The petrol crisis has hit the provincial capital hard. Despite tall claims made by the government and city administration, the situation has gone from bad to worse
Almost a fortnight ago, the provincial metropolis was hit hard by an acute petrol shortage, which caused the Lahoris a lot of difficulties as most of the city’s fuel stations ran dry owing to suspension of fuel supply.
The crisis isn’t over yet, despite tall claims made by the government and the city administration. In fact, the situation has gone from bad to worse. And how.
Endless queues of cars and motorbikes at the few filling stations where petrol is available, have become routine. Fuel in short supply has severely impacted daily life. What’s more, it has led to a spike in the prices of petroleum products.
Filling stations owners blame the oil companies, claiming that the shortage (of petrol) is thanks to the companies that halted the supply on purpose.
On the other hand, the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) has held six major oil marketing companies (OMCs) responsible for petrol shortage across the country and imposed a cumulative fine of Rs 40 million. But the situation is far from improving.
The citizens complain of non-availability of fuel in their neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, petroleum dealers and retailers fear a bigger shortage of petroleum products from next month on, because of further fluctuation in fuel prices. Both the dealers and the retailers are of the view that if the supply of petrol is not increased the crisis may engulf the entire city.
Amjad Usmani, a resident of Ravi Road, recalls how he recently combed the entire Chauburji area looking for a filling station. Eventually, he found one but had to wait for hours before he could get a few litres of fuel for his vehicle.
“As a routine, I now have to travel a long distance to reach this filling station, as the rest on my way all have signboards placed outside that says ‘No fuel available’.”
He says even at the filling station that have the fuel consumers aren’t allowed to purchase above an arbitrary limit: “People on cars only get Rs 500 worth of fuel; for motorcyclists the ceiling is Rs 100.”
Today, Pakistan State Oil (PSO) franchises are the only ones selling fuel. Faizuddin Aqib, a middle-aged Lahori, says he did not see it coming. “The masses are already struggling on account of shortages of sugar, flour and ghee; and now we’ve been condemned to a fuel shortage as well. This has made our lives miserable, to say the least. Add to it the ‘smart’ lockdowns, and you can tell how life in Lahore has come to a virtual halt.”
Aqib also speaks of panic-buying at fuel stations, as a majority of filling stations have halted sales. “Profiteering, hoarding and artificial shortages have left the common man baffled,” he adds.
Khawaja Atif, the secretary general of the Petroleum Dealers’ Association of Pakistan (PDAP) claims that Lahore is “faced with a 60 per cent shortage of fuel ever since the government announced a reduction in [fuel] prices.
“A big portion of this supply is managed by the PSO, as supplies from private oil marketing companies are not regular these days,” he adds. “The situation may take a turn for the worse if the concerned authorities do not pay heed to this issue and take no action against the [oil marketing] companies.”
Atif says a drop in the prices of crude oil in the international markets and the suspension of supply and limited processing by refineries are the major reasons for the current petroleum crisis.
Dealers and retailers fear a bigger shortage of petroleum products from next month on account of fluctuation in fuel prices. Both dealers and the retailers are of the view that if the supply of petrol is not increased the crisis will engulf the whole city.
“The commuters and transporters weren’t expecting this, because travel has already declined considerably during the lockdown. A shortage of fuel at a time when consumption was at its lowest is beyond the comprehension of the common man.”
The authorities will have to adopt some concrete measures to overcome the problem, or else the crisis will get worse, he adds.
Rahat Jahanzeb, owner of a filling station in Johar Town, says “the oil companies are refusing to entertain our orders. They’ve stopped the supplies and say that we should wait. Despite repeated requests, company officials aren’t telling us the exact status of our orders. The city requires a fuel supply of approximately three million litres per day for over 400 petrol pumps.”
He says the shortage of petroleum products happened after the government allowed intercity and intra-city public transport to ply after weeks of lockdown. “As both private citizens and the transporters brought their vehicles back to the streets suddenly a shortage resulted.”
According to Jahanzeb, the petroleum companies are stuck with fuel purchased at high prices. Now that the prices have been lowered they intend to recoup their losses by creating an artificial shortage in the market.
Habib Haider, the external communications manager at Shell Pakistan, says that nobody, including the refineries, the ministry, the OGRA or the oil companies fully understands the problem. He rejects the suggestion that his company has stopped supplying petroleum products because of the reduction in fuel prices. “This is baseless. How can one think of holding the stock when the prices are coming down? If they could, the companies would immediately start dumping the costly stocks to cut their losses.
“The Ministry of Energy had restricted imports for the month of April, and directed the oil companies to lift oil from local refineries, but the latter were also not prepared for the increase in demand.”