Saturday May 18, 2024

Under-fire govt convenes meeting after protests over inflated power bills

Protesters were joined by traders, holding banners, placards saying govt’s decision added to their problems

By Israr Khan & Muhammad Anis & Riffatullah
August 27, 2023
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar chairs a meeting to review the security situation in the country, on August 26, 2023. — APP
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar chairs a meeting to review the security situation in the country, on August 26, 2023. — APP

ISLAMABAD: The inflated power bills triggered country-wide protests and widespread demonstrations were held in various urban centres of the country, including Karachi, Rawalpindi, Multan, Gujranwala, and Peshawar on Saturday.

The common people, also joined by lawyers and traders, burnt power bills and blocked roads in various cities. They chanted slogans against Wapda and the government authorities “for making their live unbearable by imposing various taxes in power bills”. They said nothing was left with them to feed their families after paying the huge power bills.

In Karachi, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) held demonstrations at multiple places against the skyrocketing power bills and what it said overcharging on the part of the K-Electric (KE).

In Rawalpindi, protesters gathered at the Committee Chowk and burnt bills while demanding the government abolish taxes on electricity.

The residents of Ganj locality in Peshawar staged a protest and chanted slogans against the government, demanding reverting the decision to increase the tariff.

The protesters were joined by traders, who were holding banners and placards. They said the government’s decision had added to their problems. The hike would cripple the already weakened businesses across the country, the protesters said. They said people were selling household items for paying the electricity bills. They asked the government to put an end to the unjust taxes in electricity bills or the people would start country-wide protests.

The All Pakistan Commercial Exporters Association KP chapter also criticised the government for “extortion from poor masses”.

Through a statement issued here, the exporters association asked the government to revert the decision forthwith or the public would be forced to stop paying bills. The association said the Wapda employees were consuming electricity of Rs5.25 billion free annually, adding the cost was being collected from the general public. It asked the government to stop providing free electricity to all government employees who were getting high salaries, to reduce the burden on the poor people. In Gujranwala, protesters surrounded the Gujranwala Electric Power Company office in protest against expensive electricity. Protests were also held in other cities, including Narowal, Attock, Sargodha, and Haripur, against high power bills.

Videos of announcements from mosques urging citizens not to pay the bills went viral on Saturday. The cost of electricity has surged up to Rs65 per unit, the fallout of standby agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Apart from this, the cost of a litre of petrol is over Rs290 and likely to see an increase from next month.

Meanwhile, Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar called for an emergency meeting at the Prime Minister’s House on Sunday (today) to discuss the issue of rising electricity bills. According to PM’s post on microblogging platform X, the meeting would include briefings from the Ministry of Energy (Power Division) and distribution companies.

Also, the government is contemplating elimination of complimentary electricity allocations for officials within the power sector, particularly those in power distribution companies (Discos) of grade 17 and above. A proposal is currently in preparation for submission to higher authorities, as confirmed by Rashid Mahmood Langrial, federal secretary of the Power Division, on Saturday.

Instead of free electricity, the government employees above Grade-17 would be given allowance, he said.

This announcement was made during a media briefing, also attended by the caretaker Minister for Information and Broadcasting Murtaza Solangi.

Langrial emphasised that National Electric Power Authority (Nepra), not the government, was in charge of determining tariffs. Fuel costs, currency rates, and loan interest rates are the three main variables on which Nepra based its pricing decisions, adding that any one of these factors rising requires a tariff adjustment. So increased usage results in decreased capacity costs, which then result in a drop in the rate.

Regarding the fiscal outlook, the secretary power noted that the projected baseline for the next year’s dollar rate stands at Rs286. Despite this projection, the current rate remains elevated. He emphasised that a substantial Rs2 trillion will be allocated for electricity procurement in the upcoming year. Among the 30.5 million consumers, approximately 63 per cent fall within the usage bracket of up to 200 units, and only 4 million consumers possess air conditioners.

Langrial revealed that Rs8.92 per unit tax aligns with the IMF conditions. Additionally, a staggering Rs177 billion need to be dedicated annually to service the IPP loans. The gap between annual revenue and expenditure stands at Rs976 billion, which is supplemented by the government support. He underscored the rampant issue of electricity theft in areas like Azad Kashmir, FATA, and Quetta, while even the affluent individuals in Karachi were receiving a 10-rupee subsidy per unit. A startling Rs201 billion are being lost due to electricity theft.

Solangi acknowledged the challenges faced by the public due to the escalating electricity prices and acknowledged the prevalent issue of power theft in various parts of the nation.

Responding to these concerns, he said that caretaker PM Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar had convened a meeting for Sunday, aiming to address the matters pertaining to electricity pricing. The meeting is expected to involve all relevant stakeholders within the power sector.