In the past three years several thousand residents of two housing societies in the capital Dhaka’s Basila saw their illegal gas connections removed twice in special drives by state utility Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company.
The latest of the drives came 10 days before the recent Narayanganj tragedy and the societies residents knew that the time to pay Tk 10,000 for the reinstatement of every illegal gas connection came.
Homeowners have been preparing for it with the collection of Tk 1,000 a month from their tenants.
‘We pay more than the legal gas consumers are paying — Tk 975 for using two gas burners a month,’ said Jamil Khan, a tenant at West Dhanmondi Housing Society in Basila.
‘These drives to disconnect illegal gas lines are just eyewash,’ he said.
Homeowners did not want to be quoted in the report because it is difficult to find tenants without gas connection. They have to lower rents to get tenants.
The illegal gas supply to the West Dhanmondi Housing Society was previously severed in 2017. The connection was restored after a brief break.
Metro Housing Society is five minutes’ walk from the West Dhanmondi Housing Society with hundreds of families living in 220 multi-storey buildings, mostly dependent on illegal gas for cooking.
The illegal gas connections to the metro housing were severed along with those to the West Dhanmondi Housing Society.
The metro housing saw its illegal gas supply disrupted briefly in 2018 following a similar Titas drive, according to residents.
Abdul Jalil, who sells bottled LP gas at West Dhanmondi Housing Society, was overwhelmed with orders after the latest Titas drive.
‘I am running against time at present. I have to sell as many cylinders as I can before the illegal lines are restored,’ said Jalil.
Titas severed 1.66 lakh illegal gas connections since July last year in special drives but was unaware if such drive had helped check illegal gas supply.
Titas’s operation division director Rana Akbar Haidari said that comments should not be made about a particular incident without having it investigated.
‘But in general a syndicate is out there stealing gas. The syndicate includes politicians, police and Titas contractors and employees,’ he said.
Drives to remove illegal gas connections occur regularly, especially in areas where illegal gas consumers are aplenty such as Dhaka, Narayanganj, Munshiganj and Savar.
The drives were suspended since COVID-19 emerged but resumed recently.
Over the years the drives hardly helped stop gas stealing with about a million people still using gas illegally in Dhaka and its adjacent four districts alone.
According to a Titas estimate, 245km illegal gas pipeline was established to supply a huge number of people with gas.
The highest length of illegal gas pipeline is in Narayanganj but illegal connections exist in Munshiganj, Savar and Narshingdi.
Thousands of families in 57 villages in five unions of Munshiganj’s Gojaria upazila have been using illegal gas to cook for the last nine years with the predictable brief interruptions caused by Titas drives.
‘Eighty per cent of the gas consumers in Gojaria are illegal,’ said Jewel Prodhan, chairman, Baluakandi union parishad, a union in Gojaria upazila.
Chairmen of four of the five unions told New Age correspondent in Munshiganj that they kept pressing the authorities through local lawmakers and other sources to legalise illegal gas connections.
The digging of roads for laying pipes for illegal gas connections are carried out under the shelter of ruling party politicians, who also motivate or force locals to get illegal gas connections.
‘I could not help giving Tk 40,000 for illegal gas connection after one of the most influential politicians suggested that I get an illegal connection,’ said Ratan Sutradhar, a resident of Mirzapur, Tangail.
New Age Munshiganj correspondent reported that, with each illegal connection, Titas gas contractors take care of the job of penetrating high-pressure main distribution line buried several feet under the ground
People alleged that police conveniently looked the other way the whole time it took to dig up kilometers of roads.
The mad rush for illegal gas connection began after 2009, when the government decided not to provide any new commercial and household gas connections.
Despite the government decision, Titas’s consumers increased by nearly a million, allegedly in exchange for a large sum of bribe. In 2018, Titas legalized 7 lakh of the new consumers.
These consumers found their way into Titas’s database but they are yet to be legalised.
Meanwhile, evidence kept emerging about Titas officers continuing to manipulate the consumer database.
Energy and mineral resources secretary Anisur Rahman said that they recently suspended a deputy general manager of Titas along with five others after detecting manipulation of the consumer database a month ago.
Titas had to transfer 43 per cent of its 2,300 staff members last year when it implemented the recommendation of Anti-Corruption Commission to transfer those posted at stations for long.
It is eventually the legal gas consumers who bear the burden of stolen gas because any gas lost from the main distribution system is counted as system loss and is resolved through tariff adjustment.
Last year gas price was increased 32.8 per cent. Titas’s system loss in 2018-19 stood at 5.71 per cent, which was 1.17 per cent in 2017-18.
Diversion of gas also results in low pressure and many of nearly 44 lakh legal gas consumers often complain about it across Bangladesh.
Illegal gas connections also put thousands of lives at risk with sloppily laid gas pipes often leaking at their joints.
Cheap, substandard materials are used for illegal connections which only heightens the risk. Sometimes even plastic sanitary pipes are used in illegal gas connections.
Leaked gas may lead to explosion as deadly as the one at a Narayanganj mosque that claimed lives of 31 worshippers on September 4.
The line that led to the explosion was not illegal but Titas allegedly refused to repair when its stuff was refused the bribe they had claimed for the job.
‘Titas has established a system that kills and robs people,’ said Consumers Association of Bangladesh energy adviser Shamsul Alam.
‘The government must stop Titas to save the people,’ he said.
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