LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz announced on Monday the provincial government would bear the power cost of households consuming up to 100 units of electricity in a month.
Addressing a press conference at Model Town, he said, "I was told not to take big decisions without the cabinet consent to steer the backward class out of difficult economic conditions. I was told that it could become a NAB case, but I said that I am ready to face any difficulty to give relief to people."
He said the Punjab government would bear the utility expenses of consumers who use up to 100 units of electricity under the Punjab Chief Minister Roshan Gharana Programme. The government has set aside Rs100 billion for the relief programme, which would benefit nine million families in the province, he added. About half of the population of the province would be provided free electricity from this month and the Punjab government would pay the bills in August, he explained. "This will act as an incentive for those who use more than 100 units of electricity to save energy," Hamza hoped.
The chief minister said the government would also provide free solar panels to the people in need so that they could shift to alternative sources of electricity.
CM Hamza said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Programme would continue and international donors would also come, adding that the friendly countries would help Pakistan. "The economic situation will be back on track," he promised. He vowed that “the genie of inflation will be put back into the bottle and the dying economy will be revived with the grace of Allah Almighty and help of masses”.
Berating the PTI, the chief minister said that the nation would hold the party leaders accountable. "The PTI government ruined the economy and Imran Khan will have to give an account of the foreign funding, Toshakhana, and Farah Gogi's corruption of billions of rupees."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif reviewed the decision about increase in electricity and ordered reduction in loadshedding duration to two hours a day.
Chairing a meeting of the federal cabinet in Islamabad, he said: "You will win hearts of lakhs of people if you accomplish this difficult task of overcoming menace of loadshedding in the country.
“We have a short time in government and we have to bring about a lot of improvements," he told the ministers and officials concerned. A statement, issued about the decisions taken by the federal cabinet, said the PM directed the Power Division to make all-out efforts to reduce duration of electricity load-shedding to two hours.
The cabinet was informed that power generation for the month of June remained 239,000 megawatts while 4,000 megawatts of electricity could not be added to the system because various power generation projects could not be completed on time.
The PM said the country would have not faced electricity load-shedding had the power generation projects been completed on time. "The previous government did not purchase LNG on time; that is why we have to procure oil to operation the plants," he said.
Shehbaz ordered for preparing a plan for handing over power distribution companies to provinces. He said the provinces would have better a strategy for power distribution. He also directed Minister for Power Khurram Dastgir to visit two best performing and two bad performing distribution companies and submit a report with his findings.
The PM also directed the Minister for Food Security Chaudhry Tariq Bashir Cheema to prepare a report on feasibility of shifting tube-wells to solar energy and submit a report to the federal cabinet.
PM Shehbaz Sharif directed the ministries concerned to prepare a plan for installing only those power generation plants in future which do not need imported fuel. Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb and Minister for Kashmir Affairs Qamar Zaman Kaira briefed the media about decision taken by the federal cabinet, which met on Monday instead of its routine of Tuesday every week.
Marriyum said the existing electricity generation capacity is 23,900 megawatts, while the demand reached historic level of 30,000 megawatts last month. She regretted the ongoing power projects were delayed by the PTI government.
Minister for Power Khurram Dastgir said that Karut hydropower project of 720-MW under CPEC had now been made operational. He said the cabinet was informed that the projects of 4,623-MW, initiated by the PML-N back in 2013-18, would become operational by the next year. He said a total of 7,000 megawatts of electricity would be added to the system including from these projects as well as solar power and private net metering by the next year, which would help address the issue of load-shedding.
Referring to the increased inflow of water into Tarbela, he was confident that the electricity production from this source would reach the maximum level of 3,500 megawatts in the next few days, while generation of 1,100 megawatts from K-2 nuclear plant would also start in the same period, which would help reduce load-shedding to a great extent this week and help provide relief to people during Eidul Azha days.
The power minister said the government was also considering a comprehensive policy on solar energy. He said the focus would be on large-scale plants as well as supporting the small consumers to install small plants, adding the government buildings would also be shifted to solar energy.
Khurram Dastgir said the government was making efforts to improve management of distribution companies (DISCOs). He said for the purpose, the use of modern technology was indispensable. He said a plan would be made for installing smart meters for automatic bill generation from January next year.
The minister said under the vision of prime minister to support the poor segment of society, the government had decided not to apply any increase in prices of electricity to the consumers who use less than 100 units. He said a reform package would be announced soon to replace free electricity of WAPDA employees to incentivise salary.
The federal cabinet meeting was informed that 20 per cent feeders were being kept load-shedding free so that there was not suspension in supply of electricity to hospitals and industries.
Minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Qamar Zaman Kaira said the PTI government delayed projects of 4000-MW which had to be completed by 2020 or 2021. He said the country would not have been faced with the current situation, if these projects were timely completed.
Minister for Board of Investment Chaudhry Salik Hussain said the present government is serious to address the problems faced by the people including that of the power outages.
According to the statement, the federal cabinet also decided put four names on the Exit Control List (ECL) and remove names of five persons from the ECL. However, the names in both categories were not disclosed.
Meanwhile, Minister of State for Petroleum Dr Musadik Malik said the incumbent coalition government is making efforts to explore all possible ways to ensure the availability of gas for meeting the country s energy needs.
We are reaching out to all [potential] countries, asking them to provide us gas either through pipelines or Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) cargoes.
Besides, we are planning to meet the ever-increasing gas demand of the peak winter season, he said while addressing a news conference after the Federal Cabinet meeting along with other ministers and Adviser to PM on Kashmir Affairs Qamar Zaman Kaira.
He said it was unfortunate that the previous Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government did not procure LNG cargoes that were available at the reduced rate of $4 per MMBTU (Metric Million British Thermal Unit) two years ago, which now cost $ 40. It means that now per LNG cargo cost is $140 million, which was available at $12.5 million two years ago for 2-4 years, but the PTI government did not pay any heed towards buying the commodity.
Dr Musadik said it was beyond understanding why the PTI government did not arrange the LNG when regasification terminals were available, whom the country was making capacity payment but those were not utilised.
But now despite the exorbitant price, he said, the commodity was not available even after floating several tenders for the term of 6-8 months.
Last year, he said, the PTI government had bought LNG worth around Rs176 billion and provided the expensive commodity to domestic consumers, adding there was no such precedent in the world that Rs4,000 LNG was provided at Rs200-500 to the consumers.
All this was happening, and now we are in great trouble and exploring new ways .
Commenting on the prevailing gas supply situation, he said on the network of Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited around 670 million cubic feet of gas was available against the demand of 1,170 million cubic feet to meet the domestic consumers requirements in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa only.
But, the PTI government did not make any planning for the reasons unknown.
He recalled that during the last Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) government, there was a minor gap between demand and supply of gas as it had installed two fast-track LNG terminals for regasification of 1,200 Metric Million Cubic Feet per Day (MMCFD) gas and signed long term LNG import agreements.
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