By NADEEM SYED
Never before we have experienced anything like this, nor can we imagine a nuclear power, a major Muslim country equipped with all the required resources, facing power outages for most of the day and night. If in Lahore the power supply remains suspended for more than 12 hours, imagine the plight of the people living in the far-flung areas of the blighted province where people are reeling under a 20-hour or more power cuts a day. Load-shedding is being religiously observed both in day and night times. The pattern is such that the whole life has been crippled, leaving no room for people to make any readjustments. No section of society, from ordinary citizens, students, youth, sick and old people to farmers, traders, industrialists, shopkeepers are immune from this curse. Amid this escalating crisis, doing business it seems is no longer possible any more. The biggest crunch is faced by small industry since it cannot sustain losses for a longer period. A real bad news is this that most of small industrial units are either closed down or on the verge of closure. Resultantly, with their bred and butter at stake, the people are out on the roads, protesting against the loadshedding day-in and day-out.
The other day over a dozen of protest demonstrations were staged in different parts of the city, and protestors turned violent in many incidents. The main target of their wrath was PEPCO or LESCO local offices. It appeared that this time it is the Punjab that faced the music with its industry and agriculture badly hit by the prevailing power crisis.
With a lot of theories in the air, nobody in the country is sure how the loadshedding raised its head in the first place and how it will come to end. When Asif Zardari got elected as President of Pakistan the whole country took a sigh of relief with sudden disappearance of loadshedding without any prior announcement and any qualitative change or re-enforcement in the system. The people kept wondering for days how this miracle took place. For entire month of Ramazan there was no loadshedding in the country, only to reappear with full fury later on.
The justification that PEPCO officials give mostly is that some of its power plants are closed for routine maintenance, resulting in the shortage of electricity. Overwhelming perception however is that IPPS have closed down most of their operations in the wake of the government failure to clear outstanding bills or arrears that probably.got piled up in days of Shaukat Aziz.
Then there is also the talk going around that IPPS are producing 4500 mw less power than required of them under the contract due to increasing prices of oil. Now when the oil prices are down, it is to be seen if they have started producing at their optimum level.
In some circles, it is claimed that this is an artificially created crisis, may be created to divert attention from the war on terror. Some people say it is a part of wider conspiracy hatched against the democratic forces that they are not capable of delivering to the people as evident from the power crisis in the country.
WAPDA has increased the power tariff to a great extend recently. It is also claimed in some circles that loadshedding is being done to avoid public hue and cry that is expected when the consumers will receive the bills with inflated rates. With the ongoing loadshedding, the bills people are going to receive will not be much differ-ent from the previous ones.
Whatever the cause of the ongoing power cuts may be, the people are really angry and frustrated, cursing the government every time the light disappears. But the government, stuck in the war on terror and economic crisis, seems struggling without any tangible programme to mitigate the sufferings of the people. We hardly see any push coming from the top either to overcome this crisis, which has already jammed the wheel of progress and advancement. President Zardari promised earlier that over a dozen of small dams and power projects would be launched in Sindh alone. A similar claim was made by Shahbaz Sharif, promising in the last budget some small dams in different parts of the provinces. What happened to these pledges, nobody has an answer.
The question that perturbs many minds is that what the Federal Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervaiz Ashraf is up to. As the power crisis intensifies, one hardly sees him around though he once was the public face of PPP, defending party on every other forum and TV channels. But now for sometime he is not available even for the lip service.
In Islamabad’s political circles, Raja is considered as the most well dressed minister, changing every day a new and imported suit. But despite his dashing personality and political experience, he hardly made any impact in the ministry. It appeared as if he is more interested in other matters including the most sought after posting and transfers than bringing innovation and intellect to the ministry to overcome the power crisis. In WAPDA, we learnt that transfer of a meter reader sometimes involves over a million of rupees.
Raja seems to be more under the influence of the bureaucracy and that happens when you lack both comprehension of the issues and ability to challenge the statistics and facts fed by the bureaucrats. In the past, the Water and Power Ministry has been led by outstanding personalities. It is about time that the PPP government should review the performance of its ministers and bring some passionate personalities on board with caliber to wriggle the nation out of this crisis.
Source: The Nation, 20/10/2008