July 25 - 31, 20

Any attempt to initiate load shedding of gas in Sindh is tantamount to contempt of the court. Honorable Sindh High Court had issued a stay order prohibiting the concerned authorities from taking any such action.

The logic was simple. According to the Constitution of Pakistan, the province has the preemptive right to take up to 50 per cent of the gas produced in the province, whereas at present it is drawing only 35 per cent, which is far below its right. Other provinces are facing acute shortage of gas because of rampant theft, off-the-cuff issuance of licenses to CNG stations, and excessive use of gas for power generation by captive power plants.

Lately, the ministry of petroleum has moved a summary to 1) increase price of gas across the board, 2) curtail gas supply of industrial units and CNG stations, and 3) above all curtail gas supply as well as double feedstock tariffs for the fertilizer units.

Gas is being diverted to power plants to ensure enhanced power generation but all in vain. In fact, load shedding spells are on the rise and worst of all the country which has attained the capacity to produce exportable surplus urea has to spend million of dollars on its import and the government also has to pay billions of rupees subsidy to compensate for the difference between cost of locally produced and imported urea.

It is on record that one of the biggest complaints of Balochistan has been that despite producing huge quantity of natural gas, the province was deprived of its benefits for decades. Balochistan never got its legitimate share.

Till yesterday the rule was that the province which has the largest population has the preemptive right on every resource. Punjab has remained the biggest beneficiary of hydropower. The sole reason for the opposition of Kalabagh Dam by KP, Sindh and Balochistan is that while some of their most fertile areas will be submerged and thousands of people will be displaced, Punjab will be the main beneficiary.

While authenticity of these objections are yet to be established, it is on record that Punjab has been drawing water much above the allocation and it is feared that it would pilfer even the greater quantity once Kalabagh Dam is constructed. In one sentence, this can be termed 'deficit of trust' and Punjab has to prove by act that it is not usurping the rights of people living in other provinces.

Mandatory closure of fertilizer plants for specific number of days and reduction in supplies of gas of fertilizer units getting gas from Mari gas field is blatant violation of Fertilizer Policy announced in 2001.

Under this policy Mari field has been dedicated for the fertilizer industry and supply of gas from this field to power plants should have been discontinued nearly a decade ago. For the sake of argument, it may be said that since the field was producing gas above the requirement of fertilizer industry, supply to power plants could have gone on. But now the supply of gas to power plant should be discontinued immediately.

Experts have been saying that power plants could be run on alternate fuel but fertilizer plants cannot. Any attempt to introduce load shedding of gas in Sindh is exploitation of people and industrial units located in the province.

Karachi contributes more than 65 per cent to the national exchequer and nearly 10th of country's population live in the city. Thousands of people come to the city from other parts of the city every day in search of better employment opportunities. Therefore, meeting the needs of the city is not a favor to any one or a few linguistic groups but is like taking care of Mini Pakistan.

It is on record that bulk of the fertilizer manufacturing capacity is installed in the province. Two mega size units, Fauji Fertilizer and Engro get gas from Mari field and two units located at Port Bin Qasim get gas from SSGC network.

Any reduction in gas supply to these units is depriving farmers of the country from much needed fertilizer. It is on record that the cultivable lands in Pakistan are grossly deficient in nutrient contents and require mandatory use of fertilizer.

Punjab government turns laidback in managing gas load even during the summer. PML-N is trying to make the load shedding a political issue by saying that federation is not helping in resolving the problem.

Many of the experts attribute shortage of gas in Punjab to massive theft and indiscriminate issuance of licenses to CNG stations. Added to this is huge wastage. SNGPL is fully aware of the quantity of gas available at its disposal and exerting political pressure to grant more connections could only add to the miseries of consumers.

To overcome supply constraints, the country must establish LNG terminal at the earliest. Let one point be very clear that only private sector should be allowed to undertake this project. Ideally, all the fertilizer plants and IPPs should form a consortium, establish a terminal, and oversee distribution through SSSGC and SNGPL networks. The government has signed long-term contracts with the fertilizer plants and IPPs. The difference in cost should be borne by the government. Since the quantity is small, it will be much better than paying billions of rupees subsidy on the imported urea.