THE strike by CNG stations might be over in Sindh but it persists in other parts of the country to protest against the decision to raise the fuel’s price through the imposition of a gas infrastructure development cess. The All Pakistan CNG Association claims it was compelled to call the strike because the new levy will put extra burden on CNG users and hurt their business. The government termed the strike unjustified, and so far has shown no sign of withdrawing the tax that will be charged from all gas consumers barring domestic and commercial users. At some places, in Lahore for example, protesting CNG owners and their employees blocked traffic and squabbled with the police.
Caught in the war between the government and CNG station owners are the hapless commuters and motorists. In many smaller cities and towns, public transport has come to a virtual halt because of the unavailability of the relatively cheap fuel. At other places, public transporters have been charging higher fares because they are ‘forced’ to run their vehicles on expensive petrol or diesel. Car owners’ fuel costs too have shot up as they are forced to switch to petrol. But neither the government nor the CNG station owners are bothered about the consumers. It is hard to dispute the ‘shift’ in the CNG policy that seeks to discourage further conversion of vehicles on CNG in view of the growing gas shortages for power generation and industry. But it is equally difficult to defend the manner in which the government is trying to restrict its use. The policy should be implemented in a phased manner. One way of reversing the current CNG policy could be to promote LPG as a cheaper, alternate fuel. CNG station owners should be encouraged to install LPG dispensers even if the government has to subsidise their new investments. A deadline should be announced to allow time to private car owners to switch to other fuels rather than burdening them by not giving prior notice. Only public transporters should be allowed to use CNG and that too if they agree to provide their services at cheaper rates.