The Supreme Court that had reserved its judgment on the existing CNG pricing formula on Thursday issued a short order the next day, declaring it void. The Oil and Gas Regularity Authority (Ogra) was, at the same time, told that being an independent body it should prepare a pricing structure that kept the interests of the consumer in view. And in this context, it should consult the various stakeholders and follow directives of the government before settling on new prices. The order observed that the Ogra had failed to protect the rights of consumers and the CNG cartel had exploited them with the help of the government.

That under the formula that has been in vogue over the years the prices of CNG went up from Rs 33 per kilo in 2008 to Rs 95 per kilo in 2012, to which the two-member bench made a special mention in the short order, speaks for its being of an exploitative nature. Millions of vehicle owners who had been using this fuel were burdened with a multiplicity of taxes and charges, apart from the actual cost of the CNG, making the ultimate price insufferably exorbitant. That, however, enabled the vested interests to line their pockets at the cost of the gas user.

The pity is that the Musharraf government encouraged the motorists to turn to CNG because it was not only a cheaper fuel, but also environmentally friendly. There was a mad rush for installing the CNG kits to enable the vehicles to run on the gas instead of the more expensive petrol; and a new gas cylinder manufacturing industry was born – all this with the active promptings of the government. The present government adopted a rather liberal policy of granting licences for putting up CNG filling stations and, as the accusation went, mostly to its cronies. The existence of as many as four filling stations in a row on a mere 400-metre stretch of the road, as the Supreme Court pointed out during the course of hearing the case, would tend to support the accusation. A clear conclusion drawn from this policy was that the government intended to continue to spare CNG for the growing number of vehicles that were coming on the road till the squeeze began and the public began to be cautioned of a progressive elimination of supply to private vehicles. The prices, in the meantime, have relentlessly been going up and, thus, the owners of filling stations have been adequately compensated for the expenditure they had incurred in installing them. The lamentable tale above points a finger at our ruling circles for adopting short-sighted policies and in such a vital sector of the economy as the energy sector. Should one hope that as long as the CNG supply to vehicles is maintained, the consumers will not be fleeced from now on?