Pakistan: More cuts than power?

His Nibs is at it again. Foreign jaunts, show of extravaganza on visiting dignitaries, but for the common man; no electricity. Come to think of it why would the common man need electricity in the first place? To watch TV? One can do without it. Trust me; I stopped watching it many months ago. At least the local channels. Peace seems restored at many levels as a result of this action. Why else would the common man want to have electricity? To iron clothes? That’s not a big deal really. One can revert to those wash and wear clothes that do not need ironing. To run the air conditioners? Oh come on babes! If you can afford to foot the bill, you can run it on a generator. If per chance you do not own a generator, you are what they call, the “aam aadmi” (common man). In which case, who cares? Go take a hike! Oh OK, you want electricity so the kids can study evenings? Let the kids be, buddy. What will they do with a degree? What are those having one doing? Unless, Papa has the right connections in the right places, they are doomed to be passed over in favor of a candidate whose Papa does have the right connections in the right places, they might as well focus on the little jobs - no? Little jobs for little people. If you were such a great gun, your kids would be studying abroad in any case, America, UK or some other developed place in the world. You feel it negatively affects the quality of your life, you say? You really believe that you have a life? Have you not read what I just said? If you were such VIP your house would be running on so many generators and backups that you would not know when the electricity is going and going. No, that’s not a mistake of expression. It’s how things are going to be, better get used to it. The writing is very much on the wall.
Right, there is an electricity shortage. But someone needs to be serious about addressing the issue. Someone needs to develop a policy of how to tackle the issue. But no one’s interested. Prime example is the Neelum-Jhelum Dam approved in 1989 approximate cost $935 million (969 MW) by 2011 cost up to $ $2.89 billion, envisaged completion by 2016; by then who knows the cost? Lack of focused effort marks successive governments.
There is no rocket science involved here. Like handling every issue, a marriage of short term and long term strategies is needed by someone to get the show on the road. There are many things someone should have done, like yesterday. One; the infrastructure used to transport electricity to the consumers via grid stations pre-dates …fill in the blank with any time period mark you wish to. The system is unable to sustain extreme weather conditions hence most of the grids shut down at extreme temperature or either completely stops working. They need to be repaired, substituted like; superfast by someone.
Two; huge line losses due to electricity theft or illegal usage of electricity. A local newspaper reporting upon the illegal housing societies in Gujranwala (Published December 25, 2013) states, “The district coordination officer ordered Gujranwala Electric and Power Company (Gepco) and the SNGPL to sever electricity and gas connections to all illegal housing societies in the district.” This is not all; illegal theft needs immediate checking by someone.
The famous term “kunda” (putting up a hook) was created for such illegal connections. How come the concerned authorities are blinded to them? Someone must ask. Revenue recovery is low. But instead of punishing areas that pay their dues timely, the high power outrages must be restricted to those areas that do not, as done in Karachi. A building up of “circular debt” is blamed for more and more power cuts. Three; the IPP’s are responsible to provide electricity to half of Pakistan, give or take. Payments made by government is sometimes inadequate or delayed or both. The reasons may be political, financial or both. In any case it is inadequate for the IPPs to perform at full capacity. What also struck me as very odd is the fact that there is no professionally trained organization or a three member panel to deal exclusively with the IPPs and look into issues that stop them from operating on optimum basis. I mean professionally trained people right. Not, politically untrained. Increasing rates of electricity is something someone really needs to look into. If at all, someone is inclined to look into this issue.
Prof. Dr. Khanji Harijan, Professor Mehran University, Jamshoro, in a paper outlined four different types of energy in Pakistan; theoretical potential, available potential, technical potential, and economical potential. This needs close scrutiny by someone. Sensible and pragmatic thoughts are here. Someone needs to seriously look into cutting electricity to illegal connections, improving revenue connection, setting up a professionally trained panel for IPP handling and revamping existing antiquated infrastructure. Many suggest Pakistan to import electricity from India. In a joint statement by US and Pakistan when Nawaz Sharif recently visited there says, “welcomed progress on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project, and tasked the Energy Working Group to explore possible further US support for the Central Asia-South Asia electricity line, CASA-1000, in close collaboration with the World Bank.” (India Today October 24, 2013).
Even if we brush this aside, this can be seen as a policy approach by US–India towards the region and Pakistan in particular, there are reasons why buying from India will not work out. The Indian delegation that was sent by Manmohan Singh to Pakistan submitted a report upon its return, says Rajeev Sharma, “Pakistan government will have to spend Rs 700 crore on its side to build infrastructure like receiving stations, high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line and a dedicated grid. It determined that the Indian side too will have to shell out Rs 100 crore to transmit electricity from Patti grid in Punjab to Wagah border. Perhaps the most damning dampener to have come from the Indian Power Ministry’s preliminary talks with the Pakistani government is that the cost of electricity per unit would come to a minimum of Rs 14. Even if the two governments were to okay it, the cost of India-exported electricity for Pakistani citizens would be much more than Rs 14 per unit. Why? Because given the political distrust between India and Pakistan, India would be averse to a government-to-government dealing in this business of electricity exports! The Indians laid a pre-condition that Pakistan will have to purchase the electricity through an Indian contractor, who will purchase electricity from the Power Grid Corporation (PGC) and then transmit it to Pakistan.” (Published July 11, 2013) I am not even talking about the fact that India herself does not produce enough for her own needs and imports electricity. With seasonal spiking demands it will be virtually impossible for India to provide uninterrupted power supply to Pakistan, even if all ground realities are ignored. It will mean Pakistan ending up with electricity consumers cannot afford!
In the meanwhile, Pakistan continues to suffer; industries and businesses go out of work for lack of power supply, someone continues ignoring the crumbling economy and miseries of the common man. But then, luckily we decided at the very onset of my piece that the common man does not count. A very senior analyst tells me increase in Pakistan’s population is directly proportional to increasing power outages, shaking his head. Kidding? Maybe not.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Law in Pakistan.

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