Protests mount as PM Kakar mulls options for relief on electricity bills

Proposals finalised by ministry of energy to be presented in today’s cabinet meeting n Info minister Murtaza Solangi says interim govt will explore ways to pass on relief to public without violating IMF programme n Lahore traders demand cut in power tariff n Jamaat-e-Islami announces nationwide strike on September 2.

 

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI/LAHORE  -  A high-level meeting held at the Ministry of Energy where pro­posals were finalised on Monday on the issue of inflated electrici­ty bills. The protests against in­flated power bills spread to sever­al cities on Monday as the interim government is exploring options to provide some kind of relief to the electricity consumers without violating the conditions agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

Citizens and traders shocked by inflated power bills took to the streets on Monday in several cities including Islamabad, Karachi, La­hore, Sargodha, Hafizabad, Vehari, Arifwala, Bahawalnagar, Hyder­abad, Gujrat, Multan, Chichawatni, Mandi Bahauddin, Rajanpur, Mu­zaffargarh, Pakpattan, Mansehra, Sahiwal, Rawalpindi, Lodhran and Sheikhupura.

Information minister Murtaza Solangi said that the complete fo­cus of the government was on pro­viding relief to the masses in the electricity bills. “We are focus­ing on how to provide relief to the masses instead of looking into discussion that who is respon­sible for expensive electricity,” the minister said while talking to a private TV channel late Monday. He said the caretak­er government took the oath on August 17, and the con­sumers received inflated bills of the month of July. “These proposals will be presented in the federal cabinet meeting today (Tuesday) for a final de­cision, says a press release is­sued by the ministry on Mon­day. Also, Caretaker Minister for Information and Broad­casting Murtaza Solangi Mon­day said that the Ministry of Energy had finalised recom­mendations related to the in­flated electricity bills. 

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar had tak­en notice of inflated electric­ity bills, Solangi said, adding, “We are responsible caretak­er government and cannot ig­nore the issue.” He said the is­sue would be taken up today by the federal cabinet which would explore the ways to pass on relief to the public without violating the Interna­tional Monetary Fund (IMF) programme. The minister re­solved that the cabinet would decide in favour of passing on the relief to the masses.

He said the prime minister held a meeting with the rele­vant stakeholders on Monday as well. The media should in­form the masses about the reasons behind increase in electricity bills, he said while responding to a query. “Polit­ical temperature is already high in the country,” he said, stressing that there was no need to resort to debate that who was responsible for the bills. To another query, he said the caretaker govern­ment wanted to hold peace­ful and fair elections in col­laboration with all political parties as per the schedule of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). The assis­tance to the electoral watch­dog would be provided by the government, he added.

The ECP would decide about the tenure of the care­taker government, he said, adding the entire schedule of the delimitation exercise was uploaded on the watchdog’s website. In light of the deci­sions of the Council of Com­mon Interests, he said, the ECP issued its schedule under Article 51 of the Constitution. He said there was need to un­derstand difference between peaceful and violent protests.

‘SHUTTER DOWN STRIKE’ 

Hyderabad on Monday wit­nessed a shutter-down strike in various areas of the city, while shops remained closed in Market Tower, Sereghat, Shahi Bazar, Anaj Mandi, Ma­san Road, and Prince Road. The Chamber of Commerce announced a shutdown in a meeting of business organi­sations. Hundreds of people surrounded the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO) office in Rawalpindi on Monday as protests trig­gered by inflated electricity bills continued in many parts of the country for the fourth day. The IESCO officials have called in the police for extra security as protesters shout­ed slogans against the electric utility company, demanding that the exorbitant charges be reduced or they would not pay their bills. Those attend­ing these demonstrations in­clude members of the civ­il society — both men and women — traders, farmers, and members of the legal and business fraternities. 

A similar situation was wit­nessed in Mansehra where all business centers across the district, including the city, re­mained closed. In other cities, protestors blocked main ar­teries, leading to traffic jams and disruptions. They held up placards and banners protest­ing what they term a “cruel” increase in the utility bill. “It was [already] difficult to af­ford two square meals a day, now where will we get money for extra electricity bill?” an elderly villager in Sargodha demanded during protests. A protestor in Bahawalpur lamented that his family had to sell their animals to pay off the bills last month, while women protesting in Multan asserted that they were al­ready struggling to make ends meet without the additional burden of power tariffs. 

NATIONWIDE STRIKE ON SEPTEMBER 2

In response to the Ja­maat-e-Islami (JI) Karachi’s call, over 100 protest demon­strations were staged in mar­kets across the city against the hike in power tariff. It was agreed in the joint hud­dle hosted by the JI for rep­resentatives of the civil so­ciety, lawyers, traders, labor unions, and other segments of the society that protests across the markets in the city will be staged on Monday.

Meanwhile, JI Pakistan su­premo Sirajul Haq called for a nationwide strike on Septem­ber 2 against the electricity tariff hike. Earlier in the day, JI Karachi Ameer Engr Hafiz Naeemur Rehman addressed a protest demonstration held by traders at the Cooperative Market, Saddar in Karachi. Speaking on the occasion, he said that the ruling elite un­leashed a mafia named the K-Electric on Karachi to cone Karachiites. He further said that the KE itself was a de­faulter of Rs662 billion to the national grid alone. Similarly, the KE is a defaulter of heavy payments to several other or­ganizations. He said that the large scale protests across Karachi are a reflection of the future for the ruling regime.

The caretaker government will have to reduce the elec­tricity tariff, eliminate the taxes and mitigate the infla­tion, he said. The JI leader further said that the license of the KE should be revoked and a forensic audit of the company accounts should be carried out. Addressing the KE high ups, he warned them against threatening Ka­rachiites and told them not to send their staffers for cutting electric supply until and un­less the federal government doesn’t decide the matter of electricity prices and taxes.

He said that Karachiites don’t want to confront the poor staffers of the KE but the KE mafia wants to use its em­ployees as a tool for untow­ard incidents in order to cre­ate a faceoff between the law enforcement agencies and the masses. The JI leader said that the Pakistan People Party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and the Muttahida Qaumi Move­ment have also reportedly an­nounced protest against the electricity tariff. He added that ironically these political parties have been notifying increases in the power tar­iff and they are totally hands in gloves with the KE mafia. On the occasion, he reiterated that the JI will observe a com­plete strike on September 2 if the caretaker government fails to reverse the price hike in electricity tariff. 

‘CUT THE ELECTRICITY TARIFF’

The Lahore Chamber of Com­merce and Industry (LCCI) on Monday expressed deep con­cern over increase in elec­tricity tariff, over-billing, and nationwide protests against them and has urged the gov­ernment to cut the electricity tariff. LCCI President Kashif Anwar, Senior Vice President Zafar Mahmood Chaudhry and Vice President Adnan Khalid Butt said in a me­dia statement here that re­cent electricity bills had left the industry, trade and peo­ple in a lurch. They said that nationwide protests against over-billing, hike in tax and multi-fold increase in elec­tricity prices could lead to an economic stress and the country could not afford such circumstances. LCCI of­fice-bearers said that the gov­ernment should provide free electricity and stop electrici­ty theft instead of increasing the electricity prices. They demanded that facility of free electricity for all segments should be withdrawn imme­diately as the country, fac­ing economic challenges and enormous debt burden, could not afford to provide such fa­cilities. They said that no tax should be levied on electricity bills up to 300 units. They said that electricity was the main raw material of industries, if such anti-industry measures were not avoided, the man­ufacturing sector would be completely destroyed and the country would remain only a trading place.