ISLAMABAD/KARACHI/LAHORE – A storm is brewing across the country as a reaction to the whopping increase in the prices of petroleum products by the government with traders and transporters delivering ultimatums, and political parties gearing up for massive protests.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will boycott the meeting of Parliamentary Committee on National Security on Monday (today) to protest recent surge in petroleum prices and hold a protest rally on Wednesday, the day on which the PPP will be marking 33rd death anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

This was announced by Opposition Leader in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in a statement on Sunday.

He said the recent hike in the POL prices was unjust and it would bring more inflation to the country. He said it was the worst injustice done by the present rulers with the poor people of the country.

Nisar said the rulers had failed to deliver, adding, the president and the prime minister were enjoying foreign tours on the expenses of national chequer but the masses were facing hardships in the country.

The opposition leader said if the government did not change its behaviour, the masses would take to streets and launch a countrywide agitation against the government. He said the people would not accept the recent raise in the POL prices and start a movement against it.

PML-N Sindh leaders Ghous Ali Shah, Saleem Zia and Nehal Hashmi also condemned the government’s decision and said the government had failed to provide basic amenities to masses. They said the recent decision of increase in POL and CNG prices would create more problems for the people who were already living in the miserable condition. Other political and religious parties also condemned the recent increase in POL and CNG prices and demanded of the government to immediately withdraw decision.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Coordination Committee expressed its grave concern over the sharp increase in POL prices saying it was gross injustice to the people of the country.

The committee demanded of the government to take back the increase in the POL prices immediately. The committee said that instead of burdening the public by raising the POL prices, non-development expenditure should be slashed. The committee also called for adopting strict austerity measures by the ruling class to give relief to the poor people.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Sindh President Naeemul Haq criticised the decision saying government was not interested to address problems of the masses.

Jamaat-e-Islami Sindh Chief Asadullah Bhutto denounced the increase in CNG and POL products and said government was pursuing anti-people policies. He said the decision had hit the common people hard.

Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) Sindh leaders Maulana Mukhtar Imami, Mohammad Mehdi and Maulana Ali Anwar vehemently condemned the recent increase in POL products and CNG prices.

They said the recent decision of increase in POL products and CNG prices would harm the common people and demanded of the government to reverse the decision.

Fed up with the government’s step-motherly treatment when it comes to the issues relating to public and rejecting outrightly the massive hike in fuel prices, traders and manufacturers across the country have threatened the government with launching a civil disobedience movement if the increase is not reversed in 72 hours while transporters have also announced 5-10 per cent increase in fares on inter-city routes.

The traders in Karachi have given an ultimatum of three days to the government to withdraw increase in petroleum prices. They threatened the government to launch civil disobedience movement in the first phase while business community in Peshawar has also issued an ultimatum of 72 hours to the government.

The manufacturers and the trade leaders have termed the move as the last nail in the coffin of business activities in the country.

Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PRGMEA) former chairman Ijaz Khokhar, talking to The Nation, said at a time when the State Bank of Pakistan had admitted that climate in Pakistan was not conducive to investment, the government was taking such cruel and anti-industry decisions to halt the business activities by jacking up the input cost like the massive increase in petroleum products prices.

He said industry was providing free transport to their workers, but after constant hike in diesel prices, it would not be feasible to provide them free transportation facility.

PRGMEA’s former chairman said the country would suffer a loss of 40 per cent decline in exports due to power shortages and high cost of petroleum products. He said loss due to low exports could not be compensated by enhancing petroleum levy.

All Pakistan Textile Mills Association central chairman Mohsin Aziz observed that due to high cost of production the local industry would be wiped out absolutely from the region.

He said the country had already lost a number of international markets to China, Bangladesh and India due to high cost of doing business and the decision to increase power tariff would make the Pakistani goods more uncompetitive.

He opined due to ongoing energy crisis as well as the hike in fuel prices the country had lost three per cent of its GDP.

