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The twin trouble


THE situation with power and gas distribution is pretty bad. Whatever gains the present BNP-led alliance government could achieve during past four years are now at the risk of being washed away due to inept handling of power and gas sectors. Ministers and officials concerned produced lots of promises during last four years to beef up power and gas supply. But the situation instead of showing any sign of improvement has rather deteriorated.
The country has never produced enough electricity to meet the demand for the same from domestic, commercial and industrial consumers. But it is really a matter of great pity that the incumbent government for a period of last four years could install only one power unit generating 80 megawatt (MW) electricity at Tongi when the daily power deficit ranges between 600 and 800 MW. During last couple of weeks, the power outage had been so frequent that angry people at different parts of the country had attacked power installations and offices of the Power Development Board and caused extensive damages to those. This kind of unruly behaviour cannot be supported. Yet one needs to understand the predicament of the power consumers. The worst sufferers of power shortage are the inhabitants of the mufassil areas who remain without electricity during most part of the day. In a bid to keep the most vocal power consumers of the capital city happy, the authorities concerned have been avoiding major power outages here at the cost of people living in district and rural areas.
The state minister in-charge of the power division, apparently, with a motive to hoodwink the people last week asked the officials concerned to immediately press into service the power generation units that have been shut off for regular maintenance or technical faults. He knows it well that that re-commissioning of those plants is unlikely to happen immediately. To make the power situation worse, a good number of power plants are running below their capacities because of the short-supply of gas.
As if to add to the miseries of the people, the problem of gas supply has recently become acute in a country which is thought to be floating on gas. The industrial units at Tongi and Joydevpur are severely hit by gas shortage. While dishing out the unpalatable information the other day that the power shortage would persist until 2007, the adviser to the energy ministry has come out with a proposal of gas rationing, primarily by shutting off the newly installed 80 MW power plant at Tongi and the Palash Fertilizer Factory in Narsingdi. The gas rationing is aimed to beef up gas supply to the industrial units of Tongi and Joydevpur. But the proposal, for very genuine reasons, is facing strong opposition from the Power Development Board (PDB) and the Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC). The closure of the Tongi power plant will aggravate the power supply situation further while suspension of production in Palash Fertilizer Factory will force the government to import more urea fertilizer at the expense of hard-earned foreign currency. Another urea producing unit--- the Jamuna Fertilizer Factory---has been running well below its capacity for short supply of gas.
Inaction, as has been in the case of power sector, reigned supreme in the energy sector. When supply shortage peaked last year, the immediate past state minister in-charge of energy division, who had an ignominious exit following Niko luxury car scandal, had assured that the situation would become normal at the and of 2004. It did not happen as no new gas field was added to the national gas grid. The ministries have failed in their jobs. But, unfortunately, persons at the top go unscathed in the absence of any form of accountability. It would not be wise to expect any change in the situation from the incumbent government which is in the last year of its term.