The recent power riots that have broken out across Punjab do not come as a surprise. This was being expected by many for quite some time, with power available in larger cities for barely 12 hours a day or less, and in smaller towns for a far shorter period. In some areas, people have even complained of bulbs barely flickering on for an hour or two every day. While rising temperatures have added to the anger of the people, a major concern is the immense loss being suffered by businesses. This, of course, also means job losses and increased desperation in a situation where unemployment is already high. In Faisalabad, power loom workers have raised this point many times. Now, with the power supply situation worsening again after a brief period of improvement, they have taken to the streets once more, along with other equally distressed people in Lahore, Gujranwala, Bhakkar, Sheikhupura and other towns.
But will the tyres the people burn, the stones they pelt or the slogans they raise lead to any solution to the crisis? The people who have taken to the streets have also threatened to stop paying the bills that turn up far more regularly than the supply of electricity itself. While there was some brief improvement in supply last time round after people took to the streets, the progress could not be sustained for long. We also know now that the problem is essentially one that is concerned with the lack of resources and the crippling pattern of circular debt, rather than with an actual shortage of power. Had money been available, solutions too could have come our way. Around the world, solar power, wind energy and other means to generate power are being used. But generating money is in many ways harder than producing power.
The protests of the people cannot be ignored indefinitely. So far, those who have been out on the streets have been relatively small in number. But these numbers are certain to grow if there is no end to the power crisis. The government needs to prevent the situation from turning into an even uglier one. Political dimensions are involved too, with the PML-Q threatening to pull out of its alliance with the government as the power crisis grows bigger and adds to the general angst running through the veins of our country.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2012.
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