WEB DESK: Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan have opposed a proposed change in natural gas distribution formula that would benefit domestic consumers in Punjab, during a meeting presided over by the Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and attended by Chief Minister Balochistan Sanaullah Zehri and representatives of Sindh and Punjab governments.
The largest gas producing province in the country is Sindh accounting for 71.7 percent of all gas produced in the country followed by Balochistan’s 20.9 percent, Punjab’s 5.22 percent and KPK’s 2.14 percent. In terms of total gas consumed however Punjab, with its much higher population, accounts for 53 percent of total national managed demand followed by Sindh’s 36 percent, KPK’s 7 percent and Balochistan’s 3 percent.
The ratio of consumption versus production is as follows: Punjab 852, KPK 146, Sindh 46 and Balochistan 29. The major constraint in terms of the centre enforcing its new proposal is Article 158 of the constitution which stipulates that “the province in which a wellhead of natural gas is situated shall have precedence over other parts of Pakistan in meeting the requirements from that wellhead subject to the commitments and obligations as on the commencing day.” Thus the needs of the gas producing provinces are to be met as per the constitution prior to meeting the needs of other provinces.
Be that as it may, the latest proposal of the PML(N)-led Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources is premised on two politically disturbing elements. First and foremost, National Assembly seats allocated to the four provinces are as follows: Punjab 148, Sindh 61, KPK 35, Balochistan 15, Fata 12 and Islamabad 2. Thus even if any party does not win a single seat from any of the other province/Fata/Islamabad and yet wins all of the seats from Punjab it would still have an overall majority of 23 seats.
And secondly, PML-N government’s major support base which enables it to form a government in the centre is in Punjab; and post-Charter of Democracy signed by the PML-N and the PPP and more particularly during the Sharif administration’s third tenure it has been observed that the ruling party has desisted from making any inroads into the support base of other parties in provinces other than Punjab.
And the fact that the PPPP was almost wiped out from Punjab in the 2013 elections while the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf came second may be a major factor in the PML-N leadership being able to negotiate terms and conditions with the PPP but not with the PTI. Thus politically focused negotiations/actions cannot be supported because they challenge the federation and generate conflicts between the federating units and the centre.
The Petroleum Ministry’s support for a new gas distribution formula envisaging treating the domestic gas consuming sector as top priority in all the provinces was thus seen as a violation of Article 158 of the constitution by all provinces, other than Punjab; and they collectively opposed the move. The Ministry’s contention that the Council of Common Interests (CCI) should approve the new arrangement is also disturbing given the fact that the CCI allows the centre’s opinion to prevail if the ruling party has one chief minister supporting its stance as the majority opinion prevails.
In other words, it is imperative for the government not to violate the constitution and if it wants to change the gas distribution formula then it must seek a two-thirds majority required in parliament to bring about a constitutional amendment that would water down the right of the province where the wellhead of gas is situated. To try and nullify a provision of the constitution through other means would further erode inter-provincial harmony that is already sorely lacking.
Source: Business Recorder