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April 30, 2014

Power protests

Lahore

April 30, 2014

As temperatures begin to rise with the onset of summer, tempers have been rising too. Protests have broken out across the country over prolonged, unannounced power cuts. There is concern of course that things could worsen as the mercury rises further. With people damaging a grid station in Sukkur, a symbolic funeral of the State Minister for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali taken out in Tank where up to 22 hours of loadshedding has been taking place and small rallies popping up across the country, the prime minister on Monday called a meeting in Islamabad to discuss the crisis – aware of course that his government had run its electoral campaign on a promise to deal with the energy crisis. Sher Ali has insisted that power cuts will be limited to six to eight hours over the summer, but since they are already exceeding that period even in large cities such as Lahore, it is hard to attach too much credibility to these words. Promises, such as the one by Sher Ali that 1500MW would be added to the grid system by June, with a line pulled in from Iran to Khuzdar can also only be believed after they are seen.
According to reports, the PM was told by the water and power ministry that the shortfall stood at 3000MW. Power officials have privately been quoted as saying it stands closer to 5000MW, and this playing around with the truth cannot help planning very much. The controversy over just how big the power shortfall is has raged for some time. To add to this, there are outstanding power dues of Rs492 billion, Rs366 billion against the private sector and the rest against the public sector. Abid Sher Ali has already ordered Lesco to cut the power supply of defaulting government institutions. How effective these measures will be is hard to predict. But what we see before us is a government desperate to tackle a problem that some believe could lead this summer to widespread protests. The patience of the people has run out after years of suffering, while economic losses and

unemployment have mounted. There is question over quite how much the government can do. Divergent views exist among experts regarding short-term solutions; long-term remedies should have begun years, in fact decades, ago. But since it had made its pledge ahead of elections, it falls on the shoulders of the government to find a solution. Right now it seems to be quivering under the burden.

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