LAHORE: As the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) defends its petition seeking a fresh hike in gas tariff, a majority of the public and business people rejected the plea on Monday at a public hearing by the Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra).

They also demanded that the government reject SNGPL’s petition seeking a 147% raise in the gas tariff. “You people are repeatedly increasing gas prices without knowing the worst-ever situation the common people are passing through for the last few years,” said a participant at the hearing. “My February gas bill was Rs35,000. Do you think this bill is justified?” he questioned, adding that Ogra must take notice of this, keeping in view the situation the people have been facing.

A representative of the Lahore Restaurant Association criticised the government for pressing them to lower the prices of food items without knowing the skyrocketing cost of doing business.

“Whenever energy prices increase, we are left with no option but to increase the prices of food items. Despite all this, the government pressures us not to do so,” he said, demanding that the government avoid increasing the gas tariff since it is already on the higher side.

A representative of the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association said that the unaffordable gas tariff has already caused the closure of a huge number of factories, shops, and business premises in Punjab and other parts of the country.

Earlier, SNGPL’s managing director, Amir Tufail, defended the company’s petition and termed the proposed gas prices a need of the hour to meet the expenditures, including the cost of gas, development schemes, etc. According to Ogra, the public hearing was held on the petition by SNGPL for the determination of its estimated revenue requirement/prescribed prices for FY 2024-25.

The petitioner projected the average sought price for FY 2024-25 at Rs2,276.66 per MMBTU under the natural gas business, thereby claiming an increase of Rs475.95/MMBTU over the existing price. The petitioner demanded the previous years’ shortfall at Rs2,646.19/MMBTU FY 2024-25. It further demands an aggregate average prescribed price at Rs4,446.89/MMBTU for FY 2024-25. Besides the above, the petitioner claims RLNG cost of service at Rs325.08 per MMBTU for FY-2024-25. The authority has also scheduled to conduct another public hearing in Peshawar on March 27.

All categories of gas consumers were also invited through their monthly gas bills to participate in the public hearing.

“We will give a decision keeping in view the problems faced by the public at large and the SNGPL, as the impression to increase tariff by holding public hearing is not based on facts,” Ogra Chairman Masroor Ahmad Khan said on the occasion. Consumers, however, urged the government not to increase gas tariff under the pressure of the IMF. “Since we see it as a move aiming to crush the poor economically, we will resist it by all means,” warned a consumer.

Business community representatives also rejected the move and in this regard, a delegation of paper, board and packaging, food and confectionery sector met with the office bearers of Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI).

“The repeated and sharp increases in gas prices are causing losses to the industry. Because of unbearable gas bills, industrialists have started disconnecting the commercial gas meters. The government should realize the worries of the industry and bring down the gas prices,” said LCCI President Kashif Anwar. The meeting feared that that the challenges of industrial sector would swell and doing business would become a harder task. They said that 400 percent increase has been registered in gas prices during ongoing financial year.

They said that massive and repeated increases in the electricity and gas tariff would hit the exports as it would jack-up cost of doing business manifold and expel the Pakistani products from the international export market. They said that such measures would hamper the growth of manufacturing sector. They said that the hike in the gas tariff would create multiple problems for the industrialists as they have to bear heavy loss while fulfilling their export commitments.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2024

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