It was only a scant two months ago, in February, that the federal minister for Water and Power Naveed Qamar told the National Assembly that loadshedding would come to an immediate halt. Just weeks after that brave, and some would say foolish assertion, the provinces defaulted on payments owed to power producers and the circular debt crisis became even worse. Loadshedding, instead of ending, increased to as much as 20 hours a day. So dire is the situation now that at the Second National Energy Conference, the government could not pledge an end to loadshedding. Rather, the best promise they could make was that loadshedding — after complaints from Punjab — would be equitable throughout the country. From dreaming of uninterrupted electricity, the government has now been reduced to placating the provinces that their loadshedding will be no worse than what the rest of the country is experiencing.
The other proposals adopted at the energy conference reeked of timidity at a time when boldness is needed to tackle the energy crisis. Among the ideas that were announced, all shops will close at 8 pm and government offices will get a two-day weekend. These ideas have been touted every year and, without fail, they have done little to conserve power. Just about the only tried, tested and failed idea not to be reintroduced was the ludicrous daylight saving scheme. It’s as if the government has decided to treat cancer with aspirin. There is simply no vision to get us out of our power crisis and so the government has put forward timid proposals that exist only for publicity and to cool tempers for a short period.
What makes the ineffectual proposals put forth at the energy conference truly frightening is the likelihood that our power problems will only multiply in the coming months. International oil prices are continuing to rise, while the rupee’s depreciation shows no signs of halting. A further shock to oil prices may come if the situation in Iran gets any worse and the Straits of Hormuz are closed. Since Pakistan imports all its oil, it may have to deal with factors that are beyond its control. Simply forcing shopkeepers to pull their shutters up a couple of hours early isn’t going to suffice anymore. We need an energy policy that is bold and revolutionary and we need it now.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2012.