With winter season at its peak, the shortage of gas in several parts of Punjab has inconvenienced people greatly. People in Sialkot are protesting prolonged load shedding and low pressure of gas. A large number of women with their children, carrying kitchen utensils marched on various inter-city roads while chanting anti-government slogans. They claimed there was 16 to 18 hours long load shedding of gas, because of which they were unable to prepare meals. The situation is only almost unbearable and repeats its self every year. Why has the state not resolved the issue? The answer to this is the same as to other repetitive traumas like floods, summer heatwaves and earthquakes- the government is sleeping on the job.

The Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has said that shortage of natural gas, particularly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, will continue till next month’s end. He said that this year’s gas crisis was worse than last year’s, where both the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines and Sui Southern Gas Company were unable to bridge the gap between supply and demand. He also added that the main problem is in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where there is a shortfall of 200 million cubic feet a day to 250. This is not news, and is no excuse for the lax attitude of the ministry.

The PML-N before coming into power made many promises regarding resolving the energy crises. We have seen many projects and deals amount to naught, including the expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG) import from Qatar and the Nandipur power project. The government had promised an easing of the shortage of gas through import of liquefied natural LNG, but we have not seen much of a difference in load shedding. At the policy level, though the government is working on privatising energy firms, in case of LNG it has taken control of import and distribution, denying the private sector its due role. There is also no shortage of political and vested interests. Over the past few years, several foreign oil and gas exploration companies have pulled out of the country, discouraged by low gas prices.

The government should encourage the private sector to set up LNG terminals independently, rather than it involving gas companies in the process. The energy problem is the biggest problem of Pakistan. It affects each and every person, more than even terrorism, inflation and food insecurity. A solution to the crisis can win elections for parties and have huge economies to scale in industry and agriculture. Yet, the government hibernates again this winter.