Deepening gas crisis halts production at new dyeing plant before launch in Narayanganj

The power situation in Bangladesh has improved in winter but the factories are still suffering from a gas crisis that started in July

Published : 27 Nov 2022, 10:07 PM
Updated : 27 Nov 2022, 10:07 PM

A new dyeing plant established at BSCIC industrial estate in Narayanganj's Fatullah was set to go into production in July, but Bangladesh’s gas crisis took a turn for the worse at that time. 

MS Dyeing, Printing & Finishing Ltd had set up the factory with a manufacturing capacity of 60 tonnes at a cost of Tk 5.5 billion and two years of work. 

However, production is yet to begin at the site.

MS has another old dyeing unit with a production capacity of 35 tonnes next to the new factory. The old unit is only operating at 15 percent capacity due to low gas pressure. 

"We’re currently able to produce only 5 tonnes per day in the old unit by rationing due to the crisis," said Kabir Ahmed, assistant general manager of MS, 

Other factories, including MB Fashion and Four Design Pvt Ltd, in the industrial estate are also facing the same issue. Owners have alleged that the factories located in the industrial estates of Narayanganj, Gazipur and Chattogram are all suffering from gas and electricity shortages.

At the old MS factory, the finishing work, along with dyeing, has almost stopped, said Kabir. Only occasional procedures are carried out by rationing gas. 

The combined production capacity of the two units with 2,500 workers is worth almost Tk 7.5 million per day, according to Kabir, who said 70 percent of the manpower is sitting idle now. 

As interest increased among international buyers in recent years, MS decided to construct a new factory beside the old one amid the pandemic with the first unit, established in 2007, doing well.  

Due to rising prices of LNG in the international open market and a dollar crisis in the country, the government stopped the import of LNG. The move resulted in a fall of gas supply, causing disruptions in both power generation and industrial production.

According to Petrobangla’s latest data, only 2,593 mmcfd of gas is being supplied daily against a combined capacity of 3,760 mmcfd of domestic gas wells and imported LNG. 

The total daily demand in the country, including at power plants, fertiliser plants, industrial plants, and residential customers, is over 3,800 mmcfd. 

Power crisis largely subsided in mid-November after the arrival of winter, according to a report by the Power Development Board. However, industrial factories are still suffering from the gas crisis that started in July. 

Nasrul Hamid, the state minister for power, energy and mineral resources, and Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, the prime minister's adviser for power, energy and mineral resources, expressed hope that if several coal-based power plants come into production at the beginning of next year, the gas problem can be solved to some extent.

At MB Fashion, sewing units are somewhat operational and a lot of products have piled up at the iron and finishing units. Some floors at the factory have 10 lines of sewing machines but 4-5 are closed. 

Mamun Rahman, senior manager for production at the factory, said: "The factory is almost on the verge of closure due to the gas shortage. We are conducting operations with diesel generators and the cost has gone up a lot as a result.” 

Pointing towards the closed lines, Mamun said that 3-4 lines have been closed down on each floor. The manufacturing of 250,000 clothing items at the factory has been halted. It has a daily production capacity of 20,000 items.

"Many clothes can be made by running the generator in the absence of electricity. But these clothes cannot be ironed or finished due to the shortage of gas. The workers engaged in iron work stand idle by the machines all day long. When the gas pressure rises in the afternoon, the boiler runs for a while. The gas again runs out before the factory closes in the afternoon. This situation has been the same for the past three months.” 

Piles of finished garments waiting to be ironed were seen at MB’s supply line. A worker said about 200,000 clothes have accumulated there although the factory is capable of ironing 20,000 daily. 

Due to the issues of gas and electricity, the production in these factories have been disrupted when fuel costs have gone up. However, PDB’s daily production report said that there has not been any power cut in the country since Nov 5.

Ataur Rahman, managing director of Four Design, said their dyeing section is almost closed. Sometimes work is carried out at the factory by running the boiler with cylinder gas but it costs several times more to operate. 

"The cylinders are filled with air and we do not get the right amount of gas. The sellers are charging Tk 5,000 for a cylinder but are providing Tk 2,500 worth of gas. With the gas we are buying, we should be able to run the iron until 5pm. But the gas runs out by 3pm.” 

"If there is gas at some other location, we visit the place and complete our dyeing work there. This has increased the cost.” 

“But we do not talk much about these things because the buyers then will abandon Bangladesh and start buying from other countries. We told our customers that there are some problems with the gas supply and it will end. But I myself do not know when the issue will clear up.”

The Four Design managing director said when they used to run the boiler with gas through the pipeline, the cost was Tk 100,000 per month. Now, even after spending Tk 400,000 on cylinder gas, they are not getting the required amount of gas. 

“We went through a crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the income was better. There was nothing to do then, but we had orders in hand. Now, there is no work and there will be no orders after two months." 

AH Aslam Sunny, founder of Crony Group, said no matter how high the price of gas is in the world market, if the government ensures supply by importing gas, it will yield a positive result for the country's export industry and economy. 

"Factory owners are willing to buy gas even if they have to pay a higher price. The government should keep the supply of gas to export-oriented industries normal even if it means reducing the supply to other sectors. If that does not happen, exports will decrease in the coming days and there will be more pressure on the reserves. If factories start laying off workers, unemployment will increase.” 

According to the Export Promotion Bureau, 80 percent of the country's overall exports come from the garment sector. Bangladesh exported a total of $52 billion worth of goods in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, of which $42 billion came from apparels. 

[Writing in English by Md Taif Kamal; editing by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher