ISLAMABAD: Amid ongoing protests by opposition parties against price hike and rising unemployment in the country, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday rejected the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) proposal to increase petroleum prices and decided to keep them unchanged for the next fortnight.
The premier has taken the decision “keeping in view the public interest and to provide them relief,” says an official announcement by the PM Office.
It said Ogra and finance ministry in view of the oil price in the world market had proposed increasing petrol price by Rs11.53 per litre, high-speed diesel (HSD) Rs8.49, kerosene Rs6.29 and light diesel Rs5.72 from Nov 1.
It quoted Mr Khan as saying that the government’s priority was to provide maximum relief to people. “Therefore, instead of shifting the burden of the increase in the oil prices in the world market to the consumers, the government will bear the burden of the proposed raise in the price,” added the statement.
Interestingly, announcements come from the finance ministry whenever there is an upward revision in oil prices, whereas in case of no change or a drop in prices, it is the PM Office that issues the handout.
PPP leader says govt has already raised petroleum prices by Rs45 per litre in three years
Petroleum prices already reached a record level on Oct 16 when the federal government raised petrol price by more than Rs10 and rate of diesel by over Rs12 per litre. It was for the first time that prices of all the petroleum fuels in Pakistan had crossed the Rs100 mark.
The present ex-depot price of petrol is Rs137.79 whereas the HSD, which is the country’s most widely consumed petroleum fuel, is being sold at Rs134.48 per litre.
Petrol is mostly used in private transport, small vehicles, rickshaws and two-wheelers and has a direct bearing on the budget of middle- and lower-middle class. Similarly, the price of HSD is considered highly inflationary as it is mostly used in heavy transport vehicles, trains and agricultural engines like trucks, buses, tractors, tube-wells and threshers.
The demand for petrol is expected to rise further with anticipated gas shortages in coming months when the government could curtail operations of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) stations to mitigate its impact on domestic consumers.
The record high fuel prices have already caused an inflationary impact not only on the national economy, particularly when the country is a net importer of energy, but also on the budgets of aviation industry, the Army Aviation and the Pakistan Air Force. The government had also previously jacked up prices of jet fuels JP-1 and JP-4 by around Rs10 to cross the Rs110 per litre mark.
Similarly, the price of kerosene oil had previously been raised by Rs10.95 to Rs110.26 per litre, which has a serious financial impact on the rural population of the mostly hilly north, where gas is unavailable and kerosene oil is primarily used for cooking. The price of light diesel oil is at present Rs108.35 per litre.
According to a statement issued by the finance ministry at that time, the government had absorbed the pressure and provided maximum relief to the consumers by keeping petroleum levy and the sales tax to minimum.
Earlier in the day, the two major opposition parties — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — had warned the government against yet another possible increase in oil prices.
PPP vice president Senator Sherry Rehman had asked the government not to increase the oil prices, stating that the present regime had already increased the oil price by Rs45 per litre in three years. She said when the country kept strategic reserves of oil for 22 days, then what was the logic behind reviewing the prices after every 15 days.
“Who is pocketing the profit of the remaining seven days?” she asked.
In a separate statement, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb alleged that the prices of fuel were rising because Mr Khan was a “mega thief.”
“As long as Imran is in power, inflation, unemployment and economic devastation will continue to increase,” she said while recalling that Mr Khan had promised petrol at Rs46 per litre to the people. She questioned the “entire spectacle” created by Mr Khan promising the nation major subsidy on fuel prices.
Ms Aurangzeb said Mr Khan was “economically butchering” the entire nation to live up to the terrible agreement he had signed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) because of his inability to negotiate.
“Electricity, gas, flour, sugar, eggs, oil and pulses are all becoming virtually unaffordable while Imran continues his IMF obedience, disconnected and apathetic to the public plight. Imran fakes concern and announces that he would take notice of the rising inflation and makes it even worse every time,” she said, while urging the people to join the massive protests against “the tyrannical PTI government”.
Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2021