Islamabad - The federal government Monday conceded failure in tackling the menacing energy crisis as Water and Power Minister Khawaja Asif confessed to their inability to end the miseries of the heat-hit people.
Power outages have increased to unbearable levels throughout the country, crippling daily life and causing immense consternation as people are facing great difficulties even during Iftar and Sehar hours in this holy month.
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz had made vaulting promises to end the energy crisis during election campaign. But the steely resolve to end this national trouble has melted in the summer heat.
On Monday, Khawaja Asif was all apologies. Addressing a joint press conference with the State Minister for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali, who is a relative of Prime Minister Nawaz, Asif took to blaming the extreme weather for their failure.
He said the demand of electricity stands at 19,000MW against the production of 12,000MW. He said nine power plants were shutdown due to hot weather because of which 1300MW were not supplied to the grid stations.
Asif, who is such an influential figure in the ruling regime that he also holds the defence ministry’s portfolio, said the government seeks public apology but the nation would continue to face the present level of loadshedding if weather remains hot and dry.
The federal minister said in Lahore, T-II and T-IV transformers developed a fault, which created 1500MW shortfall in the entire system. Resultantly, the people of Punjab had to face power outages on July 12 and 13. Due to this shortage five distributing companies exceeded their authorised quota, which further aggravated the situation, triggering a loadshedding in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi as well.
As on today, he said, the situation was swiftly going to “normal” as T-IV transformer had been restored while work on the T-II restoration was in final stages. He said the government could not rectify the entire power system in a year but it was giving priority to domestic consumers as 50 mmcfd gas out of 114 mmcfd was provided to power generation sector in Ramazan.
Owing to non-resolution of the issues, the minister said, the circular debt resurged to around Rs300 billion. Just six days back Asif had stated the circular debt to be at Rs280 billion and this was published in newspapers nationwide. Sources believe the actual circular debt has piled up to Rs480 billion.
The minister said the Azad Jammu and Kashmir government had outstanding power dues of Rs37 billion, Sindh Rs57 billion, Balochistan Rs106 billion and Punjab Rs10 billion.
This announcement of failure was a surprise to many and it points to the magnanimity of the challenge posed by energy crisis, which was the bane of the previous government of Pakistan Peoples Party. Former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had to face ridicule for constantly giving deadlines to end loadshedding when he served as the minister for water and power.
It seems the PML-N government, which owes its existence primarily to the pledges of ending this menace in shortest possible, is headed in the same direction. After coming into power, Nawaz government appeared to trying many things but now it seems to have exhausted its options.
It was during the experiments that Asif, a trusted ally of Prime Minister Sharif, was appointed as the head of water and power ministry while Sharif’s nephew Abid Sher Ali was given the portfolio of state minister. After Asif became busy in his additional portfolio of defence ministry last year, Abid was given a freehand to run the affairs of the office.
Abid ruthlessly disconnected electricity connections nationwide and declared others “power thieves” but his strategy was hardly beneficial in ending the blackouts. After blaming opponents and declaring other government offices defaulters, in what seemed to be a media campaign, finally, he shifted all his anger towards ministry officials and declared NPCC and NTDC power thieves. He also ordered an inquiry to know where as much as 1200MW electricity disappears daily. The results of the committee formed for the purpose are still awaited.
Sensing the failure of Abid, government some months back appointed veteran bureaucrat Nargis Sethi as the secretary to the troubled ministry amid high hopes. Sethi was given the task to bring down loadshedding to five hours in urban and seven hours in rural areas during Ramazan.
After getting the job, Sethi – instead of admitting her failure to smooth the supply of oil, failure in recoveries from different departments and swelling circular debt – blamed the system and revealed that the generation and transmission system is obsolete and it cannot sustain more than 15000 MW.
The government in the last one year inaugurated many power projects but they are hardly able to add something substantial to the national grid. Some projects are still under construction, whereas some others, whose initial phases are completed like Nandipur power project, were shut down just after the inauguration. All of these projects were in fact initiated years back in previous government tenure.
Presently, due to loadshedding not only domestic consumers but industry is also on the verge of collapse. PML-N, after assuming power, had announced that only those who will perform will hold portfolios.
Now that it is crystal clear that the performance of the minsters holding the energy portfolios has been too bad, it is being speculated that government was considering changing the power team and confession from Asif was an indication of this. But these men would most likely be given some other lucrative posts if their present positions are taken back in a face-saving effort.
Khawaja Asif in his press talk vowed that the government will take immediate measures to stop power theft and cut line losses to overcome the crisis. The government has making such claims for last one year but situation is becoming worse with every passing day.