• Indefinite closure over govt’s failure to raise profit margin to 6pc • Ministry says PSO, Shell, Total to remain open
LAHORE/KARACHI: The All Pakistan Petrol Pumps Dealers Association on Wednesday announced a nationwide strike and closure of fuel stations from Thursday (today) for an indefinite period over the government’s failure to increase the dealers’ profit margin to six per cent.
Soon after the announcement, long queues of motorists were seen at petrol pumps in several cities.
The association’s leaders, including its Punjab president Chaudhry Irfan Elahi, Lahore president Chaudhry Asif and information secretary Khwaja Atif, held a press conference at a local hotel.
Mr Atif said the government did not honour the promise it had made three years ago to raise the dealers’ profit margin, adding that it had become difficult for them to run fuel stations due to the growing and unchecked inflation and increase in the prices of petroleum products.
In 2014, he said, a Pakistan Institute of Development Economics report had suggested Rs4.25 per litre as the operating cost of a station and that the dealers should be given this amount as the operating price. However, the government was paying them Rs3.91 per litre and also deducting Rs0.65 per litre as withholding tax from these operating charges, he stated.
Mr Atif further said the dealers had previously called a strike from November 5 but withdrew it after federal Energy Minister Hammad Azhar led a government team and held a meeting with them on November 3 and agreed to meet their demands.
The government had agreed to a 6pc increase in the profit margin and sought time till November 17 over which they had withdrawn the strike call. However, Mr Atif said, seven days had passed since the deadline and the government had not fulfilled its promise at which the association was forced to close the stations for an indefinite period or till the acceptance of their demands.
In a statement, the head of the association’s Bahawalpur chapter, Muhammad Yaseen, said no vehicles, except ambulances and Rescue 1122 vans, would be supplied fuel during the strike.
A spokesperson for the petroleum ministry claimed that they had sent a summary to the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet to increase the profit margin of dealers and was waiting for its approval. He further said the federal cabinet would take a decision on the increase in profit margin within 10 days.
“However, oil will be available at all PSO, Shell and Total stations in the country,” he said, adding that oil tankers had been sent to these stations to ensure supply to the public.
On the other hand, Energy Minister Hammad Azhar attempted to cool down the situation by tweeting that “we are in touch with petroleum dealers association. A summary regarding revision of their margins has already been tabled in the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) and a decision will be taken in its next session”.
Following the strike announcement, consumers in many parts of the country were seen making a beeline at petrol pumps to top up their fuel tanks, while many stations had started closing down from the evening, causing severe hardships for vehicle owners.
Pakistan Petroleum Dealers Association (PPDA) chairman Abdul Sami Khan at a press conference at Karachi Press Club on Wednesday also explained the government’s agreement to increase the margin on sales after the association called a strike on November 5.
The petroleum ministry had called on the PPDA that was followed by more meetings, assuring the association’s members of taking them on board before sending a summary to the ECC on an upward margin revision. However, the government made no further contact.
Sami Khan said that soon after announcing the strike on Wednesday, the government issued a notification that oil companies, which are running a few petrol pumps, have been advised to keep their stations open.
He said that it was impossible to run petrol stations at the current margin of 3.25pc owing to the threefold hike in daily expenses as a result of high power rates and workers’ salaries, government departments’ fees and the yearly provincial and federal government taxes. He said the government had raised the margin six months ago by 20 paisa per litre.
In a surprise move, the All Pakistan Petroleum Dealers Association, which had been at loggerheads with the PPDA over various issues, fully supported the strike call, asking their members to close down their pumps from 6am on Thursday.
Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2021