July 14 - 20, 2008

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) provides a smoke-free and cheaper option to vehicles for switching over from petrol. In view of the soaring oil price, it has become unaffordable for the people to use petrol-run vehicles and they have fixed CNG kits in their vehicles to reduce their fuel expenses. The petrol or diesel-run vehicles in Pakistan cause greater environmental damages making the air pollution problem acute in the cities. Unlike other provinces, the people of Balochistan are still bearing higher costs for traveling in their petrol-run vehicles. The province has run out of CNG stations to meet the requirements of CNG-converted cars and vans.

There are only three CNG stations in the provincial capital Quetta. Only three stations are absolutely insufficient to meet the fuel requirements of nearly 50,000 vehicles with CNG kits in Quetta. One can see a long queue of vehicles outside the CNG stations in Quetta. "We have to wait for hours to get the CNG, a local car owner said. The people reach the CNG stations since dawn to get CNG for their vehicles." Only three CNG stations can not meet the requirement of Quetta with a population of 1.5 million people," he added.

It is unfortunate that the people of least developed province are still not properly enjoying the CNG stations facility. Under President Rozgar Scheme, thousands of CNG Rikshaws were provided to unemployed youth on payment in easy installments, but these Rikshaws are presently running on petrol due to the less number of CNG stations in Quetta. The high fuel price is the key reason behind rising fares of these Rikshaws.

The provincial government should take steps to flourish and promote the business of CNG stations in Balochistan. It should ask the federal government to patronize this business in the province so that local people could also enjoy the facility of CNG at reasonable price for their vehicles. On the other hand, All Pakistan CNG Station Owners Association (CSOA) has alleged that the government wants to destroy the business of gas stations by supplying gas to industries to earn more revenue. CSOA has warned that if the government tried to interfere against the price the association had fixed, all CNG stations would be closed down.

Last week, the petroleum ministry came out with factual position regarding reports that the government had actually fixed the price after negotiations with various CNG associations. It said that the price notified by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) on July 1, for gas supplied by Sui Southern Gas Company Limited and Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited to CNG stations is Rs388.32 per MMBTU. The normal GST and withholding tax is also payable by the CNG stations. The notified price plus taxes is the input gas price for CNG stations. The Ogra and the government are responsible to the extent of the said prescribed price only. The owners of CNG stations add their own operating expenses, which are determined arbitrarily by them, according to the ministry. It said that the notified price, including taxes and operating expenses etc of the CNG stations, is the ultimate sale price at the CNG outlets. It is worth mentioning that about four kinds of rates of CNG are prevailing in the country starting from as low as Rs38.25 per kg, while many dealers are found charging Rs43.25, Rs47.25 and Rs51.25 per kg. The owners of CNG stations in Punjab and Islamabad have announced that they will charge Rs49.70 for a kilogram gas. If the government takes back the 31 per cent hike in gas rates then the CNG price would come down to old level of Rs38.25.

The country is facing an acute energy crisis and skyrocketing price of oil has made a sharp rise in the number of CNG users over the last five years in Pakistan. In Punjab, Sindh and NWFP, the number of CNG stations have increased over the last few years with the increase in number of its users. On the other hand, Balochistan has not witnessed that sharp increase in the number of CNG users, as CNG stations were not set up in accordance with the requirement of the people in the province. The province still absolutely lacks the CNG stations, particularly in its rural districts. A CNG user outside Quetta does not find any CNG station if he travels into the interior Balochistan.

Private sector should also play its active role in setting up CNG stations across the province. The provincial government should mobilize the private parties for establishing CNG stations in remote areas of the province by announcing special incentives to them.

The government should also establish more CNG filling stations and provide CNG kits at easy installments to the people. Provincial government should immediately plan to install CNG kits in thousands of rickshaws present in the provincial capital. Motor-Rickshaws are the major cause of abundant air pollution in Quetta.

CNG are thought less expensive and more Eco-friendly by the experts. Air pollution is an acute problem in Quetta, which has recently been declared the worst polluted city after Mexico in the world. There was a time when Tuberculosis patients from all over the country would come to live in Balochistan, particularly in Quetta and Ziarat, for its healthy, clean and fresh atmosphere. Unfortunately, the situation has reversed today. The air quality in urban areas especially in Quetta is poorer and worse than any city of the country.

Traffic congestion, heaps of filth and garbage and smoke emitting vehicles particularly rickshaws are the main factors threatening a massive environmental disaster in Quetta. The worst polluted air in Quetta and other cities of the province poses serious health hazards to its residents. The successive governments in the past paid no attention to the worsening environmental problems in the provincial capital and today the situation has become malignant. It is worth mentioning that CNG kits should conform to international needs and standards, otherwise the substandard CNG kits will reserve the situation. The government should ensure the installation of CNG system meeting the required safety standards and monitor the workshops installing substandard and unsafe CNG kits.