PAAPAM Chairman Nabeel Hashmi said how the industry could compete with others with such high high costs of diesel and power which were the basic raw materials for the industry. “We already have the highest tariff in the region comparing with India, where the electricity tariff for industry is 10.5 cents, with Bangladesh 10.75 cents and with Sri Lanka where tariff is 10.75 cent, whereas in Pakistan, it reaches 15 cents meaning the tariff is 45 per cent higher as compared with the other countries of the region.”

Meanwhile, the All Pakistan CNG Association (APCNGA) has asked the government to review the decision saying it would put extra burden on masses especially commuters.

“Daily commuters will be badly hit by the increase in CNG prices as 90 per cent public transport of the country is using Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), said Chairman APCNGA Ghiyas Abdullah Paracha.

Paracha said Pakistan was the leading CNG user in the world with approximately 4 million vehicles both public and private using locally produced fuel.

Criticising the government decision, he said the government during last few months had increased CNG prices by Rs 16 per kg, adding its price was Rs 44 in July 2008 which reached Rs 78 per kg in March 2012 and after the current hike it would hit almost Rs 90 per kg.

Paracha said it had been the government’s policy to encourage use of CNG in public transport being environmental-friendly. But now, he added, government was discouraging its use by continuously pushing up its prices.

Presently, 1,000 CNG buses are plying on roads in Karachi, 200 in Sialkot. Recently, the CNG buses have also been introduced in Rawalpindi. The Punjab government has also ordered import of 2,000 buses from China.

Paracha said GNG consumers in Punjab were forced to use more than 2 billion litres of petrol in a single day during the closure of CNG stations due to load management. Thus, they had to bear an extra burden on their pockets. He termed the recent increase as unfair and unjustified and alleged it was part of the efforts to cover up the gas theft of SNGPL and SSGC. These companies say they are mounting efforts to curb theft of gas.

He said losses of gas because of weaknesses and companies’ poor networks should not be recovered from consumers’ pockets.

Ghiyas said, “We appeal to the Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources, Dr Asim Hussain, to take action against the elements involved in gas theft to provide relief to consumers.”

Meanwhile, All Pakistan Transport Owners Federation (APTOF) has decided a 5-10 per cent increase in fares on inter-city routes.

APTOF Secretary General Arshad Khan Niazi said on Sunday that a notification had also been issued in this regard and it would be implemented from the very next day.

However, management of PIA and Pakistan Railways will take decision after working out the issue.

“We will not raise fares immediately,” said PIA spokesman Syed Sultan Hassan. He said prices of petroleum products were also increased in the past but PIA did not increase fares. But Pakistan Railways had increased its fares 15 to 20 per cent when Pakistan government increased petroleum prices last time. An officer of Pakistan Railways’ commercial department said there was no immediate programme to increase fares.

Talking to TheNation, Arshad Niazi said government was suppressing transporters by imposing a number of taxes on them. He said government had imposed duty on import of buses and price of a bus rose from Rs 7.5 million to Rs 11 million. He said import of tyres and spare parts was also not easy and government had increased duty on these items too. Niazi was of the view that City District Government Lahore (CDGL) had also imposed taxes in various heads. He said CDGL was receiving Rs 20 from every bus owner in the name of Welfare Fund. “I don’t know what sort of welfare is being done of the passengers or transporters for which this tax is being received,” said Niazi, and added, that apart from that CDGL was also receiving adda fee Rs 2,000 from the private bus stands against which CDGL was providing no facility to the transport owners.

CDGL officials say that whether or not someone uses the public bus stand he will have to pay the said amount. Niazi said a transporter receiving Rs 700 from a passenger as fare pays Rs 600 in taxes and other heads. He said a bus owner using Karachi Company bus stand in Islamabad had to pay Rs 3,000-4,000 as stand fee which was totally unfair. To a question, he said the fate of fares within the city would be decided by Lahore Transport Company.