Strict laws on card against the illegal use of gas!



Serajul Islam Siraj, Special Correspondent, Barta24.com Dhaka
Pic: Collected

Pic: Collected

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The government is getting stricter to prevent illegal gas connections; it has been decided to bring fines as well as criminal cases. Petrobangla has been asked to submit the necessary regulations for this.

Petrobangla Chairman Janendra Nath Sarkar told Barta24.com that Petrobangla is working on the issue. It is in its final stage, will be sent to the Ministry very soon. Petrobangla chairman said in response to the question that what kind of punishment is there, we will inform about this after finalizing it and sending it to the Ministry. I don't want to talk about it right now.

He said, ‘we are working to reduce the overall system loss of gas. One of these is theft; effective measures have been taken to prevent that theft. After illegal disconnection they are asked to follow up again after one month if they are connecting again. If any officials and employees of the distribution company are involved, action has also been ordered against them.’

Janendra Nath Sarkar said, ‘we have divided the zones, now we know how much gas is going to which zone, how much we are getting the bill. DMDs have been told to minimize system losses in their zones. Action will be taken against them if they fail to reduce the system loss.’

Touhidul Islam, General Manager (Vigilance) of Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company told Barta24.com that a strict law in this regard is the need of the hour. Re-establishing the connection after invalid disconnection. The operation has to be conducted multiple times in the same area. If this continues, it will be difficult to completely stop gas theft.

In response to a question, he said, ‘we can only disconnect. We have nothing else to do. I run the mobile court, I go with the executive magistrate and he gives fines or punishments. Sometimes fines are given as well as imprisonment.’

Titas Gas Transmission Company General Manager (Metro Dhaka Marketing Division-North) Md. Imam Uddin Sheikh told Barta24.com, if someone steals, there is a law, there is a judiciary and there are many organizations. Neither Petrobangla nor Titas have any power to punish. If the culprit is my customer, I can fine him. The amount of penalty varies from case to case. If someone uses the residence illegally, we can collect a bill equal to one year. But if the user is not a Titas subscriber, we can just cut the line. In some cases, a complaint is made to the police station. An executive magistrate will be required to punish or fine illegal users.

The largest company is Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company and most thefts are also from Titas. Among the 6 gas distribution companies, Titas alone is distributing more than half of the gas, 55.23 percent. Gas theft cannot be prevented even with raids throughout the year. Titas Gas has spent Tk. 6 crore 46 lakh in the illegal disconnection campaign in the last 21 months (October-2021 to June-2023).

The managing director of the company, Engineer Harunur Rashid Mollah said in a press conference recently that 28 thousand 398 operations have been conducted with 330 mobile courts from October 2021 to June 2023. In these operations, 668.50 kilometers of illegal lines, 6 lakh 2 thousand 884 stoves were disconnected due to illegal connections and dues, and a total of 6 lakh 3 thousand 975 connections were disconnected. 250 industrial, 329 commercial 55 captive 10 CNG filling stations have been disconnected due to illegal usage. Additional bills of Tk. 321 crore 81 lakh and fine of Tk. 91 crore 25 lakh have been levied through these operations. Out of this, Tk. 147 crore 80 lakh, 37 crore 41 lakh taka have been collected for additional bills.

He also said that action is being taken against the people of Titas due to the complaint. During my time I have dismissed 8 people, taken action against 228 people including 16 suspended. 91 people have been transferred for punishment. Action has been taken against 50 to 60 contractors. Regarding re-connection after separation, he said, some connection may be needed. But monitoring is being done closely.

Recently, gas supply was stopped in Kamrangichar area of the capital to prevent illegal connections. There was a lot of controversy about shutting the line of legitimate customers. Many times it is seen that the connection is disconnected in the morning and reconnected in the afternoon. Thus a kind of thief-police game is going on between Titas and illegal users.

Titus Gas Managing Director Engineer Harunur Rashid Mollah told Barta24.com that they have conducted many operations regarding illegal connections. The campaign will continue. We are doing public relations, saying that we need your cooperation to prevent theft, people are also becoming aware. Customers have been told that after cutting the line, if the line comes back, the line in that area will be closed. We got very good results. But more stringent laws are needed.

We are concerned, call for responsible behavior: Amin Helali



Ashraful Islam, Planning Editor, Barta24.com
Photo: Barta24.com

Photo: Barta24.com

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Amin Helali, the senior vice-president of Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), an apex organization of businessmen, has expressed concern over vandalism, arson, obstruction of traffic and vandalism in the ongoing program surrounding the quota reform movement.

