The Sui Northern Gas Pipelines suspended the supply to industrial units in Punjab on Sunday in order to meet the burgeoning winter demand in homes, confronting the province with a tricky choice: to risk wholesale joblessness in industry or anger the domestic consumer by restoring the quota for factories.

The Pakistan Industrial and Traders’ Associations’ Front hit out at SNGPL for the “harsh measure”, lamenting that the load-management programme had already caused a staggering loss of Rs 40 billion to the industrial sector and rendered a large number of daily-wage workers jobless.

“Around 40 per cent of the industrial units in Punjab run on gas and the rest on electricity. The use of furnace oil or diesel in place of gas has pushed up the cost of production five-fold,” Irfan Qaiser, the association’s chairman, said.

Mr Qaiser accused the government of having a ‘discriminatory attitude’, claiming that units in Sindh were getting an almost uninterrupted supply except a two- to three-hour loadshedding.

An SNGPL official defended the diversion to residential units, saying furious protests in a number of cities had forced the company to resort to such a “painful decision”.

He told Dawn that gas supply to industrial units from the Lahore circle was stopped on Saturday and diverted to domestic consumers in Gujranwala, Jhelum, Hafizabad and Sialkot districts after the relentless protests against gas shortage.

He said the supply to the industries would be curtailed under the ‘force majeure’ policy to cope with the increasing demand by domestic consumers.