Consumers are being compelled to buy liquified petroleum gas (LPG) at a much higher price than the one set by the regulator.
The Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) on April 29 re-fixed the retail price of 12kg LPG cylinders at Tk 906 each for the current month and directed distributors and retailers to implement the new price.
But even a week after the regulator's decision, the new prices have not been implemented. Defying the directives given by the BERC, retailers were selling LPG at at least Tk 100-250 more than its fixed price.
A 12kg LPG cylinder was being sold between Tk 1,050-1,150 at different retail points across the country. As a result, ordinary and low-income people, who have already been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, are struggling to buy LPG.
Aggrieved consumers alleged that the commission ended its responsibility only by fixing the price of gas without any visible supervision to execute the new price rate, they said.
They also expressed concern over the implementation of the new price as the regulatory body could not execute the previous price rates set for April.
Earlier, the regulatory commission fixed the retail price of 12kg LPG cylinder at Tk 975 for April this year. But the distributors and retailers did not follow the price due to the commissions's failure in terms of execution, said Nazrul Islam, a consumer.
Again, the commission fixed the price for the current month, which had still not implemented in the last eight days, he said. "Now it seems that it was just a show of its 'routine work'."
This correspondent spoke to more than a dozen consumers in different districts, including Dhaka, Cumilla and Jamalpur.
All of them said that they had paid higher prices than the one fixed by the commission. They held the commission responsible for its failure to implement the new price.
Addressing a press conference on April 29, BERC Chairman Abdul Jalil, while announcing the new price at a virtual press conference, said that they learnt from various sources that new prices were not being implemented at the retail level.
He also said that the commission will take action based on specific allegations against the distributors for selling gas at higher prices.
Multiple retailers, seeking anonymity, told The Daily Star that they couldn't sell LPG at the government rate as they had to buy from operators at higher prices.
Mohammad Maqbul-E-Elahi Chowdhury, member (gas) of the BERC, said it was not possible to implement the price by the commission alone. Here, cooperation of all -- media, consumer associations, political parties and government agencies -- will be required to implement the price.
"It will take time to fully implement [the new price]. We are collecting the list of dealers. We have sought cooperation from the government. I will send a letter to the government again after this [Eid] holiday. We will also send a letter to every DC [deputy commissioner] in this regard," he said.
Prof Shamsul Alam, energy adviser at the Consumers' Association of Bangladesh, said BERC has the authority of pricing as well as the power to take action against those who do not comply with its order.
Under Section 43 of the BERC Act, the commission can impose fines or imprisonment or both.
Moreover, those who do not comply with the order are also guilty of criminal offences and corruption for taking extra money from consumers. So, legal action must be taken against those who do not obey this order, he said.
He said BERC has been inactive and had not fixed the LPG price for long. At one stage, the court took into cognizance the allegation of inaction against the BERC and ordered it to set the price.
It, however, did not set the price. Later, they set the price after a contempt of court issue was issued against them, Alam said.
"So, their reluctance and inaction have been seen during pricing in the past. We are now in doubt as to whether it is the reflection of their previous inaction in the implementation of the new price," he said.
Azam J Chowdhury, president of the LPG Operators' Association of Bangladesh, said the price fixed by the BERC was too low for them.
For example, the total margin of a distributor and dealer is Tk 50 each, but the BERC has fixed it at Tk 25 or Tk 20 respectively, he said. "How is it possible for a distributor to deliver a cylinder to any part of the country for only TK 25?"
"If an MRP is set, the seller is obliged to sell at that price. But why is the MRP not sustained? Because the BERC has set an arbitrary price, which is not acceptable for us. So, we, as a responsible organisation, have had several meetings with them to revise the price."
He also said that the consumers will get LPG at low prices if the government gives a subsidy to environment-friendly fuels like LMG and others.