He spoke to Barta24.com about the situation arising in the quota movement on Thursday afternoon. Considering the size of the economy of Bangladesh, if the economic activities are stopped one day, there is an apprehension of a loss of one and a half to two billion US dollars, said the business leader, saying that it is not possible to overcome this loss even in 2-3 months.

Amin Helali had a question, how the businessmen are seeing the ongoing quota movement. In this context, he said, 'We businessmen are worried about what we are seeing today in the continuation of the agitation of the last few days. Traders need a peaceful environment. There will be meetings, marches, agitations, demands. Our economy has advanced because of the culture we have created in the last 15 years.

Only 14 lakh government employees. We have to remember that every year 27 lakh boys and girls enter the workforce. If this large number of youths is to be given employment, then the economy cannot be shut down. I think we should all be responsible citizens' said this leader of FBCCI.

Regarding the ongoing agitation, Amin Helali said, 'We think there is a rationale for the demands that the students are agitating on. But the matter is now in the law court. We have to wait for the solution. Not a big deal. But this must go through a process.

He thinks that there is no incident that needs to be done today. We will ask the government, students and all concerned to behave responsibly. Attitudes also need to change. Rules must be followed. But the situation is such that we do not obey the court. Every institution should be respected.

Referring to the negative effects of violent programs on the economy, Amin Helali said, "If the economy of the state is not prosperous, if the revenue is not deposited in the treasury, then where will the employment come from?" If the revenue is to come in, the private sector or the economic activity where it exists must be kept undisturbed. Here responsibility must be introduced. Everyone has an agenda here. We want to say, there should be mutual respect. Everyone should be united in the interest of the state.

Amin Helali said, "If we calculate, if the economy is damaged in one day, it cannot be recovered in three months." Adverse situation in the whole world now. We are going through a competitive situation. Even in that, if the unstable situation returns again, it is difficult to cut that loss.

"Investment in the private sector has decreased. Corona, Ukraine war-multiple polarization in the whole world is now a critical situation. The economy of Bangladesh is also affected by this. Peace and order is needed to overcome the crisis and turn around the economy. If the economy is damaged now, then we will fall into more crisis,” he added.

Questioning the nature of the ongoing movement demanding quota reforms, he said, "What is happening now...we think it is clear that it is not just students here. A lot of fuelers are involved here. It is the responsibility of the government to identify them and how to resolve the demands of the students.

Amin Helali also said in this context, 'As a citizen, I respect every democratic movement. But it has to be systematic. We do not want irregularities and we discourage them. And students will agitate on their campuses...the agitation is established. It is not possible for them to do the violence that they do today. I think this is where the marmalade comes in. Those who are playing as leaders, are taking the students in the wrong direction.

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Power capacity increased, actual production stagnated



Serajul Islam Siraj, Special Correspondent, Barta24.com
Power capacity increased, actual production stagnated

Power capacity increased, actual production stagnated

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The electricity production capacity does not match the actual production figure. The actual generation of electricity in the financial year 2023-24 was 10948 MW, which was only 10097 MW in the financial year 2022-23. That is, in the last financial year, the actual production of electricity has increased by only 900 MW.

According to Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) sources, Bangladesh's power generation capacity (excluding captive) is 26,364 MW, including imports of 2,656 MW from India. And from July 2023 to last June 30, the total electricity production has been 95911 million kilowatt hours. Which is an hourly average of 10948 megawatts. As such, only 41 and a half percent of the capacity has been produced. And in FY 2022-23, actual production was only 40.53 percent.

The international standard for reserve margin (regular maintenance and contingency reserves of power plants) is 20 to 25 percent. An average of 59 percent of power plants there are sitting idle. If compared with production, this rate stands at 150 percent.

The reason for apprehension is that even if the power plant is sitting, the money has to be calculated from time to time for capacity payment. In the financial year 2021-22, the capacity payment has to be paid 18 thousand 977 crores. Due to this, the cost of electricity production is increasing by leaps and bounds.

According to Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) data, the average production cost of electricity in 2019-20 was Tk. 2.13, in 2020-21 it was Tk. 3.16 and in 2022 it was Tk. 8 and a half, now the average cost of production has exceeded Tk. 12. .

