ISLAMABAD/Rawapindi (Usman Cheema and Israr Ahmed) - Thousands of poor and lower middle class people Monday bore the brunt of CNG stations’ strike after a long weekend in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad on Monday as public transport gradually went off the road, and the days ahead look more troublesome.

The current CNG association’s strike over the pricing formula forced majority of public transport off the road with ultimate burden on the poor commuters who have no choice but to use expensive private cabs to reach their workplaces.

Absence of an agreement between the government and CNG station owners apparently prompted the ongoing strike. Until recent past, CNG station owners used to make huge profits but after the recent price curtail on the orders of the Supreme Court of the country, the sudden decrease in their profit and the new reality to survive on normal profits just like the petrol pumps seemed a nightmare for the privileged CNG station owners.

 The organisation representing CNG stations, however, claims that the present pricing formula could not meet even their expenses and they no more can sell gas on the present price, on loss.

Now they have started strike for an unlimited period with a purpose to use it as a bargain tool and make millions of CNG users across the country to support the increase of CNG price, which has become an essential and cheap fuel for public and private transport across the country.

As more than 500 SNG stations in the Potohar region remained on strike and many more across the country, a few CNG stations however didn’t take part in the strike. Extraordinary long queues of cars and public transport vehicles were observed at those stations all day on Monday.

Asked as to why were they standing in queues for 2-3 hours to get their gas tanks filled, and why are they not using petrol, most the people were of the view that they could not afford petrol to run their vehicles as inflation in the country has increased manifold while the income level of people has not witnessed a small rise even.

These people condemned the government for putting the masses across the country in a very miserable condition. Many people while talking to this scribe, said that it was the government that let the CNG owners loot them and it was again the government that was responsible for the current situation.

Amidst this hustle bustle, an incident also occurred at a gas station as a van driver violating the queue brought forward his van to get it filled. As a result, people sitting in their vehicles suddenly came out in anger and rushed to him shouting.

The scene amply demonstrated how impatient the situation had made them.

The van driver requested many to allow him getting his vehicle tank filled on priority basis as he had to rush to pick up children from their schools and had to drop them to their homes, and it was his only source of income.

At the same time, it could create great panic for the parents of the children if they did not reach home in time, but nobody allowed him to get the vehicle filled and forced him to go back and get in line behind scores of vehicles. People at the stations did not seem to support CNG station owners’ stance whatever the situation was.

They were convinced that these CNG stations had been looting them and the Supreme Court had come forward to rescue them. But OGRA and CNG station owners are the culprit in the present situation and both have their vested interests in making troubles for the masses.

When approached, Ghias Pracha, President CNG association, said that the association had not called for strike but the CNG owners on their own had closed down their stations as when they received their bills for the present month, those amounted to more than their sale so it was not possible for them to carry on their business operations. He also said that it is the government that could solve the problem and they were waiting for the government’s action, not the usual inaction.

Particularly in Rawalpindi, dozens of areas where CNG stations remained shut included Adyala Road, Dheri Hassanabad, Dhamial Road, Dhoke Seydan, Misrial Road, Peshawar Road, IJ Principal Road, Double Road, Dhoke Ratta, Dhoke Mangtial, 6th Road, 5th Road, Chandi Chowk, Commercial Market, Kuri Road, Liaquat Road, Moti Mehal, Airport Road, Gulzar-e-Quaid and along with GT Road.

However, some CNG stations, owned by multinational companies, continued the CNG sale. Similarly, tens of hundreds of passengers stood helpless in various bus stops as public transport was off from the roads because of non-availability of CNG stations.

A gigantic traffic jam also triggered in most of the roads because of the rush of vehicles on the CNG stations located along with the roads.

The citizens have demanded of the government to take immediate notice of the CNG stations’ closure and sit around a table with the CNG association office holders to find a solution.

There is no truth in the claim of CNG owners that there was no profit in selling CNG at the reduced price, said Manzir Khan, a grade 17 officer, who was also stuck in long queue of vehicles to get gas at a filling station owned by a multinational company at Dhoke Seydan Road.

He said that the citizens have been facing utmost difficulties with no relief in sight whereas the government taking no action against the closed CNG pumps.

The owners of many CNG stations, during an interaction with TheNation, condemned the OGRA and said that they could not sale CNG at the existing price.

They said that the SCP should review its decision as the owners were suffering huge loss because of low gas price. On the other hand, the drivers of taxicabs and rickshaws, who are plying their vehicles on patrol, charged extra fares from their passengers.