Consumer rights groups, energy experts, industrialists, and left-leaning politicians yesterday vehemently opposed the government's plan to raise gas price.
As per the laws of the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC), the price of gas can not be increased twice in a fiscal year, said Prof Shamsul Islam, adviser of the Consumer Association of Bangladesh.
The commission raised the bulk, distribution and transmission rates of LNG-blended gas on October 16 last year and applied to the BERC in January seeking another hike.
Prof Shamsul spoke on the first day of the four-day BERC's hearing on the proposals of gas transmission and distribution companies at the auditorium of the TCB Bhaban in the capital.
All of the country's five gas distribution companies -- Titas, Bakhrabad, Jalalabad, Pashchimanchal, Karnaphuli, and Sundarban -- are seeking gas price hike at consumer level.
They have proposed increasing gas price to Tk 12.19 per 1,000 cubic metre from Tk 8.63, as the average production costs stand at Tk 12.19 after the liquefied natural gas (LNG) is blended with locally produced gas.
All of the distributors are seeking a price increase for all users -- households, power plants, industries, commercial, fertiliser companies, CNG-run vehicles, tea estates and commercial establishments.
They have sought the gas price rise for a single-burner stove to Tk 1,350 from Tk 750 now, an increase of 80 percent, and Tk 1,440 from Tk 800, up 80 percent, for a double-burner stove.
Gas Transmission Company Ltd (GTCL) is seeking to increase the transmission charge to Tk 0.5665 per cubic metre for the current fiscal year from Tk 0.4235 now. Yesterday's hearing took place on the GTCL's proposal.
The BERC's technical evaluation committee, however, recommended that no price increase was required for GTCL for the current fiscal year.
Speakers, who opposed the gas price hike, were angry because the transmission and distribution companies are seeking the hike on the basis of Bangladesh importing 1,000 million cubic feet of gas per day (mmcfd) in the form of LNG. But the country is currently importing 500mmcfd.
Pipeline is being installed to raise the LNG import to 1,000mmcfd by April this year, said Md Kamruzzaman, director (operation and mines) at Petrobangla, at the hearing.
“Why should we pay price for a product or service which we are not consuming now?” questioned Prof Shamsul.
Imported LNG will cost the country Tk 39.086 per cubic metre whereas it buys similar amount of gas at Tk 0.7097 from state-run Bangladesh Gas Fields Company Ltd, at Tk 3.0414 from Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Company Ltd (Bapex), at Tk 0.2028 from Sylhet Gas Fields Ltd and at Tk 2.55 from international companies operating in Bangladesh, according to Petrobangla.
Zonayed Saki, chief coordinator of Gono Shanghati Andolon, said gas price should not go up in the next one to two years.
If the gas price is hiked in the name of importing expensive gas, it would put a negative effect on the economy and the working class. The cost of living will go up, he said.
Ruhin Hossain Prince, a central leader of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, called for withdrawal of the proposals given by the gas transmission and distributions companies.
Nurul Islam, a former professor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said Bapex had been given funds from the Gas Development Fund to explore gas in the country, but it had not been able to find new gas.
“There should be an enquiry about Bapex's failure in finding any new gas,” he said.
The energy expert said there was rampant theft in the energy sector. “The theft in the energy sector is huge in terms of spread and depth.”
Badrul Imam, a professor of geology department at Dhaka University, said LNG is an expensive energy, so the government should think of its impact on the economy.
“Why don't we explore onshore gas? Why have we made projection on the basis of LNG, not on local gas? This type of perplexing policy is haunting us.”
He termed the hearing a “drama” as decisions on energy price hike had been taken elsewhere.
Shah Alam Sarker, a representative of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, demanded the government disconnect illegal gas lines and reduce system loss.
BERC Chairman Monowar Islam and members Rahman Murshed, Mahmudul Huq Bhuiyan, Md Abdul Aziz Khan and Md Mizanur Rahman were present.