LAHORE/FAISALABAD – Frustrated with the escalating loadshedding, people across Punjab took to the streets, with enraged protestors resorting to violence in some cities.
The protests gained momentum on Sunday as power shortfall in the country rose to debilitating 8,500 megawatts, taking the outages up to 20 hours in cities, while large rural swathes of the province are barely having power supply for one to two hours a day.
Taking notice of the demonstrations, President Asif Ali Zardari summoned Petroleum Minister Dr Asim Hussain, asking him for immediate measures to reduce the loadshedding.
The president directed the minister to ensure fuel supply to power plants of the private companies that stopped working after PSO failed to supply them fuel, leading to the worsening of the power situation.
Amid searing heat, with temperature soaring to over 45 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country, citizens staged protests against power loadshedding in Chichawatni, Fiasalabad, Lahore, Sahiwal, Khanewal, Multan, Bhalwalnagar, Kamonki, Kabirwala, Sheikhupura, Ferozwala, Hafizabad, Gujranwala, Chakwal, Jhelum, Rawalpindi and other cities and towns.
But Chichawatni had the worst violence episodes where furious protesters destroyed public property and attacked the house of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) MNA Zahid Iqbal. They hurled stones at his house and smashed the window pans. Guards of the MNA resorted to aerial firing to disperse the protestors.
Later protestors smashed the furniture of the local Wapda office and burnt official record. Police registered cases against 150 people for attacking the Wapda office and conducted raids to arrest the accused.
Those arrested were taken to Saddar and City police stations, where they broke up the lock-ups, letting the captives flee the police stations. The protesters also torched the City Police Station gate and several motorcycles parked there.
Protests also took a violent turn in Faisalabad, where citizens burnt tyres, blocked the roads and voiced slogans against the authorities over 20-hour-long loadshedding.
Police resorted to baton charge and heavy tear gas shelling at protesters demonstrating at Samandari Road, sparking a clash and the protestors retaliated with pelting stones at police and vehicles passing by. The angry mob also looted a beverages truck. Demonstrations were also staged at Novelty Bridge, Mandi Quarter, Korian Wala and Roshan Wala bypass.
In Lahore, which has been facing protracted loadshedding –over three to four hours after every hour of power supply – angry protestors came out onto the streets on Sunday. A big demonstration was held in the Garhi Shahu area where protestors blocked traffic, burnt tyres and hurled stones at vehicles. Police resorted to aerial firing to disperse the crowd.
Women and children, armed with sticks, also took out a protest in Iqbal Town. The protesters chanted slogans against Wapda and the government and asked for urgent measures for provision of electricity. A huge demonstration led by PML-N leaders was also held at Neela Gunbad, Anarkali.
While in other city areas, protestors burnt tyres and chanted slogans against the federal and provincial governments. Some even disrupted traffic flow.
Kasur, Bhai Phiru and Muridke are also among the worst-affected areas. Various parts of Rawalpindi remained without electricity from morning till late at night. Many areas faced water shortages due to loadshedding.
In Sahiwal, protesters tried to get the markets closed forcibly resulting in a clash between protesters and traders wherein eight peoples received injuries. In Jehlum, protesters set ablaze a police station and blocked the GT Road. In Kamoke, different roads were blocked and markets of the city were shuttered down. The protesters also blocked the GT Road.
In Chakwal and Khanewal protestors carrying batons attacked Wapda grid stations and damaged public property. They were chanting slogans against the rulers and demanding electricity.
PML-N leaders lead protest rallies in Sheikhupura, Hafizabad, Ferozwala, Nankana, Muridke, Shah Kot and Sangla Hill. MNA Mian Javed Latif led a protest rally from his residence to the Batti Chowk of Sheikhupura, while Tariq Javed Dhothar led a rally in Hafizabad.
The worsening of power situation also caused heating up political front between the PPP and the PML-N. The PML-N led demonstrations in many cities and the PPP accused it of scoring political points by inciting violence. Interior Minister Rehman Malik alleged that the PML-N was behind the attack on the house of the PPP MNA in Chichawatni.
According to a Water and Power Ministry’s statement, the current power generation remains at 10,208MW owing to the low supply of fuel and gas to power plants, while the demand stands at around 18,000MW and many private power generation units including Hubko, AES Lal Peer and Pak Generation had been shut down.
Hydel power plants are generating up to 4,252MW, thermal 1,313MW and private power plants have been generating electricity 4,643MW.
According to the National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC), Orient, Hubco, Saif, Lal pir, Sapphire and other power plants have stopped producing power due to the unavailability of oil and gas.
NTDC Chairman Ejaz Rafiq said that private power plants cannot produce electricity as they are not provided with the amount of fuel required. The plants need 39,000 tonnes of oil to produce electricity, but they are provided with only 8,000 tonnes.
Despite shortage in its own jurisdiction, Pepco was supplying 680MW power to KESC which has a separate generation and distribution system. Those in the knowledge of shortage of power in KESC said the company was not running its costly plants and purchasing cheap electricity from the national grid.
The Pepco DG however said that responsibility of the power shortfall also rests with the ministries of petroleum and finance as the supply of oil and gas is inadequate.