'Pay as you consume or use' is the basic rule that the utility service providers are supposed to follow while offering goods and services to their respective consumers/subscribers.
But, there are a few exceptions. The state-owned gas distribution companies are among them. The vast majority of their subscribers, who have non-metered gas connections, pay much more for the volume of gas they consume every month.
A section of policymakers is under the impression that the government has done a great favour to households by taking gas to their kitchens.
The truth is otherwise.
The state gas distribution companies have hiked the gas tariff eight times in 12 years, the latest being on June 29 of 2019 at an average rate of over 32 per cent. In January 2010, the tariff was Tk 400 for a double-burner stove. The same is now Tk 925.
The state gas distribution companies have been forcing 99 per cent of their domestic consumers to pay an amount far in excess of the due against the volume of gas they use.
A recent research study carried out by none other than the state think tank the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) has confirmed it. The Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) did commission the study.
The study has found that the price fixed for non-metered gas users is much higher than the monetary value of the average cubic meter of gas used by them per month. The study has taken into account the wastage of some volume of gas at the household level, yet it found the prices fixed for non-metered consumers are high.
The study has found that calculations used for measuring gas consumption at the household level are higher than the real consumption of gas. The team leaders of the BIDS study, Dr Nazneen Ahmed, a senior research fellow at the BIDS, suggested an early introduction of pre-paid meters for domestic connections.
An extensive study, done in early 2010 by a Master student of Engineering in Petroleum Engineering, Mr Monzurul Hoque, of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) also made an identical observation.
The study had noted that on an average 86 cubic meter of gas is used per month by a double burner-using household in Titas gas area. The consumption for the single burner stove was 67 cubic meter. The estimate takes into account an 8-hour use of gas in every non-metered gas connection. But the Gas Distribution Regulations of 2004 and the Gas Load Calculation Committee estimated the monthly consumption at 114 cubic metres and 82 cubic metres respectively for double-burner and single-burner gas stoves. The calculation is based on a gas pressure that has never been available at the domestic level.
The study had also found that the installation of pre-paid gas meters was not financially feasible for reasons of installation and operational costs. Instead, it suggested fixing practical gas tariff and launching a vigorous campaign to motivate the household consumers to conserve gas.
Now that the BERC has found that more than 4.0 million non-metered gas users are paying much higher than that of the metered clients of state gas distribution companies, it should devise ways to help the former. The regulator should not be unfair to such a large number of consumers.