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.