A hard-to-miss landmark at the busy Asilmetta junction. In the business of fuelling the city’s cars since the 1960s, this imposing petrol bunk was once on the fringes of Visakhapatnam. The owner, Koti Reddy shares how the bunk came to be.
“Would you like to take up the dealership of a petrol outlet in Asilmetta?” asked Kaiser when he met AV Reddy. It was that casual question which resulted eventually into the prominent BPCL Bunk in Asilmetta. AV Reddy, the elder brother of the current dealer of the Srinivasa Automobiles Service Station in Asilmetta junction was a motor enthusiast. An M Com graduate with an MBA, he often spent his time in the petrol bunk belonging to MP Jagannath Rao in the old town area. A Burmah Shell outlet, the company officer in charge, Kaiser, chanced upon him during one of his regular visits. Impressed by his bearing and education, he offered AV Reddy a chance that was to become his primary profession.
Even back then, interviews were conducted by Oil companies for dealerships and accordingly, there were three contenders for the outlet, amongst which AV Reddy was chosen, primarily because he was the only educated applicant. The land was leased from SG Sambandan and Co. and the dealership was given to him and his younger brother Koti Reddy in 1962. Along with fuelling, The Srinivasa Automobile Service Station, set up by the brothers provided services for vehicles ranging from fuelling, oil-changes, to tinkering and more. “This area was just developing then, with lots of greenery and few establishments around. The Vice Chancellor, Registrar, lecturers and staff from the Andhra University used to frequent our pump as it was the closet to the university back then. The officer from Burmah Shell, a Parsi gentleman, Kaiser would visit our bunk every morning and enquire about our needs, the customer’s needs and grievances. He would spend his Sundays meeting prospective customers, and convince them to fuel at the Burmah Shell outlets. If there was a car parked outside a house, he would knock on the door!” Reddy recalls chuckling.
Till 1975 there were four private oil companies – Caltex, Burmah Shell, ESSO and Standard Vacuum. ESSO and StanVac were subsequently absorbed by Caltex which eventually became HPCL after nationalisation, while Burmah Shell became BPCL. It is here that Reddy deviates a bit and shares the interesting rationale behind why these companies were nationalised. It was during the 1971 war with Pakistan that the army needed fuel in copious amounts and the oil companies were being finicky and insisting on immediate payment for the fuel supplied. The then Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi worked out a deal for unlimited supply on credit, till the war was over. Post the victory, realising the importance of fuel during such emergencies, she promptly nationalised all existing oil companies, leading to the creation of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL).
“In those days, there were only about 30 or 40 cars in Visakhapatnam, and most of them were imported models. Even AU Professors and Naval officers had imported cars. There were also a few Ford and Chevrolet trucks in town that ran on petrol. Diesel came much later.” The car that he particularly remembers was a classy Benz belonging to an aluminium factory owner, Mohan Singh that had a petrol tank of an impressive capacity of 200lts! “He was very particular about his car, which used to be in pristine condition. We had to be extra careful while filling, not letting a drop spill onto the car. He used to insist that we filter the petrol too.
Back then there used to be only about 6-7 pumps in Visakhapatnam. Initially there used to be price wars amongst the oil companies too. If Caltex reduced their price by a paise, Burmah Shell used to retaliate likewise. Later, the oil companies reached an understanding and maintained a fixed price. We did not have metered pumps like today. The fuel would be pumped into standard 5 litre jars, which were then emptied into the vehicle tanks. The cost of one litre petrol was only Re 1.07 paise, and still our commission was better than what we get now,” he nostalgically reveals.
For a long time, the bunk was operated from a much smaller area but provided many more automobile-related services. With the untimely demise of the elder brother, Reddy consolidated the business to focus only on fuelling; the vehicular servicing aspect was discontinued. The outlet was extended and renovated in 1990. Over the years, he has seen many changes, customers have changed, traffic has increased manifold, even the manner of conducting business has changed. But what has stayed the same is the uncompromising stand of the bunk when it comes to quality. This has remained just as true as the day they made their first sale.