ISLAMABAD - Taking immediate notice of the massive hike in power tariff for domestic and agriculture consumers, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the federal government to submit the notification authorising such a drastic step that is set to burden the common man further.
The apex court intervened in such matters of public interest in the previous government also, and in cases like that of CNG prices, issued orders in favour of the people.
Taking up the current electricity tariff hike, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry directed Additional Attorney General Attiq Shah, who appeared for the federation, to submit the notification on Wednesday (today). The CJ said: “If the notification has been issued without a lawful authority, they (the court) would pass an order.” He said the law-abiding citizens who stand in queues to pay their utility bills regularly were being further burdened.
The Chief Justice also said fuel price has gone down in the international market, but the government has increased its rates.
The CJ said the government is burdening the people who are paying the bills honestly. He held that those at the helm of affairs did not care for the poor masses as they have vested interests; their mills are functioning and they are enjoying life in air-conditioned rooms.
When the Pepco MD told the court about the link between non-payment of dues, the court asked him to provide a list of the persons and organisations against whom Rs 441 billion were outstanding. The chief justice said: “Don’t supply electricity to those who are not paying bills. If you (government) need a court order, we can do so as well.”
During the proceedings, the Chief Justice, who was heading the three-member bench, asked the additional attorney general to produce the notification issued on September 30, 2013, which increased power tariff. As he failed to furnish the notification, the court gave him half an hour to do so.
When the hearing resumed, the AAG told the court that the Water and Power secretary was busy at a meeting. He further said: “I spoke to 10 persons in the ministry, including the additional secretary, but none of them had the notification.” The bench directed him to submit Wednesday morning the tariff-hike notification of not only September 30 but also of August 5.
On August 5, the government had notified a significant hike in power prices ranging from Rs2 to Rs6.59 per unit for commercial, industrial and bulk consumers, with a back-dated effect from August 1.
And the very next month, on Sept 30 (Monday), the government notified another major hike in tariff – Rs 5.89 per unit for domestic consumers using 201 to 300 units, Rs 3.67 per unit for 301 to 700 units and Rs 2.99 per unit for 701 and more units.
National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) Chairman Khawaja Muhammad Naeem told the bench that only Nepra had the authority to determine power tariff. He added that after August 5 the authority had not determined any new tariff of electricity, but the government itself decided to increase power tariff (on Sept 30).
Justice Jawwad S Khawaja questioned who had authorised the government to re-fix power tariff. “It has been the tradition not to follow the law. If the government does not follow the law then who else would do,” the judge asked, adding that even if the government had to give subsidy, it should be referred to Nepra.
Pepco MD Zargham Ghulam Ishaq Khan said there are nine distribution companies in the country and a summary is sent to the government after determining tariff. Justifying increase in the power rates, the MD said rupee devaluation against US dollar had increased the power rate because payment was being made to power generation companies in dollars.
Earlier, the Nepra chairman told the court that the revenue requirement for power generation for year 2013-14 was Rs 985 billion, but now after the devaluation of Pak currency it would be Rs 1.3 trillion. He said the circular debt had been paid, but recovery of Rs 441 billion from power defaulters, including Azad Jammu and Kashmir (Rs 24 billion), provinces (Rs 74 billion) and Fata (Rs 20 billion), had yet to be made. He added Rs 259 billion were due from the private sectors.
The Nepra chairman said they were planning to use the latest technology to control nonpayment. “With the help of this technology, we will be able to suspend the power supply to a house or factory that is not paying bills,” he said. He further stated gas supply to the power sector could reduce tariff up to 50 percent.
The hearing was adjourned till today (Wednesday).