Right now 60 percent of power plants are idle, the demand for electricity is not increasing as per estimates. On the other hand there are many mega projects including Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant. The coming of new power plants means an increase in the idle ratio. And sitting means increasing the average cost of production.

The Revised Power System Master Plan (RPSMP-2016) estimates 3 types of power demand in 2023 (according to high, medium and low speed of economy). The demand estimate according to the medium or based case was 23417 MW. Even the demand estimates do not match the reality.

BPDB is of the view that the power generation has been disrupted due to various reasons. When prices rise, oil-fired power plants are shut down. Due to which the current picture does not have the opportunity to consider the actual condition. If fully supplied according to demand (peak hours), the maximum demand can be 18 thousand MW. Currently the demand is fluctuating from 12 to 18 thousand megawatts. This figure is for the summer season, with winter demand sometimes falling below 10,000.

A BPDB official told Barta24.com on the condition of anonymity that load-shedding-free power supply is not possible due to various reasons including lack of coordination. There are various restrictions depending on the region and time. There are also restrictions on circulation, distribution and production in certain regions. If full supply is provided, the peak demand during summer can be 19,000 MW. In that view the reserve margin is appropriate. However, peak demand falls below 10,000 in winter. This issue is a big challenge for Bangladesh.

Due to the large gap between demand forecast, production capacity and reality, many people are seeing the danger of crisis. For various reasons, the question has started to arise, whether the power generation capacity is increasing, the demand is increasing. If the demand does not increase, how will the power sector pull the burden of idle power plants?

100% electrified, now there is limited scope to increase usage through residential expansion. The standard of living of the customer is improving, AC, refrigerator will be installed in the houses, which will increase the demand. The use of energy saving lights, fans, AC is also increasing there.

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Is the Energy Regulatory Commission taking the form of a 'dead horse'!



Serajul Islam Siraj, Special Correspondent, Barta24.com, Dhaka
Is the Energy Regulatory Commission taking the form of a 'dead horse'!

Is the Energy Regulatory Commission taking the form of a 'dead horse'!

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Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) is not able to do anything except wasting time on the question of increasing gas prices for residential unmetered customers.

Sources say that the regulatory agency is not able to directly cancel such an invalid application due to the fear of the government. Instead, it has been hanging for years. However, the legal documents say that there is no opportunity to increase this price now. BERC is unable to give a decision due to both crises. Energy Division officials say that this unnecessary delay is unprecedented. They even call it illegal. Because it could not take steps to increase the price, BERC has also suspended the application for increasing the amount of gas allocation for unmetered residential customers for a year.

There is no opportunity to hang the application like this for a long time. Either accept or cancel. Such indecisiveness can be suicidal for BERC, say stakeholders.

They say this will render BERC ineffective. At one point, the organization will become a 'dead horse'!

The best opportunity will be taken by those who want to make BERC ineffective. This incident will give them an opportunity to say that BERC is not capable. They can easily say BERC cannot decide. BERC Act has been circumvented before using that shield.

Currently unmetered residential customers in the country are charged a fixed amount of gas bill. The customer has to pay the fixed bill whether he uses it, doesn't use it or uses more.

In this situation, Titas Gas has applied to increase the allocation from 55 cubic meters (Tk. 990) to 76.65 cubic meters in the existing one-stove connection and to increase it from 60 cubic meters (Tk. 1080) to 88.44 cubic meters in the two-stove connection.

If the quantity of gas increases, the price will naturally increase. BERC last hiked gas prices on June 5, 2022. A public hearing was held in March before the order was issued. Then the statistics of customers using prepaid meters of distribution companies show that on average one stove is using 40 cubic meters and two stoves are using a maximum of 50 cubic meters. Based on the usage figures of prepaid customers, one stove is reduced from 73.41 cubic meters and two stoves from 77.41 cubic meters to 55 and 60 cubic meters respectively. Titas objected to BERC's order 10 months later. Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company said in its petition that BERC has fixed the gas allocation without any survey or analysis of data against about 25 lakh unmetered customers. This has increased the technical losses and the government for-profit organization Titas is facing financial losses.

Former member of BERC (Gas 2022) Maqbul E-Elahi Chowdhury told Barta24com that Titas Gas allegations are not true. According to him, this allocation should have been below 50 cubic meters.

Mokbul Chowdhury said that Titas had 3.5 lakh prepaid meters where it was seen that less than 45 cubic meters were used. It is known only by looking at the bill information of the prepaid meter. You don't need to know rocket science for this.

