Thursday September 23, 2021

Activists demand cancellation of power utility’s privatisation, action against illegal hydrants

July 19, 2020

Prominent labour rights and civil society activists under the banner of the Shehri Awami Mahaz (SMZ) has demanded of the government to cancel the K-Electric’s privatisation, shut down the illegal hydrants operating in Karachi, and provide basic necessities of electricity and safe drinking water to the residents.

The SMZ, a recently formed alliance of labour, human and social rights groups in Karachi, organised a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Saturday, where its leaders announced the launch of a weeklong protest from Monday against electricity- and water-providing utilities or their failure to ensure uninterrupted supplies of the basic amenities.

Nasir Mansoor, the National Trade Union Federation’s secretary general, said that the city’s residents had been suffering the inflicted punishment of two big mafias - electricity and water -- since long and these mafias had been enjoying the support of major political parties and powerful circles.

He said the privatisation of the KESC in 2005 was in fact a fraudulent deal. “General Musharraf, Shaukat Aziz and Karachi’s false representatives were directly involved in this robbery. The company, whose shares were valued at Rs9 per share at the time of privatisation was sold for Rs1.60 per share, causing a loss of more than Rs 70 billion to the exchequer. This major power company was sold for only Rs15.8 billion.” Today, he said, the same company was trying to leave by selling its assets to Shanghai Electric for Rs290 billion.

He stressed that the privatisation of the KESC was tantamount to recognising the IMF’s dominance by handing over important public resources to foreign traders. On the occasion of privatisation of state-owned enterprises, it was said that state subsidies placed an undue burden on the exchequer, but despite handing over the KESC to a private company, the state of Pakistan was giving it an annual subsidy of Rs41 billion, he said, adding that so far, the state had given more than Rs 600 billion in subsidies to the K-Electric. “Despite huge state subsidies, the people have been waiting for a proper supply of electricity for 15 years,” he said.

Comrade Gul Rahman, the Workers Rights Movement’s convener, alleged that the K-Electric had installed meters that were faulty and did not conform to international standards. The government, Nepra and other responsible departments had given the KE “a free hand” for arbitrariness, he added.

Khaliq Zadran, chairperson of the Lyari Awami Mahaz, said that similar to the K-Electric, the water mafia had made the lives of the citizens “worse than hell”.

“Out of the one thousand million gallons required for the city, only five hundred and fifty million gallons of water are supplied to the city daily, of which more than forty percent is stolen or wasted,” he claimed. “Thirty-five per cent of Karachi’s citizens, or nine million to ten million, are deprived of basic necessities like water. Every third person in Karachi is either suffering a water shortage or is not getting water at all. According to international standards, every citizen must be provided fifty gallons of water per day.”

Zehra Khan, the Home-Based Women Workers Federation’s secretary general, said that at present more than 100 illegal hydrants were earning Rs90 billion annually by selling people’s share of water to the citizens. These tanker mafias were endangering the urban environment and health by pumping 150 million to 150 million gallons of water underground daily.

“Currently, the water tanker mafia was making more money than the drug mafia,” she said. “The K-IV project related to the water supply for Karachi has been nowhere since 2018.”

Nisha Rao, TransGender Rights Society’s head, said that unfortunately, the city, the provincial and the federal governments were constantly showing a lack of seriousness in resolving Karachi’s problems. “The mayor of Karachi goes underground in time of severe power and water crisis, and he needs to be declared missing, while the attitude of the Sindh government and the federal government is also reprehensible, which has left the citizens of Karachi at the mercy of the mafias,” she said.

Aqib Hussain, the National Youth Committee’s president, said that at a time when all parties had left the citizens at the mercy of the mafias, it had become imperative for the people to organise themselves to achieve their basic rights as a real alternative.

“SAM’s formation is the first step in this direction that had decided to fight to save the citizens of Karachi from electricity, water and other mafias,” he said.

Abdul Rehman Baloch (Shah Mir Welfare Trust, Old Golimar), Rehmat Ali (Anjuma-e- Falah-o-Bahbood), Sharif Baloch (Baloch Welfare), Faisal Imran (Youth Club of Courage), Muhammad Ishaq Usman (Muslim Kachhi Kumhar Wara Jamaat, Baldia), Amir Iqbal (human rights activist), Comrade Zubair Rehman (intellectual and columnist), Saira Feroze (United Home-Based Garment Workers Union), Aftab Hussain (Madina Colony Welfare Committee), Abdul Basit (Textile Garments General Workers Union) and representatives of other organisations were also present at the presser.