Businesses lobby Commerce to stop gas rationing

Originally posted in The Business Standard on 18 April 2022

In a circular issued on 11 April, Petrobangla asked factories to stop using gas from 5pm to 9pm daily for 15 days amid a crisis in Ramadan

File Photo: Reuters

At a time when all factories are steaming towards pre-pandemic levels in terms of production and marketing, the government’s decision to ration gas supply to all industries for four hours a day will put a spoke in the wheel of businesses, industrial groups and trade bodies express concerns.

They have already reached out to the commerce ministry, seeking its intervention to this end.

From food to glass to ceramics, all industries will take a hit from gas rationing, which might lead to a supply crisis in the local market as well as a decline in exports, businesses fear.

Against all these backdrops, they have requested the ministry to take steps to ensure uninterrupted gas supply 24 hours a day.

In a circular issued on 11 April, Petrobangla asked factories to stop using gas from 5pm to 9pm daily for 15 days amid a crisis in Ramadan.

Square Food & Beverage Limited manufactures essential food items, such as rice, powdered spices, snacks, noodles under different brands, and supplies them to domestic and international markets.

Its Managing Director Anjan Chowdhury, in a letter to Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi, said, “We have increased production of such products owing to a big jump in consumer demand during the month of Ramadan. But the government’s gas supply cut-off decision will severely hamper our production.”

He requested for uninterrupted supply of gas to the manufacturing and processing industries to maintain continuity of production and ensure supply of food items in markets.

In a letter to Commerce Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh, Md Quamul Hassan, business director of ACI Salt, said, “Salt production is a continuous process and if we stop production for four hours, we will have to incur losses because after restarting machines, it takes at least eight hours to get finished goods.

“As a result, we will get only 12 hours of production per day. Without using gas, we cannot produce this essential commodity. This will lead to scarcity of edible salt in the country.”

In a separate letter to the commerce secretary, Farooq Ahmed, secretary-general and CEO at Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), Dhaka, said the chamber strongly feels that such gas rationing in the processing industries, such as glass, ceramics, and others, will not only hamper their production, but also their entire operations as these industries require continuous gas supply.

Moreover, the country’s industrial areas have already been facing a shortage of gas supply for the past few weeks. Most factories, which had already suffered pandemic-induced losses, are recovering steadily, he added.

The MCCI, on behalf of its members, demands that the four-hour gas supply cut to the processing industries be revoked to make doing business easier and less costly.

According to owners of the country’s salt factories, at present Confidence, Molla, Fresh, ACI produce salt using the vacuum method, for which machines need to be kept running for 24 hours a day.

They have to start preparing 5-6 hours before they cut off production for any reason. So, if they are to switch off machines for four hours a day, it will basically translate into the shutdown of the production process for 9-10 hours.

Md Kamruzzaman Kamal, director at Pran RFL Group, told The Business Standard, “We have written to the commerce ministry not to cut off gas supply to some of our essential commodity manufacturing units. And the supply to those has not stopped yet.”

Safiul Athar Taslim, director of TK Group, said, “We have sent a letter to the commerce ministry to ensure uninterrupted gas supplies to keep production of essential commodities normal. The ministry has told us to continue production using gas. That is why we are not facing any problem.”

However, if production is to be stopped for four hours during the daytime of Ramadan, production of commodities will significantly drop, he also said.

A commerce ministry official told TBS that a letter will be sent to the energy ministry and Petrobangla soon, requesting them not to cut off gas supply to processing industries and food producers.