There are about 44 lakh residential customers across the country, out of which about 5 lakh use prepaid meters. Evidence of prepaid meter users does not in any way support the claims of the gas companies. Most of the statistics show that prepaid customers are using less than 30 cubic meters of gas on an average. That information is flashing at your fingertips. Not only had that statistics, BERC conducted a survey in 2019 with BIDS (Bangladesh Development Research Institute). The main objective was to provide a snapshot of gas usage by residential prepaid meter users and unmetered customers.

A survey was conducted on the customers of 6 companies in the country. That report is also in hand of BERC.

However, the report has been suppressed by the company for mysterious reasons. In December 2019, BIDS Senior Research Fellow Dr. Nazneen Ahmed and her team submitted that report. The report highlights the variation in usage by small households, large households and distribution companies and even between meters and non-meters.

According to the report of the survey conducted on 1054 residential customers in 13 districts, single burner prepaid meter users are using 35.5 cubic meters and two burners are using 59.3 cubic meters of gas. On an average, 57.9 cubic meters of gas were used by meter users. And non-meter customers used an average of 56 meters of gas. Despite having so much information, the distribution companies have taken the initiative to cut the pockets of 39 lakh unmetered customers. And despite knowing everything, BERC cannot show the courage to cancel the application.

There are many precedents in the past for rejecting incomplete and unfair proposals in the commission itself. But now the commission is walking on the path of unnecessary controversy. The concerned said that there is no precedent of hanging any price increase proposal for 1 year before.

Regarding the delay in the application of Titas Gas, BERC Chairman Nurul Amin told Barta24.com that they were asked to submit some documents due to lack of application. They delayed the payment because of the time taken. After that, Director Gas was appointed as a member of a committee who scrutinized and gave a report. The report is being worked on.

When asked about the legal aspects of being suspended for a year, he claimed that there was no exception.

But critics say, BERC is indecisive because of fear of the government. A major reason for the commission's fear is that the government clipped BERC's wings and caged it just when its wings were growing. In 2023, by amending the law, government decided to fix the price of gas and electricity by executive order. As a result the quasi-judicial institution has practically become unemployed. Some are even calling the commission a ‘dead horse’ now.

BERC was established as a neutral and quasi-judicial autonomous body through the Energy Regulatory Commission Act in 2003. The commission was established in 2009 to ensure accountability and consumer rights of gas and electricity distribution companies. So far 11 regulations have been formulated. Another 12 regulations have been pending approval for more than a century. BERC was fixing prices only at consumer level of gas and at wholesale and consumer level of electricity as the regulations giving power to fix prices of all types of fuel were pending. The price of fuel oil has always been given by the executive order of the Energy and Mineral Resources Division. The responsibility of which never came to the hands of the regulatory body.

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There is no result in the meeting, PBS’s strike is upheld



Special Correspondent, Barta24.com
Pic: Collected

Pic: Collected

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The Power Division could not reach any agreement in the meeting with the agitating officers and employees of Palli Bidyut Samiti(PBS). The leaders of Palli Bidyut Samiti have announced to continue the strike.

On Friday (July 5) representatives of 80 Palli Bidyut Samiti sat in a meeting with Senior Secretary of Power Division Habibur Rahman at Bidyut Bhaban. Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board REB Chairman Ajay Kumar Chakravorty and other officials were present at the time.

AGM Engineer Rajan Kumar Das of the protesting Palli Bidyut Samiti spoke to the journalists after the meeting. He sought the Prime Minister's intervention.

Rural Electrification Board (REB) and Polli Bidyut Samiti (PBS) have merged to implement uniform employment rules and to regularize contractual employees. Since July 1, 80 PBS of the country have been on strike keeping the emergency electricity services running as before.

Earlier, when the same movement was held from last May 5, the Secretary of Power sat in discussion with them. The strike was suspended on two conditions on the assurance of accepting the demands. The condition was that the dismissed, attached, stand-released officers and employees should be reinstated in their respective workplaces with exemption. Two, a discussion meeting will be held within 15 days with representatives from each level. In this meeting it was said that there is no trust in REB.

But almost 2 months have passed but no discussion or any initiative has been taken in the light of the proposal. Moreover, the protestors have complained that 2 (two) suspended officials and 2 (two) officials who were on stand release have not been reinstated to their workplaces by disobeying the decision of the Senior Secretary of the Power Division.

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