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NEW GAS PRICE HIKE

Industry decries impact, households find it unaffordable

Faruque Ahmed
The High Court was scheduled to take up hearing on a supplementary writ petition on Thursday filed by Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) challenging the new gas price hike by 32.8 percent at a time made effective from July 1.
BERC justified the gas price hike saying there is a need for harmonizing the cost of gas with imported LNG to pay for huge import bills requiring huge subsidies. As the cost of LNG has recently gone up in the international market, there is no way but raise gas price in domestic market.
But energy experts differ with the BERC reasoning saying LNG cost has decreased in global market. Even India has reduced the LNG price in domestic market recently by Tk 150 per cylinder to give the benefit of lower import cost. India proved to be a real welfare state at least in this respect which care for common people interest.
Norendra Modi is a screwed politician and obviously has taken the decision to comfort the Indian voters who have won him landslide victory in recent election to parliament. In Bangladesh, the wheel is running to the opposite. There is no need for owing voters because the country holds election without voters in most cases.
Political parties and civil societies have called for nationwide protests. The left parties will observe strike on July 7 while BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam and similar parties have also called for street agitation calling for rescinding the price hike. But practically they have no public space to raise voice in the street.
Awami League general secretary Obaidul Qader at first outwardly expressed resentment at the gas price hike to soften public anger on the decision but later spoke publicly in favor of it saying it is necessary for funding LNG import.
The High Court bench last Thursday was thus scheduled for hearing a supplementary writ on gas price hike challenging Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) and Petrobangla. The fact of the matter is that they have forced the new gas price hike at a time when an earlier writ on an earlier rise in gas tariff is still pending for hearing and before a high court bench for order. So the new price hike is illegal, they said.
But BERC held the public hearing on new price hike from March 11 to March 14 and came up with the new announcement for fresh price hike this time. This is illegal and must be declared void, CAB lawyers have prayed to the court. The government is a strong party and yet the nation as a whole hope that the court will take up the legal aspects to give a decision on the new price hike.
The most distinctive fact is that the BERC is ignoring the specific procedural matters in taking such decision that the High Court in the previous hearings have laid out. It appears that BERC hold public hearing just to befool the nation while sticking to the government move to pave the way to the authorities to raise gas tariff. It is almost forcing the decision under the cover of a so-called public hearing.
The new gas price hike announced on the first day of the new fiscal year 2019-20, though there was no mention of it in the new budget. It is stirring serious unrest in every segment of the society—be it business, industry or household consumers.
Industry leaders and other businesses in their instant reaction have decried the move as a big blow that they will not be able to meet and run the business. Their production cost in all factories will exorbitantly rise to face closure and bankruptcy in many cases.
The Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) said the rise of tariff by Tk 175 for a single burner cooker to Tk 875 will severely hit the affordability of small business and households. Two burners stove will similarly cost 975 to families.
It said to a family gas bill is not the only monthly liability to be met. Cost of everything is exorbitantly rising like children’s education, cost of medical treatment and transportation has also gone up many times in recent time but their income is not rising.
People in the power circle and government bureaucrats are enjoying lavish salaries and benefits. Big business have no dearth of money earning enormously in formal and informal ways.
Most politicians, ministers, MPS and party leaders live on state support but the vast majority of people comprising the poor and middle income groups see only difficult days ahead. The cost of living is galloping on daily basis.
Despite the government claim that it is a business friendly government, industry leaders and particularly owners of RMG factories who earned over 84 percent of export earnings have decried the move. They fear the new tariff will seriously shrink the industry’s export competitiveness in global market when buyers are even paying less.
Jute industry said their export diversification plans will suffer the biggest setback because of high energy cost to run mills and factories. Ceramic, steel and cement factories, private power pants see running business difficult paying huge gas bills. 04.07,2019.

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