Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbassi while briefing the National Assembly Standing Committee made an extremely disturbing observation: since 2011 the locals of district Kohat and Karak (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) have been stealing around 10 billion rupee worth of gas annually.
There is no writ of the government in these two districts, Abbassi added, while Arif Hamid, Managing Director of Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL), told the members of the Standing Committee that the locals had illegally constructed a 1600kilometre-long pipeline.
Hamid further disclosed that SNGPL had once resorted to disconnection of gas supply to the two districts, the only recourse available to the entity, but locals with the help of District Co-ordination Officer (DCO) and District Police Officer (DPO) had simply restored the illegal connections.
He also maintained that the SNGPL had repeatedly requested the provincial government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) since June 2013 to provide assistance to plug the illegal supply to the locals of the two districts but had received no co-operation.
These observations by the SNGPL MD reflect the existence of two worrisome factors namely complicity of government officials, notably that of DCO and DPO, for the illegal activity to not only continue but to be restored when disrupted and the inability of the government, in this case the provincial government, to ensure its writ on these areas.
Thus what was clearly evident during the meeting of the Standing Committee was that both the federal and the provincial governments had abrogated any responsibility in not only ensuring that the writ of the state was ensured but also to take action against those of its officials who are complicit in aiding or abetting gas thieves.
There is no doubt that gas consumers have been footing the bill for the gas thieves by making payment of the bills that they receive. There is therefore an urgent need for the federal and provincial governments to take mitigating steps to ensure that this practice is discontinued and those engaged in it must be severely dealt with.
This is particularly relevant in the context of the severe energy crisis that the country has been facing for the past decade or so. Pakistan’s national output and exports have, as a consequence, suffered greatly due to the ongoing energy crisis which, in turn, has had repercussions not only directly through more than 12-hour load shedding per day on the quality of the life of the people but have also had negative implications on employment opportunities in the country.
Be that as it may, one has to extend appreciation for the National Assembly Standing Committee on Petroleum and Natural Resources for taking up the matter and giving it countrywide coverage. The PTI member of the committee requested that Chief Secretary of the province, Inspector General and Deputy Inspector General Police, DPO and DCO be summoned to ascertain the reasons behind government’s failure to deal with the gas thieves.
The question however is whether the decisions taken by the Committee would be binding on the relevant officials as in some other instances decisions taken by other standing committees of both houses of parliament have not been implemented.
One can only hope that PTI, with its election slogan of greater transparency and zero tolerance for corruption, takes appropriate measures to not only assist SNGPL in disconnecting the illegal 1600kilometre-long pipeline but also takes punitive action against those officials who are complicit in this illegal activity.
And if the KPK government cannot establish the writ of the state in Karak or Kohat then perhaps the federal government would have to launch an operation led by FC to deal with the theft.