KARACHI: Transporters and members of the All Pakistan CNG Association take part in a demonstration on Wednesday against gas loadshedding in front of the main offices of Sui Southern Gas Company.—PPI
KARACHI: Transporters and members of the All Pakistan CNG Association take part in a demonstration on Wednesday against gas loadshedding in front of the main offices of Sui Southern Gas Company.—PPI

ISLAMABAD: Amid continuing exchange of tough stances through a chain of communications, the federal and Sindh governments are meeting on Thursday (today) for discussions on interpretation of Article 158 of the Constitution and distribution of natural gas as the Karachi-based industrialists continued their protest over gas shortage.

Background discussions with federal government officials suggest that the overall gas shortage across the country is not more than 140-160 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) that works out to be around four per cent of the total supply to the integrated pipeline network of about 3,160-3,200mmcfd.

The gas demand and supply situation would start improving over the next week, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Petroleum Nadeem Babar told Dawn. He declined to discuss divergent views of the federal and Sindh governments over gas supply and distribution mechanism, saying he would be in Karachi on Thursday for discussions with the Sindh government, private sector and Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGCL) to remove misunderstandings and improve gas supplies.

In a fresh letter a day earlier, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah challenged Mr Babar for Centre’s interpretation of Article 158 of the Constitution and described as “partial” the latter’s information about the gas numbers. He reminded the SAPM that the provinces had been justifiably agitating for a very long time that correct gas production and consumption numbers were not timely shared with them.

He said Sindh produced 2,500-2,600mmcfd of gas as per energy book of the federal government and consumed only 1,406mmcfd despite a constitutional right over the entire production.

Industrialists in Karachi continue protest over gas shortage

“Perhaps your numbers were based on partial or factually incorrect information,” Mr Shah told Mr Babar and promised to walk him through the calculations when they meet on Thursday.

“This has resulted in homes without gas to cook food, industries shut down because of huge shortages resulting in daily wage earners losing their earnings and transport coming to a standstill. This is the direct result of the federal government’s callous and negligent attitude towards Sindh,” Mr Shah alleged.

He quoted Article 158 which states: “The province in which the well-head of natural gas is situated shall have precedence over other parts of Pakistan in meeting the requirements of natural gas from that well head […]”

Officials in the petroleum division said the remaining part of the article promised this precedence was “subject to the commitments and obligations as on the commencing day” that meant the old domestic and even other consumers could not be deprived of gas supplies.

Earlier, Mr Babar had written to CM Shah that Sindh’s net gas production stood at 2,243mmcfd. “In addition to gas put in the SSGC pipeline system which ranges from 1,200-1,300mmcfd, there is approximately 700mmcfd provided directly to fertiliser and power sectors in Sindh. Even after netting out gas supplied by SSGCL in Balochistan via its pipeline system, there is only 400-500mmcfd of gas that goes out of Sindh,” Mr Babar said.

He said that perhaps Mr Shah was unaware that 531mmcfd gas had been allocated for Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited during the Musharraf, PPP and PML-N governments, out of which 258mmcfd was being provided by SNGPL to dedicated users (fertiliser and power sectors) in Sindh.

The SAPM said that even if Sindh’s interpretation of Article 158 was applied to the disagreement by the Ministry of Energy, the province would be short of gas in two years. “It is therefore in the interest of Sindh and not just the federation to arrive at a mutually agreed structure for supplies, distribution and pricing of natural gas in whatever form. Only then can we ensure uninterrupted supplies to all,” he wrote.

When contacted, SSGCL spokesman Shahbaz Islam declined to comment on the demand and supply situation in its network and interactions with the protesting traders and industrialists in Karachi.

A senior official at the petroleum division, however, explained that the gas shortage in Karachi was caused by industrialists consuming higher than their allocations in connivance with the elements within the gas company.

Instead of complying with their approved allocations, the industrialists started protests outside the company’s offices, the official said, adding that the industrialists were picking up about 50-55mmcfd gas higher than their allocations, while the total shortfall in the SSGCL network was no more than 95mmcfd.

“Except some parts of Balochistan due to extreme winter conditions, the gas supply situation was reasonably normal in the rest of the country,” the official said.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2020