AS spirits of the people, who were already reeling under the unbearable burden of the record price-hike and vagaries of the situation caused by floods, dampened further by the latest unexplained increase in the prices of POL products, the Government announced several measures on Thursday that sent a positive message to the masses that things were now moving in the right direction.
Addressing PML(N) members of the national and provincial assemblies, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif extended the waiver of the fuel adjustment charges for people consuming electricity up to 300 units a month.
He also stated that the Government was going to launch a drive to produce 10,000 megawatts of affordable electricity through solar energy, adding this would be done in a frantic manner.
In a related development, the Prime Minister has directed the Ministry of Education and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to prepare a special package for students of flood-affected areas of the country.
A fee waiver and a special scholarship programme for undergraduate and graduate students will be part of the package.
These are surely substantial and concrete measures aimed at providing much-needed relief to the people despite paucity of resources and other challenges facing the Government.
The soaring price of electricity was a source of grave concern for the people as the bills they have received for the months of July and August are beyond the absorbing capacity of a majority of the consumers.
It was because of the adverse reaction that the Government initially announced to withdraw FAC for those consuming 200 units a month, which meant benefiting about half of the total consumers.
However, it was pointed out by public opinion makers that the benefit should be extended further in view of the consumption pattern in this age of house appliances and electronics.
It is appreciable that the Government has responded to the demand of the people and now those consuming 300 units a month would also benefit from the relief.
However, relief just for one month would not help much as new bills also carry shocking amounts of fuel adjustment charges and the capacity issue would remain there for a majority of consumers.
This would also be suicidal for the Government as by-elections for nine seats of the National Assembly are slated for September 25 and a repeat of the by-elections for Punjab Assembly seats is not affordable for the coalition government.
Similarly, there is no guarantee about stability in the price of oil in the international market and therefore future shocks for consumers cannot be overruled.
With this in view, a prudent long-term strategy is required to be evolved and pursued vigorously to bring down the electricity tariff.
The Prime Minister has announced a crash programme for generation of 10,000 MW of electricity through solar energy, which would surely help bring down the tariff.
There is, however, a suggestion from some experts that instead of opting for solar plants in the public sector, the Government should provide incentives and relief to encourage individual households to go for solar power.
This proposition is worth consideration but the option should be pursued parallel to generation of more power through solar plants as the rate of the electricity would only come down when cheaper sources dominate the energy generation programme.
Apart from solar, federal and provincial governments should also focus on exploitation of the vast hydel power generation potential of the country besides wind power and more investment on nuclear energy.
The world is also investing heavily on electric vehicles with plans to completely phase out oil-based vehicles over a period of time to save precious foreign exchange.
If we are able to bring down the overall cost of electricity tariff, then the country would benefit immensely if it invests in plans for local manufacturing of electric vehicles and batteries.
Now that the Government is feeling somewhat comfortable as far as inflow of external resources are concerned, it should now take measures to bring down the rate of inflation.
This has assumed urgency in view of the latest data released by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), which showed the inflation rate in August jumped to a 47-years-high level of 27.3 percent due to the Government’s decision to increase prices of electricity and fuel besides depreciation of rupee and the shortage of commodities triggered by ongoing floods.
As the exchange rate is deeply linked to the price-hike, one fails to understand why the PML(N) Government, which had a track record of stabilizing the exchange rate, has not so far been able to manage things on this front.
The Government has not much time to waste as a countdown has begun even if general election is held on completion of five-year tenure of present assemblies in August next year.