PRIME Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar was quick to take notice of and convene a meeting of the relevant ministries and departments to deliberate upon ways and means to provide relief to power consumers, who received bills beyond their capacity to pay, sparking widespread protests across the country and acts of suicide over this gross injustice. However, the meeting failed to provide immediate relief and instead the Prime Minister gave directions to the relevant authorities to prepare suggestions for the purpose within the next ’48 hours’. His remarks that no hasty decision would be taken, which could harm the country’s interests, emphasizing the need for initiatives that do not burden the national treasury and bring relief to consumers too, speak volumes about prospects of a meaningful relief that is the need of the hour to prevent the spontaneous outcry of the consumers turning into a mass movement against the pro-elite system.
The limitations of the government are understandable as it cannot violate the terms and conditions agreed to with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) because of its implications for the national economy. The country remained on tenterhooks for about a year due to unwillingness of the global lender to oblige without prior implementation of the toughest conditions that have burdened the people immensely. However, there are other options to address the crippling challenges facing the energy sector including the rising circular debt but unfortunately the successive governments laid the entire focus on increasing tariff which has become unsustainable not just for the domestic consumers but also for industrialists, businessmen and farmers. The initiative of the civil and military leadership to launch Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) was lauded by all segments of the society, considering it offers an opportunity to attract the desired level of foreign investment in different sectors of the economy but how and why the investors would come to Pakistan when it provide electricity @ Rs. 52 a unit as compared to less than Rs. 20 in other countries of the re gion. No one would believe you when you pledge to bring down the cost of doing business when rates of electricity/gas and POL products continue rising on a fortnightly basis and the rupee is becoming valueless. This contradiction in approach and policies has to be addressed promptly and seriously if we are genuinely interested to ensure movement towards revival of the economy. No doubt, circular debt is mounting but it is not the fault of the consumers who pay their bills honestly and regularly. It is a documented fact that power sector’s Transmission & Distribution (T&D) losses rose to Rs520.3 billion with the highest-ever deficit incurred in the Peshawar Electric Power Supply Company (PESCO) to the tune of Rs153.8 billion, in just one financial year i.e. 2021-22. T&D losses have much to do with rampant theft taking place throughout the country with the active connivance of the officials of the concerned Discos and the culprits include individuals as well as institutions including industrial units, hotels and other ventures. There would have been no need to resort to the latest increase in electricity tariff had there been an effective strategy and the will to curb dare-devil power theft. Similarly, there is no justification and people would not accept continuation of free electricity, gas and petrol for some privileged classes. This facility should be withdrawn for all beneficiaries with immediate effect to send the right kind of message to agitating consumers. There are also reasons to believe that the protests were stoked by the faulty decision to enforce the latest increase and charge arrears on account of so-called fuel price adjustment in one go. The formula for application of charges for different slabs is also highly flawed and anti-consumers as even addition of one unit beyond the protected level attracts higher rates for the entire consumption. And to add to the misery of the consumers, it will not be considered to be in the protected category if consumption for three straight months is not less than 200 units. There is an urgent need to change this formula and bring down the tariff substantially as the exorbitant tariff would not only become a cause for civil unrest but a prescription for running of the economy.