–People complain of inflated gas bills in absence of full supply
–Minister announces ‘relief’, says people with bills over Rs20,000 can pay amount in four installments
LAHORE: Inflated gas bills have left consumers of the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) high and dry, while the government, instead of providing immediate relief to the masses, has asked them to pay the inflated bills nonetheless, saying it can’t provide subsidy on gas tariff owing to poor financial health of the gas companies.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) last year had decided to increase gas prices by up to 143 per cent, creating six new slabs.
Though the government at the time had claimed that it would not put a burden on domestic consumers as the increase in gas tariff mostly affected the commercial entities, it seems that domestic consumers are also on the receiving end.
Talking to Pakistan Today, a resident of Lahore’s Sabzazar area, Imran Chaudhry said his gas bill has seen a significant increase.
“I have to pay Rs10,000 in dues for consuming almost similar units of gas that had cost me Rs 3,000 last year.”
Another consumer, Ali Butt, lamented the bloated gas bills, saying the government is making it difficult for the working class to survive.
“The gas pressure is zero in morning and evening hours; the only time one could utilise this increasingly rare facility [in winters] is in the wee hours,” he said, terming the bill “hugely out of proportion”.
The issue is not in Lahore only. Most parts of the country have shifted to LNG [Liquefied Natural Gas] and coal as an alternative. And the ones, who still use gas are out on roads protesting against SNGPL and the government.
A resident of Multan, Mohsin Salahuddin, who voted for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), said, “The government has failed to provide relief to poor segments of the society by taking a U-turn on its promises.”
He said the petroleum minister’s press conference earlier in the day showed that the government was oblivious to [poor] people’s concerns.
In Rawalpindi, a sizeable number of protesters recently blocked the city’s main artery near Chour Chowk to protest against the inflated gas bills.
“The SNGPL never supplies gas but [keeps] sending hefty bills unjustly. We are already facing difficulties due to unannounced gas load shedding and our miseries have multiplied with inflated bills.”
A resident of Raja Bazar, Shumail Safdar said he lived in a five-marla house and uses only one heater, but the SNGPL still sent him a bill of Rs 28,940. “This is grave injustice,” he said as he urged the government to provide relief.
According to a report in a national daily, the SNGPL had sent Muhabat Shah, a Timergara-based journalist, a bill of Rs31,550 for the month of December.
Similarly, the SNGPL also reportedly sent Rs37,000 bill to Mohammad Lateef, Rs29,000 to Jehan Zeb and Rs30,000 to Fateh Khan of Khungi Shah village near Timergara.
MINISTER SAYS CAN’T PROVIDE SUBSIDY:
Earlier in the day, Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Ghulam Sarwar Khan, flanked by PM’s Special Assistant on Media Iftikhar Durrani addressed a press conference to allay people’s concerns over inflated gas bills.
The minister said that cumulative losses of gas companies were Rs154 billion each year, adding that gas worth Rs50bn was being stolen with impunity.
The system of purchasing costly gas and selling it on cheaper prices was not long-lasting, he said in an apparent criticism on the previous government, adding people will have to pay full cost for the gas they use.
“In 2018, the government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had approved gas providing schemes of Rs55bn just to please the people and get votes, which was tantamount to pre-poll rigging,” Sarwar claimed.
One possible reason for the inflated bill could be that the lower slab had fallen into higher slab due to increased use of gas. It may be noted that government had divided gas consumers into six slots. While there was an increase of 10 per cent in gas tariff for the first slab, the sixth slab had witnessed a hike of 143 per cent.
The minister said his government would provide ‘relief’ to people as it has directed the gas companies not to sever people’s gas connections. He said also the consumers who received bills over Rs 20,000 would be able to pay their dues in four installments.
The customer care services would remain open on Saturdays and Sundays to facilitate the consumers, he added.
He further said the government was importing gas to cater to 85 per cent of country’s needs, adding that the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project would be completed soon.