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Left parties threaten movement if move to raise gas prices not scrapped

Left Democratic Alliance stages a rally in front of TCB Bhaban in the capital’s Kawran Bazar on Wednesday protesting against move to increase gas price.

Special Correspondent
Left-leaning parties threatened to go for movement like hartal if the government raises gas tariff.
Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) has been holding a four-day long public hearing on proposals for raising gas prices since Monday.
So far, Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Ltd, Sundarban Gas Company Ltd, Bakhrabad Gas Distribution Company, and Jalalabad Gas Distribution Company have placed their respective proposals, and quite surprisingly, all are identical.
Both Bakhrabad and Jalalabad proposed raising gas tariffs for household users by 80% while up to 211% for consumers of different sectors, including power, industry and motorized vehicles.
Left Democratic Alliance staged demonstrations in front of the TCB Auditorium when the public hearing was underway there.
Addressing the rally, its leader Khaliquzzaman warned that people will never accept any hike in gas prices.
Terming the gas price hike move “illogical and unlawful,” Khaliquzzaman said the government has to stop this “farcical hearing.”
“Or else, Left Democratic Alliance will wage a greater movement through tougher action program like hartal.”
Meanwhile, taking part in the hearing, consumer rights groups and individual energy experts opposed the proposals, saying the companies can avoid the possible loss in business if they go for improvement of their operation and management.
“Corruption, irregularities and weakness in management are the biggest problem of the gas distribution companies. If they address these problems, they need not to increase gas tariff,” said Saleque Sufi, a former senior official of Petrobangla, who now works as an energy expert in Australia.
Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) leader Ruhin Hossain Prince, who was also present at the hearing, said the people will not accept any hike in gas tariff when they do not get gas in sufficient pressure.
Consumer groups reject gas price hike proposal at public hearing
The much anticipated public hearing of the state-owned Petrobangla on their proposal to raise gas prices began on Sunday with all consumer rights groups opposing the proposal.
The four-day hearing was held at the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) TCB Auditorium.
Petrobangla at the hearing cited the import of LNG gas in the near future as the major reason behind them raising prices again to Tk9.55 per cubic meter from the existing tariff of Tk7.17.
An official of the Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Mineral Corporation (Petrobangla) seeking anonymity said: “We want the tariff to be hiked as we have to provide a Tk27,000 subsidy to the gas companies, taking into consideration the 1000 mmcfd LNG import in the near future,” he said. The government currently supplies only around 520 mmcfd of LNG but the price hike is based on the projected import.
About the profit being made by the gas companies, he said: “It is true that they are making a profit now, but that has nothing to do with the import of LNG.”
Between June 11 and June 21 last year, there was a similar hearing, and they finally backtracked from hiking gas prices, taking the “situation” ahead of the 11th general election into consideration.
At the hearing, state-owned Gas Transmission Company Limited (GTCL) placed its proposal to raise the transmission tariff of gas supply as well.
All consumer right groups and individuals opposed Petrobangla’s proposal asking why consumers are being forced to pay more in anticipation of receiving imported gas.
Referring to the BERC Act, Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB) adviser Prof Shamsul Alam said it is totally illegal to hold such a public hearing within the same fiscal year of 2018-19 when the commission passed its order on October 16, 2018.
“You cannot hold such a public hearing by entertaining any proposal on a gas tariff hike while you’ve already disposed of a similar proposal just October last year,” he told the watchdog body.
BERC Chairman Monwar Islam presided over the public hearing while members of the watchdog body were present on the occasion.
Prof Badrul Imam of Dhaka University said the government will have to come to the public hearing every year if it continues to increase the amount of LNG import as per the plan which outlined 4000 mmcfd import in the years to come. He said it is unfortunate that both neighboring India and Myanmar awarded contracts for offshore gas exploration after the settlement of maritime boundary disputes while Bangladesh miserably failed to do so in the last 5 years.
Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) leader, Ruhin Hossain Prince, said leftist parties will build a mass movement against the gas price hike, participating in the hearing, as BERC has lost its credibility as a neutral body.
Chief Coordinator of Bangladesh Gano Sanghati Andolon, Zonayed Saki, also opposed the gas price hike proposal.
Eminent energy expert Prof Nurul Islam said the tariff seting process for both upstream and downstream companies should be transparent and the tariff should be fixed by a public hearing under the BERC.
Cost of LNG import blamed for the price hike
Petrobangla began their hearing at BERC auditorium with a statement about a projected annual loss of Tk 24,540 crore in LNG imports.
Petrobangla in its proposal said the mother body has been purchasing each unit of gas from different upstream gas production companies at an average rate of about Tk6.50, while each unit of LNG will cost Tk39.82.
Petrobangla Chairman Ruhul Amin said they will have to face a huge loss once it starts to import 1000 mmcfd LNG (liquefied natural gas) from April next to meet the country’s gas shortage.
He justified the gas hike proposal saying: “So, it’s essential to raise the price of gas to offset the loss,” the Petrobangla chairman told the public hearing, making his appeal to raise the gas tariff to Tk 9.55 per cubic meter from the existing tariff of Tk 7.17.
Currently, Petrobangla is importing some 500 mmcfd (million cubic feet per day) against a shortage of about 1000 mmcfd, while the current gas supply is 3100 mmcfd.
Businesses community oppose gas price hike proposal
Businesses on Tuesday opposed the proposal of Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company for hiking price of gas and demanded predictable policy on gas and power prices saying that irrational increase in utility prices cut business competitiveness and discourage investments.
The fresh increase in the price of gas would make the entrepreneurs bankrupt and hamper employment generation as the cost of business increased by 29 per cent in last few years, Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industries president Md Shafiul Islam said in a public hearing on the proposals for hiking gas prices held at TCB auditorium in the capital on the day.
Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission organised the public hearing.
Considering the present situation of business, the government should not increase the price of gas, the FBCCI president said.
Bangladesh Textile Mills Association also opposed the Titas proposal saying that the proposal was completely illogical before ensuring promised standard of services and uninterrupted supply of gas.
In the hearing, BTMA president Mohammad Ali Khokon placed a position paper of the trade body on the Titas proposal for gas price hike.
In the paper, BTMA expressed its deep concern over the proposal for hiking service charge and gas price.
The trade body also opposed any government move to implement the proposal of the distribution company.
BTMA president said that large scale textile mills invested huge amount for developing infrastructure and importing generators for producing electricity as the government encouraged them for captive power generation.
Gas supply situation in last five years was very fragile and the production cost of yarns and fabrics went up during the period due to lower supply of gas and higher bills for the service, BTMA said.
The trade body demanded compensation from Titas for the textile mills as the sector incurred huge losses for lack of proper supply system of the distribution company.
BTMA urged the government and BERC not to allow any price hike proposals before paying compensation by the distribution companies.
The trade body in its position paper said that more than three million people directly and indirectly depended on the country’s primary textile sector that invested more than $7 billion.
The sector would be ruined if the government made any ‘wrong decision’ like increasing gas prices for captive power generation, BTMA said.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association president Md Siddiqur Rahman said it was not right time to increase the price of gas as businesses just started getting the connection of gas after a long wait with huge investments.
He said that industries would not afford the increased gas price now as both the textile mills and readymade garment sector recently increased the wages of workers while many other costs also went up in recent years.
The time and procedure for hiking prices of gas should be logical, Siddique said.

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