Fuel prices have been hiked by unprecedented amounts, while the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority has also announced an increase in the price of CNG. The increases have seen the price of the benchmark petrol go above Rs 100 a litre, to Rs 105.68, diesel has gone up to Rs 98.74, while CNG has gone up to Rs 88.70 in Region 1, and Rs 80.98 in Region 2, which includes both Sindh and Punjab (excluding the Potohar region). Since the increases will prove highly inflationary, it must be a very brave government that has made such massive increases, which are apparently its response to the loadshedding protests which have hit Punjab. The first impact of the fuel price increases would be seen in the field of public transport, with both people’s and goods’ movement made more expensive, both intracity and intercity. One of the things highlighted by the loadshedding protests was that it meant the closure of factories. Now even if the factories are still open, the workers will find it more expensive to get to work. The factories themselves will also find it more expensive to move what they have produced. Though this is a pass-through expense, the consumer cannot now afford to pay it. Just because consumers have somehow paid up so far does not mean they will be able to do so indefinitely.

The increase in the CNG price not only reflects the recent gas loadshedding crisis as well as the fuel price increases, but the government’s rollback of its policy favouring CNG over petrol, because of greater environment-friendliness. The increase in the cost of diesel does not just adversely affect transport, which it does, but also agriculture, for which it is a key input. Agriculture, the mainstay of the Pakistani economy, is already facing stress because it is being deprived of water by Indian machinations. At this stage, making it face fuel price increases merely means cutting off the other essential fluid it needs. Diesel not only fuels the tractors so essential even to the present yields, which are not nearly enough, but also the tubewells which are switched off by loadshedding. The government has imposed a Gas Infrastructure Development Cess as well, though the money will not go towards gas infrastructure, but to plugging the hole in the federal budget. This is supposed to go towards funding the construction of both the Iran-Pakistan and the Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipelines, but it is likelier that this extra burden on the consumer will go to pay for government extravagance.

Instead of adding to the problems of the consumer, which have only increased under the present government, the government should seek ways of affording it some relief, which it is supposed to do even if it was not, as it is, an election year. The government must not hold back on whatever relief it can give the consumer, because otherwise it could run out of time.