ISLAMABAD  -   The government has constituted a four-member committee to probe inflated gas bills sent to domestic consumers.

According to a notification issued by the Ministry of Energy (Petroleum Division), in view of current complaints regarding excessive and inflated gas bills sent to large number of consumers, Secretary Petroleum Asad Hayauddin has constituted a four-member committee to look into the matter.

The committee was constituted following Prime Minister Imran Khan’s directive to federal minister for petroleum to conduct an enquiry in to the issue. The domestic consumers were hit hard by increase in gas prices as they were paying the highest of all categories. During winter, the gas bills of domestic consumers have shown abnormal increase which has compelled the consumers to protest in front of several SNGPL offices. For the last couple of weeks, domestic consumers are protesting over high gas bill prices ranging from 12000 to 35000 for domestic consumers.

According to the notification, Additional Secretary (Policy) Sher Afgan Khan will be its chairman, Director General Gas, Shahid Yousaf as secretary/member while Director General Lequified Gas, Imran Ahmad and General Manager billing Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited (SNGPL) will be its members.

“The committee will look into the issue of excessive billing in view of the increased price slab recently introduced by the government and must seek its findings about the reason and justification of the excessive domestic bills,” said the notification. The committee will also look at the new slabs and suggest any rationalisation in view of the unprecedented increase in domestic gas bills. The committee must also look into the billing mechanism including observation of 30 days billing period, timely reading of the meters and timely distribution of bills to the consumers, in addition to other aspects of the billing system and procedure and suggest improvement,” said the notification.

However some senior officials of the Petroleum Division termed the committee just an eyewash as no timeframe had been given for completion of the task.” Such a committee mean only to buy some time and pacify the public sentiments which are running very high,” said the official. What the committee is going to probe? There was no need of the committee to see the billing issue as when the government had decided to charge the domestic consumers the price of imported RLNG, instead of local gas price, it was natural that the consumers will get high bills.

Currently it seems that neither the petroleum miniserMinister of Petroleum nor the bureaucracy in the mode to reduce gas prices.

The minister of petroleum said on Monday that the gas companies had Rs142 billion debt.  “If we would not have increased the gas prices it would have gone to Rs 154 billion”. Another high official of the ministry told the scribe that it is the fault on the part of the previous government as they kept the gas prices static for five years and now they don’t have any other option except price increase.

The government is hell bent to transfer the inefficiency and mismanagement on the part of Sui gas companies, directorate general gas and DGPC to the consumers. The losses faced by the Sui companies are one of the highest in the whole world and the consumers are supposed to pay for it. Similarly, DGPC has illegally converted the price agreements for the wellhead price with different gas producing companies and jacked up the price and the burden was transferred to the consumers. The auditor general of Pakistan in its recent report pointed out that due to conversion of 72 blocks by DGPC, Pakistan was overloaded to billions of rupees in shape of increase in the cost of natural gas. The increase in cost became the revenue of E&P companies engaged in the country however audit didn’t find any acceleration in E&P activities in those block-opted conversion.

The source said that Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) proposal for the gas tariff was not accepted by the government and instead the rates worked out by DGPC was approved and executed.

Ogra proposed only three slabs and had recommended the gas price for the domestic and commercial consumers using less than 100 cubic metres per month at Rs294.55 per unit (180 percent) increase from Rs105.15 per unit, while the second slab using from 101 to 300 cubic metres per month (both commercial and residential) would be charged Rs589.09 per unit instead of Rs210.31.

The prescribed price for third domestic slab of more than 300 cubic metres per month would be jacked up by 26.4 percent and charged at Rs664.52 per unit instead of Rs525.76.

On the other hand, DGPC recommended seven slabs with Rs 1460 per unit charging the consumers using above 400 cubic metres per month. This rate is almost the same to RLNG price.

Currently the billing mechanism is in favour of the Sui companies, i.e if a consumer consumes upto 300 cubec meters gas per month, he will be charged at Rs 275 per unit for the entire consumption and the monthly bill will be Rs10940 (including gas price+Meter Rent+GST) but if he goes up to 301 then he will be charged at the rate prescribed for new slab which is Rs 780 per unit for the entire consumption. In the same way, if he goes up to 401 cubic meters, he will be charged Rs 1460 for the entire consumption and it will take the consumer monthly bill to more than 25000 per month.

According to OGRA’s proposal, the consumers in first slab with 100 cubic meter consumption will pay Rs 296 per unit and if he goes up to 101 then charge only one unit in the 2nd slab and the remaining in the first slab. If you apply this procedure to the entire slabs then the issue of overbilling can be resolved.

The other reason of the high bills are violation of OGRA’s gas pressure rules by SNGPL, said the source. OGRA in a letter asked the SNGPL that “application of higher pressure factory by the SNGPL is resulting in higher gas bills as it may put to the next higher billing slab,” the source added.