A three-stage protest plan was announced by the All Pakistan CNG Association last week after talks with the Petroleum Ministry failed to produce any results. The Association is up in arms against the government decision to close the CNG stations for three days in a week instead of two, and an impending 69 percent increase in CNG prices. Meanwhile, the loadshedding of electricity is getting worse. Across the country, the duration of power outages is not only becoming longer, but also more erratic. The most worrisome aspect of the gas and power crisis is that other than trying to manage the shortfall by limiting the supply of these basic utilities, the government does not seem to have any plan to set things right. It does not seem to be even bothered. We are constantly being told that the previous government is responsible for our woes, as it did not plan ahead and expanded the demand for gas and electricity by granting a large number of connections without taking measures for ensuring supply to these new consumers. The question is: What has the present government done to move things in the right direction? Surely, public service campaigns in the media telling us how to save and consume less energy is not enough. Limiting the supply of gas and electricity, or loadshedding, is not the solution either. At best, these measures can only be used as stop-gap arrangements for the time it takes for a more comprehensive strategy to increase the supply of these commodities to start bearing fruit. The problem is that, more than three years after the present government took over, even the seeds of such a comprehensive strategy are nowhere to be found. On assuming power, the present government assured us that the loadshedding of electricity would stop within a year. The magic wands that were supposed to do the trick were the Rental Power Projects (RPPs). Much has been written about the RPPs and how they are an expensive solution to the problem. The government insisted that the RPPs were the best instant solution to meet the electricity shortage, as they would not take a long time to start generating electricity and because the cash-strapped government would not have to invest in setting them up. Even as the RPPs came up, the situation kept getting worse, and more recently, we were informed that the loadshedding will continue till 2018. In the absence of a comprehensive strategy, even that distant date comes across as an illusion. Scams involving billions of taxpayers money in some RPPs were unearthed in the Supreme Court, serious allegations of corruption and kickbacks about other contracts surfaced in the media, the electricity became more expensive and there was still not enough of it to meet the demand for it. There was no accountability of those involved. The government did not bother to explain to us why its plans were unsuccessful. Nobody felt the need to explain why the bulk of addition in electricity generation was dependent on oil and gas - oil that we import at a fluctuating but consistently high price and gas that we dont have enough of for our domestic and industrial consumers, for running our buses, cars and rickshaws. So now, instead of two, the CNG stations will be closed for three days every week. How do you justify it to the rickshaw drivers, who were forced to give up their old petrol-fuelled rickshaws for the environment-friendly CNG rickshaws? How do you convince them that they should take three days off in a week because they have no other option? Besides, the increase in CNG price being contemplated by the government is expected to bring it at par with the petroleum prices. So what do you say to millions of vehicle owners, who invested in CNG kits to save costs? Naturally, the APCNGA is not amused, and it has announced a three-stage protest that kicks off on July 13 with a 10-day schedule of countrywide rallies and demonstrations and, if their demands are not met, will end with an indefinite strike of CNG stations across the country. And what is the APCNGA demanding? In their meeting with the Petroleum Minister, they had agreed to close the CNG stations for two and a half days instead of three and the Minister had assured them that the price of CNG will not be raised to more than 60 percent of the petroleum price. In their subsequent meeting with the Secretary of the Petroleum Ministry, the government went back on both the points. So now, other than the pricing formula, the APCNGA is demanding that the CNG stations remain open throughout the week. While the stalemate persists, the citizens go through the adversity with courage and fear the harder days ahead. Remember, we are in the middle of summer when the domestic consumption of gas is at its lowest. If one takes into account how the shortages of electricity and gas affect virtually every aspect of our lives, this is quite serious. Other than the physical discomfort and the mental anguish, the erratic and short supply of these basic utilities seriously affect the output in industrial concerns and offices, and inhibit economic activity. We wont even talk about the poor rickshaw drivers, who have been rendered practically unemployed for three days in a week. We wont talk about the millions of man-hours wasted in long queues at CNG stations or the effect lack of proper sleep, due to night after night of power outages, has on peoples performance and state of mind. Obviously, this is one of the biggest challenges facing the government, but it continues to deal with it in the same devil-may-care manner that has come to be its most salient characteristic perhaps. The most frustrating part is that the gas and power crises are not insurmountable, and that the government could solve these problems, if it really wanted to. Pakistan has vast resources that could be employed to meet our needs of gas and power. But the government seems to be least interested in exploring or tapping these resources. It has failed to push ahead on projects with Iran and China that could help things. It has failed to create a comprehensive strategy that builds upon these strengths and aims to expand and diversify our sources of energy. The most frustrating part is that, to save millions of people from this perpetual torture, the government does not need a magic wand but only the political will to do it. n The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: hazirjalees@hotmail.com