Textile millers yesterday said as much as 70% of their factory production capacity now sits idle thanks to an acute gas supply crunch.
The crisis had slashed 40%-50% of production at the largest apparel manufacturing belt in Gazipur, Savar, Ashulia, Dhamrai, and Narayanganj, they said at a press conference.
"The gas supply crunch has intensified while the international apparel market is turning around. It will affect the country's exports," said Mohammad Ali Khokon, president of the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA).
Citing 13 factories, Mohammad Ali Khokon said the approved gas pressure to the production units is 10-15 PSI (pounds per square inch), but they are now getting 1.5 PSI.
"We do not want a Covid stimulus, but ensure uninterrupted gas to our factories," said the BTMA president.
"The government has set up an LNG terminal to enhance gas supply. If the crisis does not ease up even after the terminal, the industry will collapse," he told the press conference.
He urged the government to ramp up liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports immediately.
The press brief was told that local textile mills are contributing 90% of knitwear and 40% of woven items to the export basket. Furthermore, local mills are also capable of meeting the $8 billion domestic market demand.
Job losses feared
Visiting a number of textile, spinning, weaving and fabric units in Gazipur recently, many workers could be seen sitting idle with their production lines off, reports our Gazipur correspondent Abul Hasan.
The workers said the gas crisis-led production suspension has resulted in salary cuts for many temporary and contractual workers, and layoff fears haunt them as the machines are not whirring.
Factories said gas pressure remains reasonably good on Friday and Saturday, but it falls on other working days.
Mohammad Arifur Rahman, general manager of Knit Composite, said, "With the production lines off, workers ask how long they have to sit idle. Many of them have already started to look for alternative jobs. We are also concerned about worker salaries in the coming months if the situation does not improve."
The blame game
BTMA President Mohammad Ali Khokon said they repeatedly contacted the Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Ltd for a solution, but to no avail.
But, when contacted, Engineer Ali Iqbal Md Nurullah, managing director at Titas, pointed the finger at the factories, saying, "Most millers are using more gas than their authorised loads."
He said, "Such a crisis would not have surfaced if their consumption did not cross the approved limit."
Shahidullah Azim, vice-president at the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told The Business Standard, "I called a top Titas official about the gas crisis. I was told the gas supplier was doing some maintenance that led to the crunch."
Sources at Petrobangla told TBS that gas supply in the national grid has reportedly dropped due to low LNG supply. Due to the supply shortage, many public and private gas fired power plants also had to lower their production.
Meanwhile, the Energy and Mineral Resource Division of the Power Energy and Mineral Resource Ministry decided to ration gas supply to CNG filling stations for 4 hours every day to ensure gas supply to the power sector.
At present, the country has a demand of 4,166 million cubic feet (mmcf) of gas per day, whereas the supply is only 3049mmcf, according to Petrobangla.