- For the poor, especially
After back-to-back increases in petrol and electricity prices, the sudden hike in LPG prices – by nearly 100pc in some parts – risks crippling the lower and middle working classes just as the new government settles in office. The hundreds of rickshaw drivers blocking roads in protest across the country the other day were only a small part of the population that will be hit, very hard, if LPG prices are not brought under control immediately. The problem assumes entirely different proportions if allegations in sections of the press, about deliberate hoarding to jack up prices and make a windfall for some people in the right positions, are true.
It is wrong, of course, to blame a government less than a fortnight in office for this mess. The LPG issue was mishandled by the previous government in more ways than one. Yet no matter how little time the new dispensation has had, it must immediately investigate alleged hoarding and manipulation. More than rickshaw fuel, LPG is used in far flung areas where natural gas infrastructure does not exist. And those places, not surprisingly, have registered the steepest rises in prices. With winter not too far away, gas demand will rise cyclically; adding a market driven push to prices as well.
Already inflation has started crawling its way up. Dealing with the huge deficit will also demand austerity which will hit the lower classes the hardest. And the mix of stagnant wages and rising prices has, historically, been the surest recipe of disaster for a new administration. LPG is rightly known as the poor man’s fuel in Pakistan. The PTI government must take very serious note of this development and order and urgent audit of all concerned departments, especially OGRA. And if government functionaries are indeed found toggling prices to make personal fortunes, swift and forceful justice must follow.