It has been about a year since the government allowed open market purchase of pre-paid gas meters to expedite the process of installing the system for customers' benefit.

So far, no public or private company has shown any interested in doing the business.

A wrangling between gas distribution companies and meter manufacturers/importers are holding back the implementation of otherwise welcome move by the government, according to some people familiar with the process.

Speaking on condition of anonymity some insiders in the utility service alleged that the Titas Gas company, the largest of the distributors, has monopolized the data accumulation system where meters from other companies are not synchronized.

As a result, a certain Japanese company has been getting an extra privilege to supply its meters, they alleged.

This has made the implementation of the government's plan to introduce pre-paid gas meters for all consumers unlikely to be implemented any time soon, the industry insiders observed.

According to a study conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), there are about 4.15 million consumers in the domestic category in the country.

The number breaks up as: Titas Gas 2.78 million, Bakhrabad Gas 0.491 million, Jalalabad Gas 0.417 million, Poschimanchol Gas 0.128 million, Karnaphuli Gas 0.65 million and Sundarban Gas 0.0035 million.

However, the latest figure released by the Titas Gas shows it has more than 2.8 million household consumers.

There is a big allegation that the non-metered household gas consumers are being heavily discriminated against in paying their bills against their consumption of natural gas mainly for cooking purposes.

The latest study by Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) shows that a pre-paid metered consumer uses 40-50 cubic meter of gas and pays around Tk 500-630 a month while a non-meter consumer has to pay almost double at Tk 975 for the same quantity of consumption.

Titas Gas recently moved a proposal to the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) to raise the gas price by 117 per cent.

Provided the proposal is accepted by the BERC, a single burner user will have to pay over Tk 2000 per month.

The issue recently came up at a high-level meeting of the Energy and Mineral Resources Division where the pros and cons were discussed.

The meeting instructed the Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Limited and also other gas distributors to expedite installation of pre-paid gas meters for their consumers.

The meeting, held on April 19, asked the companies to allow the private companies to sell the pre-paid meters in the open market so that consumers can buy them easily and install on their own cost which will ultimately reduce the financial burden of the companies.

But such instruction is going to fall flat as Titas Gas is found to be less interested in implementing the government's plan as many energy experts believe that the company fears it will ultimately reduce revenue collection as consumers will get opportunity to pay lesser bills.

Contacted Titas Gas managing director Md Haronur Rashid Mullah denied all the allegations.

He claimed Titas Gas data accumulation system is fully ready to receive data from any pre-paid meters if it complies with the company's criteria.

He, however, said he is not aware as to why the private manufacturers or importers are not interested to come forward with their pre-paid meters to sell in the open market.

"I don't need to know why they are not interested in selling their pre-paid meters on the open market", he told UNB.

He also informed that Titas Gas is trying to install 100,000 meters through its own funding while it is negotiating with some donor agencies to arrange funds for installing another 1.5 million meters, especially for its household consumers in Dhaka city.

So far only 400,000 pre-paid gas meters have been installed in different areas in Dhaka city including Dhanmondi, Mohammadpur, Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara, Uttara, Mohammadpur, Badda, Tejgaon, Cantonment, Kafrul, Khilkhet, and Mirpur under a JICA-funded project.

Another 120,000 metres are now being installed in different areas in central city areas, including Paltan, Ramna, New Market, Khilgaon and Segunbagicha under the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC).

But most of the consumers of Titas gas and other gas distribution companies remain unmetered and pay double the bills compared to metered consumers every month.

On the other hand, an official of a foreign joint venture company, which has been manufacturing pre-paid meters for electricity consumers, alleged that Titas Gas's data accumulation system is yet to be ready to receive data from different pre-paid meters.

"Titas's system can only receive data from a Japanese meter which discourages other companies from coming into the open market to sell their meters", he added.

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