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No respite for consumers

CONSUMERS have not yet recovered from the brutal shock of 143 per cent increase in gas tariff but the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) has proposed another hike of up to 47 per cent in gas price starting from the new financial year i.e. from July this year. The application of new rates would mean that gas would become dearer for consumers of Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited (SNGPL) by Rs 236.81 per mmbtu and Rs 150.68 for consumers of Sui Southern Pipeline Limited (SSGPL).
The new tariff has been justified because of sharp decrease in value of rupee against dollar, which traded at Rs 150 on Friday in the inter-bank and Rs 151 in the open market. The rate of CNG has also been enhanced from Rs 79 to 83 a litre following fresh round of devaluation of the rupee. This is just tip of the iceberg as for as price-hike linked to the devaluation is concerned as prices of almost all items and services especially the imported goods would go up accordingly. The free fall of rupee has led to its declaration as the worst performing currency of Asia by Bloomberg as currency of all regional countries including Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Thailand have been assessed as better than Pakistan rupee. Leaving aside rupee devaluation, which has been done as per understanding with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and there are projections that the currency would continue to slide for the next two years, there was absolutely no justification for hiking rates of gas as these were increased by massive 143 per cent in September last year and as a result consumers received hefty bills in the range of Rs 10,000 to 50,000 in gas bills of December to February. Consumers had strongly resented these bills and the Prime Minister is on record having directed authorities concerned to reverse the unjustified billing on the basis of erroneous formula of slab determination but all this proved to be lip-service. Now the fresh increase would push the tariff beyond paying capacity of consumers. It is a pity that gas theft of 49.06 billion cubic feet per day is taking place and instead of plugging the system, the SNGPL and OGRA have thought it appropriate to burden the consumers and make them pay for the theft that takes place with full connivance and palm-greasing of its officials. Why the Government is allowing broad-daylight theft and penalizing honest consumers instead?