief has expressed concern over the appointment of former and current military officials to bureaucratic posts.
The army will now also oversee the distribution of fuel across the country, amid a continuing shortage. Long rows of vehicles have become commonplace outside gas stations. In the past few days, at least four elderly people are believed to have died while queuing. Local media also reported clashes between customers at some gas stations.
According to a recent statement to the media by CPC Chairman Sumith Wijesinghe, daily demand – before the shortages – was around 5,500 metric tons of diesel and 3,300 metric tons of gasoline. “Now, due to over-buying, we have emitted 7,000-8,000 MT of diesel and 4,200-4,500 MT of gasoline from CPC storage into the market over the past few days,” he said. .
The disruption to Sri Lanka’s fuel supply is just one manifestation of the island nation’s rapid economic downturn over the past few months, with the pandemic severely affecting its foreign exchange earning sectors. The resulting dollar crisis blocked the import of essential goods, including food, fuel and medicine. The Sri Lankan rupee fell further on Tuesday, to 272.06 to the US dollar, nearly 3.7 to ₹1, while commodity prices from milk powder and rice, to dal and coconuts, fly away.
Citizen groups and the political opposition protested in different places, blaming the government for the state of the country’s economy. Sri Lanka has secured a $500 million Indian line of credit to cover emergency fuel supplies and has so far received two shipments of fuel from India which authorities here say will ease the shortage.