Petrol pump
In picture: A petrol pump in Bengaluru.IANS File Photo

A major controversy has erupted after the Petroleum Ministry asked 10 lakh petrol pumps employees around the country to submit personal data like religion, caste and constituency. This is a move which is being opposed by the Consortium of Indian Petroleum Dealers (CIPD), according to an NDTV report.

The government said that it needs the data for its skill development scheme, while the petroleum dealers have said that they will go to the court because the details sought by the government are personal and infringe fundamental rights.

Three public sector oil companies – Hindustan Petroleum, Indian Oil and Bharat Petroleum – have written letters to 59,000 dealers around the country asking them to send data of their employees to be included in the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) scheme under the prime minister's Skill Development Scheme.

The letter states that after submission of the data, the employees will get a qualification certificate which can be used to further enhance their careers. However, it is not clear why does the details need to include the Aadhaar number, religion, caste and constituency.

CIPD wrote back to the three companies saying that the directive violated the fundamental rights of the employees. "This personal information should be privy only to the employer and the employee and shouldn't be given out. Given the sensitivity of the information and in the interest of maintaining confidentiality, we have written to the oil companies that we will not share this data," K Suresh Kumar, general secretary of CIPD, told NDTV.

The government is also not budging from its stand and has threatened the dealers that if the data is not shared, fuel supplies will be withheld.

Indian Oil dealers in Punjab received a message from the sales officer of the company saying that RPL data from many retail outlets have not been received and fuel supplies to these outlets will be blocked from Monday, August 27, onwards if the details are not submitted by 7 pm on August 23.

When asked if he had sent the message, the sales officer refused to confirm or deny that he had sent the message. Indian Oil has been served a legal notice by Punjab Petroleum Dealers Association in this regard.

No comments on the issue were forthcoming from the three oil companies or Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. On July 23, when the issue first surfaced after dealers in Punjab protested, Pradhan at a public function claimed that asking for caste and religion is not a big thing.

"Don't we give these details when we get a child admitted to school?" Pradhan said. Questions are also being raised whether this move is to ensure that the government's poorly-performing skill development scheme has decent numbers.

According to the government data, out of 29 lakh people who got skill certificates under the scheme between 2015 and 2018, only 6 lakh got placement.

Does the government want to add 10 lakh petrol pump employees as beneficiaries of the scheme to just pad up the numbers? Or does it want to harvest political data, which would prove useful with general elections a few months away?