The High Court yesterday stayed for six months a government decision to hike gas prices from June 1 in the second phase.
It also questioned the legality of the move to increase the prices in two phases.
The court issued a ruling asking the authorities concerned of the government to explain why the public notification issued for raising the gas tariff from March 1 and June 1 should not be declared illegal.
The chairman and the secretary of the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission were made respondents. They were asked to come up with the explanation within four weeks.
The BERC on February 23 raised gas prices for all consumers by 22.7 percent and decided to implement the hike in two phases.
As per the new prices effective from this month, households using double burners would pay Tk 800 instead of the current Tk 650 while those using single burners would pay Tk 750 instead of Tk 600. The prices were supposed to be further increased by Tk 150 each from June 1.
The HC bench of Justice Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury and Justice JBM Hassan came up with the order and the ruling following a writ petition filed by the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), challenging the legality of the public notification.
Architect Mubassher Hossain, convener of national complaints handling committee of CAB, submitted the petition on Monday, saying that the authorities can increase gas prices once a year under the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission Act, 2003. However, they have decided to hike it twice in the same year.
POLICE POUNCE ON PROTESTERS
Police used water cannon and lobbed tear gas at leftist activists who were enforcing a six-hour hartal in the capital yesterday protesting against the gas tariff hike.
The strike began at 6:00am. An hour later, activists of Progotishil Chhatra Jote, an alliance of student bodies of leftist parties, started demonstrating at Shahbagh.
After they tried to block the Shahbagh intersection around 10:30am, police dispersed them using water cannon and firing tear gas.
A chase and counter-chase followed.
Police lobbed over 30 tear gas canisters. The picketers retaliated by throwing brick chips at the law enforcers.
Around noon, Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal (BSD), and Gonotantrik Bam Morcha, an alliance of leftist parties, threatened to besiege the power, energy and mineral resources ministry on March 15, if the government did not withdraw its decision to hike the gas prices by that time.
“We will protest for a fortnight from March 1 to March 14,” Zonayed Saki, coordinator of Gonosamhati Andolan, said at a programme in the Jatiya Press Club. “Then, we will besiege the ministry.”
Contacted, Liton Nandi, vice-president of Bangladesh Chhatra Union, told The Daily Star, “Police pounced on us without any reason or warning. They detained 14 of our activists”.
CPB and BSD activists also demonstrated on DB Road in Gaibandha town during the hartal yesterday.
BNP SIT-IN TOMORROW
BNP yesterday announced that it would stage countrywide sit-in tomorrow, protesting the gas price hike.
“The sit-in will be observed from 10:00am to 12:00noon,” BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Rizvi Ahmed said at a press briefing at the party's Nayapaltan central office.
He, however, did not elaborate on the programme.
“The government's decision to increase gas prices is nothing but the reflection of its undemocratic character. The government does not hesitate to ignore people's will as it considers them to be animals,” he said.
The government hiked gas tariff “five times”, he claimed.
“There are many problems in the country. But, the government has no time to pay any attention to those,” Rizvi added.