ENERGY is the most important need of a sovereign country in the contemporary world. But, minerals rich Balochistan and its much-touted deep port city and upcoming regional trade hub, Gwadar, are plagued by perpetual energy crisis owing to the scarcity of clean, efficient, affordable and indigenous energy. According to available media reports, due to the acute gap between demand and supply, some interior districts in the province are facing up to 22 hours of load shedding. The provincial capital, Quetta, is beset with 12-hour-long outages. According to local leaders and journalists, Gwadar city is also plagued by 14 to 16 hours of scheduled load-shedding. Sometimes, Gwadar remains without electricity for three to four days due to technical faults, torrential rains or militants’ attacks on the long transmission line.
As per available data, total electricity demand of Balochistan is around 1,650 megawatt (MW). However, the electric grid network in the province has the capacity to transmit only up to 650MW of electricity. On account of line losses, theft, diversion of power to other provinces and unchallengeable dominance of other provinces on the Ministry of Power and Water, Balochistan does not acquire the stipulated amount of power.
Intriguingly, the power produced by Balochistan is sufficient enough to provide electricity to the whole province. But much of this electricity goes to the national grid and is provided to the rest of the country. Over 2,200 MW of electricity is produced in Balochistan by the four power plants but the province gets only 400 MW. The rest of the electricity produced in Balochistan is supplied to the national electric grid, which is a great injustice.
Despite being Balochistan’s port city, Gwadar is also beset with unbearable load-shedding. Currently, Gwadar city is receiving 14MW from the 70MW coming through a 400km transmission line from Pishin in Iran‘s Sistan-Balochistan province bordering Mand, Balochistan. The transmission line goes from Pishin to Mand, Turbat, Pasni, Panjgur and then Gwadar. But, Gwadar is still facing 14 to 16 hours of planned load shedding. Whenever transmission lines, fuses, poles, transformers, insulators and guy wire get disorder, the local people collect money and get them repaired.
Quetta Electric Supply Company’s (QESCO) workers always complain about the lack of resources to repair intermittent faults occur in the system. If the would-to-be mega city is bereft of an adequate supply of power, what would be the condition of other districts across the province? It is a pity that Iran has not been paid for providing power since 2011. According to a report from a private TV channel, payments for the import of electricity have not been made to Iran since 2011. Such delay of payment does not bode well because Iran is intent on supplying more electricity to Balochistan.
The provincial government has also utterly failed to crack down on massive theft of 75 MW of power. Many a consumer in Gwadar and its suburbs has installed illegal connections in complicit with QESCO employees. People in the periphery of Gwadar city are facing overbilling, and, therefore, a large number of them have left paying electric bills. According to local councillors and journalists, QESCO employees do not read metres and send Rs.2500 bill to all consumers. Those who have just one room and one bulb are forced to pay Rs.2500 per month. Is this not the incompetence and failure of QESCO in terms of its primary responsibility? Power scarcities are due to some lingering issues which Balochistan has been grappled with since the 1970s. The province has never seen a competent leadership capable of prioritising the energy crisis with seriousness. Moreover, the country’s reliance on expensive oil rather than renewable sources is further exacerbating this crisis. Furthermore, due to outdated and inefficient transmission lines and theft, around 20 percent power goes in vain in the province. Some experts also attribute the lack of energy conservation a major factor behind the lingering shortage of power.
This is an opportune time for Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, the Chief Minister of Balochistan, to take up the matter of power crisis on an emergency basis, and direct the relevant authority to resolve the entrenched issue of energy shortages as soon as possible. The province in general and Gwadar in particular are at a crossroads of development and prosperity, so lethargy and laxity should be shunned for the attainment of core interests of Balochistan.
— The write is freelance columnist based in Karachi.