ACCORDING to media reports, mammoth countrywide protests on the streets and calls for non-payment of exorbitant electricity bills have, perhaps, led the government to decide to strip Grade 17-22 WAPDA officials of their free units of electricity. The truth of the matter is, such flagrant extravagance at the expense of the hard-earned money of the tax payers of this country cannot be justified under any circumstances.
Breakdown of the electricity perks given to WAPDA officials, as reported in the media, is as under: *Grade 20 to 22 officers are given 1300 free units per month *Grade 19 officers are given 800 free units per month *Grade 18 officers are given 600 free units per month *Grade 16 to 17 officers are given 450 free units per month *Grade 11 to 15 officers are given 300 free units *Grade 5 to 10 officers are given 200 free units per month *Grade 1 to 5 officials are given 100 free units per month
The decision of the government to strip the Grade 17-22 WAPDA officers of their free units of electricity may be termed as a positive step. It may, to some extent, also scale down the temperature of the public who have launched a gargantuan countrywide agitation against highly exorbitant electricity bills. Will this measure, however, bring an end to the ongoing agitation? No, it certainly won’t. Until the government immediately takes concrete measures to provide substantial relief to the agitating masses in their inflated electricity bills, this agitation is not going to cease. It may, I am afraid, aggravate beyond limits. The government should also bear this fact in mind that its decision to only strip the Grade 17-22 WAPDA officials of their privilege to enjoy free units of electricity will be fatuous until it is applied across the board.
In order for the government to demonstrate that its decision to withdraw the privilege of free electricity units being given to the WAPDA officials is non-discriminatory, it will need to apply this prudent and much-needed policy across the board. It is known to all and sundry, high-ranking officials in all the government departments and corporations are, like the WAPDA officials, also enjoying the privilege of free units of electricity and similar other perks. They should also be brought into this net. There should be no such thing as free lunch for anyone regardless of one’s stature or institutional affiliation. The privilege of free electricity units being provided to high officials of other government departments must also be withdrawn forthwith.
According to media reports, provision of free electricity to officials of WAPDA and other government departments is costing the tax payers of this country roughly Rs.10 billion per year. The government should discontinue the facility of free or discounted electricity to government officers, including the employees of all power distribution companies (discos). This move will save the national exchequer Rs 10 billion a year. Needless to say, the benefit of this saving could be transferred to the inflation-battered masses of the country.
Other extremely vital measures such as quelling of massive electricity pilferage and line losses must also be urgently and vigorously implemented. The benefit of the savings of billions of rupees accruing due to implementation of these measures could also be transferred to the masses.
Time is running out fast. Patience of the people has drastically diminished (logon kaa sabr kaa paimana labrez ho chuka hai). The government will have to act briskly, if it is to not only contain the ongoing countrywide mass protests against inflated electricity bills, but also stop these demonstrations from acquiring the status of a possible mass revolt.
—The writer is a columnist and analyst based in Islamabad -Pakistan.
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