LAHORE/ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has taken ‘serious notice’ of the petrol crisis in the country. Upon his return on Saturday from a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, a major world oil supplier, he was so shocked by the ‘sudden calamity’ of supply dry-up that he held an ‘emergency’ meeting right at the airport.

The country’s chief executive received input from his ‘able coteries’ as to the reasons behind the critical petrol crisis and later suspended four high-ups of the energy sector, missing their top boss – Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who is found to be highly ill-informed about the all-important sector that he is supposed to look after.

Mr Abbasi held a press conference in Islamabad on Friday to explain the reasons behind the existing fuel crisis. The ‘able’ minister found the people of Pakistan the key culprit behind the worsening fuel crisis who started using more fuel in January due to reduced petroleum prices.

When media persons told him that the oil companies were bound to maintain a 20-day stock of petrol to avoid such a situation, the minister didn’t know about it. Abbasi asked his secretary Abid Saeed whether there was any such law. And, the secretary told him that it was true and the companies were bound to maintain the stock. Abid Saeed now stands suspended along with Additional Petroleum Secretary Naeem Malik and Director General Muhammad Azam.

At the press conference, neither the secretary and nor the minister explained why the companies didn’t comply with the rules and regulations and didn’t maintain the reserve stock. The minister tried to find a refuge in transferring the burden of this gross administrative negligence to the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority, suggesting the newsmen to ask this question from Ogra chairman as he said it was ‘not his job’ to maintain a check on the petrol reserves.

When he was asked about the role of Pakistan State Oil (PSO) and its incompetence that resulted in one of the worst fuel crises in country’s history, Abbasi said, “Ask this question from the PSO”, and again tried to clear himself out of the situation saying that other organisations have their jobs to do and they should be asked about it if they are not performing well. PSO Managing Director Amjad Janjua is also among the four ‘black sheep’ culled by the prime minister.

The reporters reminded the minister that as petroleum minister the organisation he was referring to were under his purview and he was supposed to look after the matters of all departments under his ministry. Mr Khaqan Abbasi avoided the answer and tried to conclude his press conference with a joke: “I live very close to the ministry and I have enough fuel!”

Media reports said the prime minister has directed the authorities concerned for immediately attending to the need of petrol supply, especially in Lahore – the power bastion of his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Lahore is also lucky in that the government has decided to resume gas supply to CNG satiations of the city, leaving rest of the cities on their fate.

On Friday, the government pushed through the National Assembly a resolution for extending Gas Infrastructure Development Cess-2014 Ordinance despite intense resistance from the Opposition on this anti-people measure.

The prime minister also directed the Punjab government, run by his brother Shahbaz Sharif, to check overcharging of petrol – which was being sold at some supply points (agencies) for up to Rs200 per litre, a price almost triple the rate fixed by the authorities.

The benevolent government is already denying full benefit of falling oil prices in the world market through high tax rates on petroleum products.

About 95 percent petrol stations in Lahore are closed as they did not get supply of the commodity from the distributing companies. People in thousands were seen at some stations where scuffles among the consumers were also witnessed. The aggravated situation has occasioned immense hardship to the people badly disrupting the routine life.

In Islamabad, the establishment division issued notification of suspension of the senior officials of Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources including secretary and managing director of PSO after the prime minister took notice of the fuel shortage in the country.

The division also issued notice authorising Arshad Mirza, grade 21 additional secretary of petroleum and natural resources to look after matters of office of secretary petroleum and natural resources.

Those suspended, according to the notification, included Abid Saeed secretary petroleum and natural resources, Naeem Malik additional secretary for petroleum and natural resources, Muhammad Azam director general oil and PSO managing director Amjad Pervez Janjua.

The notification issued Saturday night after the prime minister issued the directions to suspend the officials immediately at Lahore Airport where he called the meeting to look into crisis of petrol in the country after his arrival from Saudi Arabia.

Punjab and Islamabad have been facing severe petrol shortage since a week. The consumers are forced to stand in long queues for hours to get petrol. The federal minister for petroleum had already said that it would take at least another week to bring supplies of petrol to normalisation for the consumers.