LAHORE: The ongoing gas crisis in the country prompted an outcry in Punjab and Islamabad after gas shortage forced closure of CNG stations and domestic consumers started experiencing low gas pressure, aggravated further with a dip in temperature at the peak of winter in Pakistan.
Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited (SNGPL), in its notification dated December 27, 2018 announced discontinuing gas supply to all CNG stations from December 28, 2018, to January 10, 2019, due to maintenance issues. The company’s General Manager Qaiser Masood, however, assured that CNG would be provided to public transportation at specified outlets.
Ghiyas Abdullah Paracha, a central leader of the All Pakistan CNG Association, told Arab News that people attached with the business were considering agitation after the suspension of gas supply to CNG stations in Punjab and Islamabad.
He said that the suspension of gas supply to CNG stations will render thousands of employees jobless as, on average, at least 30 employees work at each CNG station. “Our business is already in tatters with only 1,300 CNG stations operational out of a total of 22,000 CNG stations in Punjab and Islamabad,” he regretted.
Approximately 0.6 to 0.7 million vehicles, out of a total of 3.7 million CNG vehicles in Pakistan, run on gaseous fuel in Punjab and Islamabad, he said. “These vehicles including buses, vans, rickshaws and taxies offer cheap transport to the public and shifting to petrol or diesel will increase fares. Hence, the impact of the economic cost will be transferred to poor people,” he said. The CNG Association is scheduled to announce the next strategy after its meeting on Monday.
The domestic consumers, on the other hand, are facing difficulties doing their daily household chores. “We will have to send our children to schools without breakfast once winter holidays end on December 31,” said Azra Parveen, a housewife living in Samanabad area of Lahore. “Either I cook food very late in the night or early morning when gas pressure improves due to low consumption,” she told Arab News. “Otherwise we have to buy cooked food from the market that increases the burden on the salaried class,” she added.
According to Pakistan Meteorological Department, a wave of dry cold weather persists across Punjab, while minimum temperature fell to -1.0°C in Islamabad on Saturday. According to the MET Department’s Regional Centre in Lahore, “Lahore and some other districts are experiencing frost with minimum temperature regularly falling below 5.0°C during night/morning hours.”
The low gas pressure has also forced people to use alternate fuel options like Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), wood and coal, which further increases the economic burden on people.
A visit to the various sale points of alternate fuels in Lahore reveals black-marketing of substitute fuel at certain points as LPG is being sold at higher rates than the official price of Rs 115/kg. Wet and dry wood is being sold at Rs 450 and Rs 550 per 40 kg and coal of wood and stone is available at Rs 400 and Rs 550 respectively. “The price of alternate fuel has increased up to 50 percent due to the chilly weather in the absence of an effective price monitoring system,” said Sohail Khan, owner of a commercial oven in the outskirts of Lahore, who uses wood and LPG depending upon affordability.
Imran Maqbool, the spokesman for Office of Deputy Commissioner, Lahore, told Arab News that Lahore district government had been taking stern action against black-marketers of LPG and alternate fuels as over 100 FIRs have been registered against violators so far.
Rasheed Lone, former Managing Director of SNGPL, told Arab News that Punjab and Islamabad face a shortfall of 700 to 800 mmcf per day as demand increases during peak winter season. “The SNGPL diverts gas supply towards domestic users from the industry during the winter season,” he said.
He informed that the company is not obliged to provide gas to the zero-rated industry in three months from December to February as per their contract with the company. However, upon government’s request, he said, the company may supply gas to power and fertilizer companies.
“Geysers continue to consume gas even when not in use, so they must be turned off,” he said, further advising people to use heaters and geysers responsibly.
Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Ghulam Sarwar Khan declined to comment despite multiple efforts. However, local media reported that Minister, in a meeting with parliamentarians and SNGPL officials, said the government is taking necessary measures to resolve the issue of low gas pressure on a priority basis to mitigate the sufferings of consumers.