The PML-N contested the 2013 elections on the slogan of ‘Roshan Pakistan’ amid the worst loadshedding in the country. It was believed that the PPP suffered in the elections due to its inability to resolve the power crisis in its five-year term (though its efforts were halted by various court cases).
During the PPP tenure there was an equal distribution formula among the different DISCOs in the country. This distribution formula benefited Punjab, the province with majority seats in the National Assembly. After a landslide victory in the polls, the PML-N started to hold meetings to gauge the intensity of the power issue and how it could be resolved. Seeing this, many observers believed that they were serious and would transform the country.
To show its commitment, the PML-N government cleared the exorbitant circular debt; this further increased the trust of the common citizen in their govt. To please its voter base in Punjab, the PML-N government changed the distribution formula from equal distribution to recover. That resulted in better supply of electricity to DISCOs in Punjab, but ended up causing long power outages in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan – especially in rural areas where people often do not get electricity for weeks.
When the issue of long outages was brought to the notice of the federal government, they claimed power theft, huge outstanding dues and line losses were the root cause of such long outages. No doubt there is an issue of power theft, huge amount of outstanding dues and line losses in Sindh, KP and Balochistan but there were never any details given of the efforts and steps taken to contain power theft, settlement and recovery of outstanding dues and reduce line losses, which indicates that the government or its agencies are not serious about resolving these problems.
It seems the government is treating electricity as a commodity rather than utility. There is no doubt that the government has taken serious efforts to add some megawatts in the system. But its efforts have not seen much success, since with the increase in supply, demand has also increased. The government now finds itself in a difficult situation as elections are just one year away and cries against loadshedding have turned into violent protests, especially in KP where the PTI is using the same tactics to woo its voter base that were used by the Punjab govt under CM Shahbaz Sharif in 2013.
The government is desperately trying to add more megawatts in the system but those are either invisible or fail to cross Attock or Sadiqabad.
The next election will be held in July and the campaign will be run in June/July – the hottest months in our part of the world. There might be little improvement in the supply. However, that will not be sufficient to completely end loadshedding. Also a caretaker setup will not be able to implement the distribution formula that is currently being implemented. As a result, it will reduce the share of Punjab-based DISCOs and increase the loadshedding duration – which will, in turn, expose the big claims of the PML-N.
It is better for the government to put actual facts, figures and statistics before the nation to save itself from embarrassment in the elections. It needs to treat the citizens of the country equally – as a government, not as an owner of a corporation by providing little relief to the areas with low recovery in a time when the mercury is hitting 50 degrees Celsius.
The writer is a freelance contributor.