Dealing with hard times —Shaukat Qadir

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The flat rate increase in the unit price of electricity beyond a certain limit should suffice to induce conservation of domestic electricity consumption, but we are also short of water. What is more, India’s continued violations of the Indus Water Treaty are likely to increase our shortages

I read the same newspapers that all citizens of this country do, but when I venture forth from home, it seems that either nobody else does or nobody else cares. The country has petrol reserves for only six days but there is no reduction in traffic; supply of natural gas is insufficient to meet demand, a fact frequently advertised through the media, but all public offices have gas heaters on, even when they don’t really need them. In my house, heaters are turned on only for guests or my grandchildren.

The only demonstration of the government’s concern for the gas shortage, apart from the advertisements, is the turn-by-turn severance of supply of CNG to certain areas of Rawalpindi, but not Islamabad! Even that is no help. All it does is irk the consumers, since they have to line up in lengthy queues at those CNG stations where supply has not been severed.

Following demonstrations by the public, our president graciously announced that there would be no reduction in supply to domestic consumers; instead, supply to industrial units has been reduced. For a country with a tottering economy, where very few industries are still surviving, this is an astonishing decision. Perhaps, considering the swiftly waning public support for the PPP, he thinks this might win back some support for the government.

That could also be the only explanation for the equally astonishing decision of reinstating over 7000 government employees with back pay and a raise; employees whose reinstatement was turned down by the Supreme Court and whose reinstatement was opposed by all concerned ministries of this government!

Even if all this is only politics (!) at the expense of the economy — something I thought we had enough of under that economic wizard specially selected to be our prime minister, Shaukat Aziz — does nobody realise that in the long run, not only is it devastating for the economy, it is also politically self destructive since any further downturn of the economy will inevitably effect the people.

Why can’t we resort to rationing the resources we are short of?

Ours is a country with a vast majority of very pliable and hugely patriotic people. Were our politicians to appeal to them that the country is in deep trouble and we need to ration energy resources so as to use them for the survival of our industrial units, for which the government needs their understanding and cooperation, the vast majority would be likely to respond favourably, even though they would be fully aware that the rationing would not apply to the elite.

All private and government vehicles for the use of individuals should be authorised a limited quantity of fuel per month. They should all be issued ration cards, without which they should be unable to purchase fuel. Public transport should be exempted from fuel rationing.

In any country, this would be an opportunity for black marketers, nowhere more than in a country like ours, already rampant with corruption. Nonetheless, it would reduce unnecessary use of personal transport in the few honest people, the large portion of the middle class, which cannot afford black market prices, and would serve as a deterrent even to those who can afford fuel at high prices.

Domestic gas supply should be at full pressure from 6 to 9 am, from 11 am to 2 pm, and from 6 to 9 pm. The rest of the time domestic gas supply could be reduced to even quarter pressure. It will take some time and effort to separate domestic supply from the commercial and emplace gadgetry that could reduce gas pressures at selected paces, but it is doable and worth it.

The flat rate increase in the unit price of electricity beyond a certain limit should suffice to induce conservation of domestic electricity consumption, but we are also short of water. What is more, India’s continued violations of the Indus Water Treaty are likely to increase our shortages.

I wrote a couple of years ago on the tremendous advantages of building large numbers of small dams, rather than the mega projects that our politicians favour. Not only are they far more economical to construct, but can also be constructed quicker and are easier to de-silt.

While construction of a number of small dams should be undertaken on a priority basis, it is time that the people of this country are also made aware that water is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity. While a public awareness campaign should be undertaken through the media, as is being done for gas shortage, there should be some punitive action initiated for water wastage. Far too many domestic consumers are wasting huge quantities of water: hosing their cars, their driveways, even the road in front of their residences.

The Islamabad Capital Development Authority had started fining those caught doing so a couple of years ago, but have stopped since. A campaign needs to be started in every city, town, village, and hamlet doing the same. Repeat violators should be fined at incrementally increased rates to deter them.

Our political leadership has far too many problems on its plate to be able to afford playing politics. The nation needs leadership that can take courageous decisions, ones that will be visibly intended for improving the quality of life in the future. This will also win them votes, come election time.

The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)

Reproduced by permission of DT\01\31\story_31-1-2009_pg3_4


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