As industrial activities slow down in Karachi in the wake of a worsening gas crisis, Sindh Governor Imran Ismail has taken swift action to persuade businessmen to call off their planned protest.

The business community in the port city had set a 48 to 72-hour deadline before staging a peaceful protest and sit-in against the challenges faced by the industries.

The daunting challenge of gas scarcity, if left unaddressed, is feared to turn into a political crisis and the treasury and opposition benches in the national and provincial assemblies may use it for political point scoring ahead of next general elections scheduled to be held in 2023.

The Sindh governor directed Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) to take all possible measures to resolve the fuel crisis after Karachi industrialists gave a 48 to 72-hour ultimatum at a press conference at the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) on Monday.

SSGC Managing Director Imran Maniar called on Ismail at the Governor’s House.

“Sindh governor stressed the need to ensure the resolution of genuine issues of the industrialists on a priority basis,” a press release issued by the Governor’s House read.

He directed the public gas utility to extend maximum possible support and cooperation to help continue industrial production without any interruption.

Ismail demanded the practical functioning of a working group to discuss, analyse and suggest measures for the resolution of gas-related issues with mutual consent.

“The working group shall suggest measures to resolve such issues on a regular and permanent basis,” the governor was quoted as saying in the statement.

Gas had not been available for the industries of Karachi, the hub of country’s economic activities, for the past 70 days. “Industries are lying closed,” KCCI President Muhammad Idrees told The Express Tribune after holding the press conference.

He said that Karachi was the only city where factories were suffering from gas shortage due to increase in gas demand in the residential areas of Balochistan during the ongoing winter season.

“Gas supply to all the four provinces, including Punjab, should be curtailed equally to meet the mounting demand in Balochistan.”

He emphasised that if the grievances of businessmen were not addressed, they would stage a sit-in outside the SSGC head office in Karachi.

He was joined by the office-bearers of seven industrial zones in Karachi at the press conference.

Speaking on the occasion, Businessmen Group (BMG) Chairman Zubair Motiwala, BMG Vice Chairman and Pakistan Apparel Forum Chairman Jawed Bilwani and KCCI President Muhammad Idrees called on the federal government to save its reputation by putting an end to the discriminatory treatment meted out to the businessmen of the city.

This has not only aggravated the miseries of the business community and the Karachiites “but has also dented the government’s efforts to ensure ease of doing business,” a KCCI statement read.

They appealed to Prime Minister Imran Khan and his aides to immediately restore gas supply to all the seven industrial zones of Karachi.

SSGC’s version

“SSGC has taken strong exception to the aggressive attitude of certain trade associations despite the government of Pakistan and SSGC’s efforts to mitigate the gas supply situation,” an SSGC statement read.

With regard to the demand of industries for 280 mmcfd of gas to be brought back to Sindh, it must be understood that the allocation of gas fields is the prerogative of the federal government and interpretation of Article 158 is pending at the Supreme Court.

SSGC was able to suspend gas supply to only 225 industrial units due to stay orders from the factories and ultimately the issue of gas pressure was faced.

Consequently, SSGC tried to implement a framework along with the industries to rotate industrial areas every fifth day to generate 90 mmcfd of gas.

“This arrangement did not work as industries continued to remain uncooperative and SSGC could only make 15 mmcfd available for the sector.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2022.

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