Industrial enterprises in Gazipur, one of the key industrial belts of the country, are facing serious production setback due to disruption in natural gas supply.
Dozens of factories in the area, mostly export-oriented ones, do not get gas supply for 7-8 hours a day, barring the weekend, leaving the manufacturers worried about maintaining the shipment schedules.
According to the industrialists there, the gas supply shortage has turned severe in recent months.
It was not only hampering the production, but also raising the production cost due to making alternative arrangements for the energy supply, they alleged. "As a result, our products are losing competitiveness in the global market," they said.
Energy experts, however, were critical of the situation, saying that the authorities were supplying gas at far less than the expected level of pressure. In such a situation, they said, a good number of people are consuming gas illegally, making things even worse.
According to the official statistics, there are 128 points of illegal gas connections, which is believed to have contributed to the supply shortage of gas to the industrial belt.
During a visit to the industrial belt, the sorry state in various forms was found in a number of factories located from Tongi Station to Chandona intersection on the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway.
Standard Ceramics, one of the worst victims of gas supply shortage, has been forced to reduce production by 50 per cent.
Talking to the FE, the company's general manager S. M. Mamun Kabir said their production facilities need 8 PSI (Pounds per square inch) of gas pressure to produce quality products as the process go through three stages of extreme heating.
"But, we're getting a pressure of 2-4 PSI from 9:00am to 5:00pm a day. It severely affects production and quality," he said.
Last month, he added, the company that exports tableware to France sent a letter to their French buyer, seeking more time to ship goods as the gas shortage forced them to cut production.
"If it (gas supply disruption) prolongs further, we will lose our market," Mr. Kabir said, expressing frustration.
Commercial manager of Chaidana-based Purbachal Steel Mills Limited Md. Sharif Shikder alleged that they get gas supply at the required pressure level only for two hours (From 7:00am to 9:00am) a day and the pressure remains too low during the rest of the day.
"Our production dropped by 50 per cent, but our expenses keep rising. So, how can we sustain in the market. We requested Titas (the gas distribution and supplying company) on several occasions to beef up gas supply, but there is no result," he said.
Not only the ceramic and steel industries, the clothing industry is also suffering from the gas supply crisis in the industrial hub.
Utility manager of East West Industrial Park, which produces high-end blazers and trousers for global buyers, Zakir Hossain said the gas supply shortage forced them to hire cylinder gas to operate their steam boiler, which is not financially viable.
"We're using diesel to run the boiler for operating dyeing unit that employs 7,500 workers. It costs them Tk 100,000 a day," he added.
Senior officer (Admin) of a sweater factory of Pritty Group Bipul Chandra Shil said the supply shortage of gas has been weakening the price competitiveness of their products due to arranging alternative energy at much higher cost.
"We can't shut the factory for a minute as we have orders from our international buyers and we've to send the products in time. So, we need to spend extra for operating diesel-fired generator," he said.
According to the senior officer of the compliant and export-oriented group that makes clothing for European, American, Chinese and German markets, the industry is passing through a critical time after the Rana Plaza tragedy and the energy deficiency further fueled up their multi-pronged strains, which is not a good sign at all.
The scenario was almost same in the case of other factories like Matrix Sweater of Labib Group, Rowa Fashions, Evergreen Garments, MS Sweater, Engora Fashions and People's Ceramic.
Admitting the crisis, an official of Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company, the gas supplying authority to the belt, said they don't have any immediate solution to the problem due to a big gap between the demand and supply.
When contacted, Md. Abdul Wahab Talukder, deputy managing director of Titas, regional marketing division (Gazipur), said they did not get enough supply of gas to meet the demand for gas in the industrial belt where hundreds of factories are located.
"There are some problems as far as transmission line is concerned and it would be solved very soon once the Sripur-Garagram Project comes in operation. But we need gas supply. I think the problem being faced by the industries will be over from April next when the LNG (liquefied natural gas) will start coming," he said.
About the illegal gas connections under the division, he said he launched crackdown against the illegal gas connections after assuming office and removed 397 source points of illegal connections until February 07, 2018.
According to him, there are 128 source points of illegal connections in Joydevpur and Savar areas, which will be removed in next one month.
Energy Adviser to Consumers' Association of Bangladesh (CAB) Professor Shamsul Alam said the government continued to raise the gas tariffs frequently, but failed to ensure its smooth supply, which is badly affecting all the sectors, including businesses.
He said the government is adopting a strategy to create supply disruption only to force people in using LNG.
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