Saturday May 28, 2022

Prolonged power cuts adding to people’s misery in lockdown regime

May 29, 2021

On April 8 this year, K-Electric (KE) Chief Executive Officer Monis Alvi held a grand press conference at his office where he conveniently announced how the company was confident about achieving a power surplus situation by 2022.

Just a year into the realisation of his splendid claim, the situation is such that the city has been facing a horrendous power crisis to a point where people from all walks of life feel it an insult to their injuries inflicted by strict lockdown SOPs by the provincial government.

Traders complain their businesses have collapsed due to frequent power breakdowns while teachers and students lament how intermittent and prolonged power cuts have affected their online classes.

In the meantime, those who have quarantined themselves after contracting Covid-19 seem to be in extreme pain due to hours-long power cuts. They demand of the KE to immediately address faults.

On Friday, several areas of the city faced intermittent and prolonged power outages. The most affected areas included Orangi Town, Old Golimar, Nazimabad, North Nazimabad, Lyari, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Saddar, Liaquatabad, Malir and Korangi.

In Lyari, a protest was held against the power utility after a massive power breakdown could not be resolved by the power utility for hours.

A resident of the area, Nabeel Akhter, shared how his son had to take an online exam on Friday morning, which he missed due to power breakdown.

A resident of Gulistan-e-Jauhar complained how he had been facing extreme water crisis as when it was time for water to come, there was no power at his home. “On Friday we get water in our lines but the entire day, power kept going on and off,” he said.

Talking to The News, Jamaat-e-Islami Karachi Emir Hafiz Naeemur Rehman said the sole power provider of the city was earlier getting 650 to 800 megawatts from the federal government and now it was getting 2,000 megawatts during the lockdown regime when the power demand had already been reduced. “Still they have resorted to load-shedding,” he said as he demanded that the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) cancel the exclusivity licence of the KE.

Traders’ woes

While a few different traders’ associations in the city demand declaring Karachi a tax-free metropolis, some simply ask provision of basic necessities and seasoned business environment to sustain their businesses. However, even this basic demand of them is not met when they have to carry out their trade amidst power cuts.

Karachi Electronic Dealers Association President Rizwan Irfan shared with The News how their working hours had been reduced to only two due to the lockdown orders and power breakdowns.

“If there is electricity, our electric appliance shops will have customers in them,” he said, adding that their shops opened at around 12 noon or 1pm in the afternoon and they had to close them by 6pm due to the lockdown orders. “During the entire six hours of operations, we have at least four-hour power breakdown. This drops our profits to only 10 to-15 per cent of what we used to earn during this season,” he said.

It was only last year when Karachi was once again declared the highest tax paying city with the collection of Rs572.59 billion. “Our Saddar Electronic Market was the highest tax paying market in the country and look where are we standing right now. We have no business. It’s time the government considers us making a tax-free zone. We have given enough tax. It’s time the government pays us back,” he said in a frustrating tone.

Cloth Merchant Association President Ahmed Chinoy had a slightly different approach. He said they were ready to pay taxes but the government needed to provide them with the basic necessities that included infrastructure and power. Karachi which contributed 60 per cent of the country’s GDP was facing worst power outages once again, he said. “With such power outages, we cannot compete in the international market. Our production reduces to 60 to 70 per cent during intermittent power breakdowns,” he pointed out. “This is a national loss, not the loss of any individual.”

All Karachi Tajir Ittehad Chairman Atiq Mir said there was no point of asking tax amnesty from the government. He, however, also demanded that the government provide them with proper business environment. “Around 70 per cent of the business is declining in the city due to lockdown and then power breakdowns,” he said. As for the performance of the KE, he said the sole power provider of the city had failed to improve its performance over the years. “They have fault either in their power generation, transmission or distribution, but they have failed to address those faults,” he asserted.

Patients’ sufferings

Yusra Salim and her husband, Muhammad Abbas are Covid-19 patients in living in the Nazimabad area of the city. “The KE has made our comfort and life a joke,” she said, adding that the life in quarantine had become very difficult for her and her husband due to intermittent power failures on a daily basis.

She recalled one of the nights when her husband’s oxygen level started going down. “After almost 18 calls and six tweets, Instagram posts and Facebook messages, the response we got from the KE was to keep waiting as their supervisor at the call centre was not available,” she said, adding that her area had no illegal power connections and it was also exempted from load-shedding.

“But every other day we face unannounced power outages and when we check KE live updates, they cite maintenance, shutdown or unknown fault,” she said.

Hina Ali has been on a visit to Pakistan for the first time during summers after 2016. “I came to Karachi imagining what life used to be before the pandemic, so I was in for a huge disappointment,” she said, adding that how due to repeated lockdowns and restrictions, she found herself stuck in her house. With endless hours of power outages, she said, there was no decent living in the city. “My mother had a dental procedure a couple of days ago and the moment she came home, electricity disappeared for several hours. Our power converter broke down. Imagine the sense of failure, five adult children with successful careers, having money and other resources can’t provide their ailing mother a basic comfort of cold air. She suffered for several hours before we could get the power restored,” she remarked.

Zeenia Shaukat said their house help lived near Old Golimar and she was always in acute distress. “All her family works so they return home after 6pm and even 8pm. And there is never any light. Light goes out for two-and-a-half hours after every two hours. And even in the two hours that it is there, it goes out for an additional half an hour or 45 minutes. They can’t sleep all night. Her electricity bills are Rs3,500 plus. They live in a 10 by 12 room. No water. She is in such a bad shape. Has no energy to work or even to live. K-Electric has made their lives a physical, emotional and financial hell.”

Online classes

Meanwhile, unannounced power outages every day for six to eight hours have badly disrupted online classes and on-campus essential office work at the University of Karachi.

According to the Karachi University Teachers Society (KUTS), the varsity daily faces power outages of 10 to 12 hours. The power cuts have become a routine due to which chemicals of laboratories and other equipment worth millions are also affected.

KE version

When a spokesperson for the KE was asked about the frequent power cuts in the city, he said the power supply to the city was normal.

The staff of the KE was available round the clock for addressing local faults, he maintained, adding that the consumers could call 1188 or approach the KE through its social media

platforms to file their complaints.