Political Protest and Economic Fears Over Bangladesh Gas Price Rise

Bangladesh is set to raise the price of natural gas for the second time in under two years. This has sparked immediate protests from political parties and industry leaders, including those who represent the garment industry, the country’s $28 billion economic mainstay.

The price of gas will rise by an average of 22.7 percent, starting next month, according to the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC). For households, this hike will be an increase of 55-60% and for transportation it will be 33%.

This move was defended by BERC  who argue that the hike was necessary to minimize the gap between the purchased price of gas and subsidized retail rates in the country. Gas is currently sold at nearly half the imported price.

The increase in gas prices has been met with anger in Bangladesh. Two left leaning political parties have immediately protested the move. The Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) and Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal (Basad) have called a half-day shutdown for Tuesday in Dhaka in protest against the latest gas price hike, terming it irrational.

CPB President Mujahidul Islam Selim, Secretary General Syed Abu Zafar Ahmed and Basad Secretary General Khalequzzaman signed a joint  statement on Friday saying that the the decision to hike gas prices had not been in the best interest of the people and demanded that the decision be scrapped.

The protests will come amidst growing concern over environmental issues in Bangladesh. There has been outcry from environmentalists, and local and international groups including Unesco and Ramsar against the construction of 1,320MW Rampal power plant near the Sundarbans region in the South of the country. Power plants consume 40 percent of all the gas bought by Bangladesh and the price for the power generators is set to rise by 34 percent.

The supporters of The CPB and Basad are also involved in a movement against the construction of the Rampal Power plant. A mass sit-in for two hours has been arranged for Saturday morning by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources Power and Ports. This is to protest against the price hike of gas and to demand the cancellation of the Rampal coal power plant project.

Mohammad Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association,  expressed concerns in a REUTERS interview over how the hike will affect the the world’s second-largest apparel exporter, that largely depends on low wages and trade deals with Western countries to stay competitive.

“At present demand is low and the price of readymade garments is decreasing by the day,” Rahman said. “Now our cost of production will increase, lowering our competitiveness further.”

He also fears that electricity prices will rise as a knock on effect of the gas price increase. Although he admits, that it is too early to say how much these costs will rise.

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