Like numerous other ills facing the country, the rise in the CNG prices is also the outcome of Musharraf era policies. Despite the knowledge that the country faced shortage of gas, little was done by the military ruler to attract the gas exploration and development companies to tap the country’s gas resources. Musharraf promised to take gas connections to villages to gain votes for his party. An injudicious decision during his tenure was to allow thermal power plants to run on gas.
After transition to democracy in 2008, there should have been a ban on the use of gas by big cars whose well to do owners could very well pay the petrol price. Instead, a policy of encouraging all sort of transport to use gas was followed. It is claimed that nearly five million cars and thousands of metropolitan and intercity buses and wagons are presently running on CNG. The Punjab government ordered rickshaw drivers to convert from petrol to CNG, subsequently banning those who failed to comply from plying on major roads of the provincial capital. The government slapped gas cess and surcharge on the CNG to raise the revenue on the excuse that it was necessary to tie up the price of gas with that of petrol. This was in accordance with its policy of burdening the common man with indirect taxes while exempting agricultural incomes and those from real estate transactions for political convenience. With the exorbitant profit extracted by the owners of the CNG stations added, the prices were bound to skyrocket.
Last month, the SC ruled that the mechanism of basing the CNG prices on petrol price was illegal. The apex court also ruled that the 50 percent profit margin on CNG was strangulating the consumers. Subsequently, OGRA reduced the CNG price by Rs 30.90. On Monday, almost after a month, the CNG stations across the country went on an unannounced strike on different pretexts for an indefinite period. A crisis has thus has been created with hundreds of passengers in Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi and Rawalpindi gathering at the bus stops as bus services remain suspended due to CNG shortage.
At a meeting with the OGRA chairman, attended by representatives of the ministries of petroleum and finance, the association of the owners of CNG maintained that the only way to make prices rational while ensuring relief to the masses was reduction in gas cess and gas surcharge There is in fact a need on the part of the government to review the taxes imposed on CNG and the gas station owners to bring down their profits to put an end to the miseries of the commuters that include among others students and people from low income groups travelling on transport using CNG.