ISLAMABAD               -           Both treasury and opposition lawmakers, mostly belonging to Sindh and Balochistan, on Friday staged a protest sit-in in the Senate over the non-provision and shortage of natural gas in the two provinces and the protest was described as strange by a senior opposition lawmaker.

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in return lashed out at Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were responsible for the gas crisis as no major exploration activities had been carried out during their 10 years in power.

The lawmakers from Balochistan, both from treasury and opposition, along with other opposition senators staged a strange protest in the house by holding a brief sit-in in front of the chairman Senate’s dais. Following the parliamentary traditions, opposition parties or even the treasury members stage a walkout from the house as a mark of protest.

Their protest was opposed by the opposition lawmaker and parliamentary leader of PML-N, Mushahid Ullah Khan who said that the way the lawmakers are protesting would lead to a bad tradition in the house and turn the session of Senate into a sitting of councillors—representatives of local bodies. “This never happened in Senate…this is not the right way to protest,” he said. The chairman also ruled that this is respectable and the atmosphere of Senate was being deteriorated with such protests.

At the outset of the sitting, Balochistan Awami Party Senator Sarfraz Ahmed Bugti protested over the non-provision and shortage of gas in Sui town of Balochistan that itself is a natural gas fields, “Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) and Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SGCL) have deprived Sui town of natural gas.  “I don’t see a better forum than this to protest because I have talked to them at every forum but to no avail,” he said, adding that most of the people don’t know that natural gas has been named after Sui in Pakistan. “There is gas in Quetta Lahore, and Faisalabad but poor women of the town are forced to use wood to cook their food for their families,” he added. PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz, Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Petroleum and Natural Resources said that the issue of gas shortfall in Sui was 8 to 10 years long besides some of the its areas were without the utility.

BNP-M Senator Jehanzeb Jamaldini, a treasury member from Balochistan, also endorsed that the province used to generate gas and electricity but most of its parts are deprived of both utilities. “Most of areas of Balochistan get electricity for only five hours a day. As a Balochistan senator, I am holding a token protest in front of the dais,” he  continued.

After this, some senators from both sides representing Balochistan staged a brief protest sit-in that was joined by the other opposition lawmakers as well.

The parliamentary leader of PPP in the Senate Sherry Rehman, speaking on her call attention notice about the crippling shortage of gas in harsh winter season all across the country, said that Article 158 of the Constitution says that the first priority of the gas would be given to that province from where it is being explored. She claimed that 70 per cent of natural gas of the country was producing only Sindh but its gas is being transported to other federal units of the countries.

“Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) and other tariff regulators have no representation of Sindh,” she said. She said that centre was basing its entire argument on Sindh not providing the right of way for laying gas pipelines but it had neither given any pricing formula nor held any discussion to solve the issue equitably.

Rehman warned that that a constitutional crisis could emerge as a result of this issue and recently held meeting Council of Common Interests (CCI) also proved futile to resolve the issue.

Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Omar Ayub Khan, responding the call attention notice, said that Pakistan’s total demand of gas was 6.5 billion cubic feet per day (BCFD) while their domestic production was 3.5 BCF besides 1.2 BCF liquefied natural gas (LNG) that is being added into the system. “Even then, you are facing a shortfall,” he said and added: “The reason is that previous 10 years of PPP and PML-N governments did not process exploration and production. They did not give policy and incentives to the people to explore gas.

The minister said Sindh produces 2243 MMCFD gas and 1200-1300 MMCFD gas goes to Sindh and Balochistan through network of Sui Southern Gas Company Limited. “All gas allocations had been made by the then PML-N and PPP governments. Why you are holding us responsible for it”, he remarked.

He said that that the federal government had warned Sindh of gas shortfall in the beginning of 2019 and had sought a right of way from Sindh to lay pipelines from the wells to supply gas to Karachi and the province but the same was not given. “We could have given 65 MMCFD of gas, had the right of way been given”, he remarked. He said the province also did not allow construction of 17 kilometre pipeline for supplying LNG to Punjab. Omer Ayub continued that Article 158 of the Constitution reads, “The Province in which a well-head of natural gas is situated shall have precedence over other parts of Pakistan in meeting the requirements from that well-head, subject to the commitments and obligations.”

The petroleum minister warned that the gas fields of Sindh would be insufficient to meet the requirements of the province in next two years. He asked Sindh to negotiate weighted average cost of gas with the federal government to resolve the matter.