Amidst violent protests across Punjab over frequent power cuts in the sizzling hot weather, the government promised on Friday that ‘unannounced load shedding will end within 24 hours’.
Water and Power Minister Naveed Qamar made the announcement on the floor of the Senate where lawmakers from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) staged a walkout to express solidarity with the people.
Qamar said that 2,000 megawatts of electricity has been added to the national grid, which has ramped up power generation. Blaming technical faults in some of the main power plants for the sudden power shortfall, he said that emergency measures were taken to fix the problem.
Without naming any political party, the minister alleged that the energy crisis was being politicised.
“The energy crisis is a nationwide issue, and the nation’s cooperation is required to deal with it,” he said. “Angry protests that involve damaging public and private property are not a solution to the problem.”
PPP leaders have blamed the PML-N for inciting violent protests against power outages in Punjab in order to put the government under pressure – a charge that the PML-N has denied.
Violent protests were staged on Friday for a second consecutive day as people burnt tyres and put up roadblocks in different cities of Punjab against long-hour outages in the sweltering summer.
The issue overshadowed proceedings of the upper house where legislators from opposition and the government’s coalition partners agitated the matter.
PML-Q Senator Kamil Ali Agha demanded Senate Chairman Nayyar Husain Bukhari take notice of Naveed Qamar’s initial absence. He was scheduled to attend the session at 11.30am but didn’t reach on time.
Qamar was also conspicuous by his absence during Thursday’s session, inviting criticism from Agha.
The criticism stoked a verbal duel between Senator Agha and Leader of the House Jahangir Badar. Both blamed each other for the deepening energy crisis and the economy being caught up in a time warp.
Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP, on the other hand, spoke about electricity woes in Karachi. He said the metropolitan city had to do without electricity on Thursday. In the evening citizens suffered through extremely low voltage, which was not enough to lead a routine life.
He blamed the situation on the ‘below average’ performance of the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC).
Senator Shahi Syed of the Awami National Party (ANP) claimed that the KESC was producing 1,000MW against its capacity of 2,200MW.
Senator Rabbani added that 5,000 KESC employees were sacked by the management. He and some other lawmakers demanded that the government take over the KESC.
However, Minister Naveed Qamar was quick to rule out the possibility: “The water and power ministry does not have the authority to nationalise the KESC because NEPRA (National Electric Power Regulatory Authority) looks after these matters.”
“KESC’s nationalisation will create legal complications,” he said but added that his ministry was in talks with NEPRA and would take stern action against the company once the case was strong enough.
PML-N senators staged a walkout from the house to protest the government’s failure to overcome the power crisis and its ‘refusal’ to implement the Supreme Court’s ruling against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.
When Najma Hameed of PML-N used the words ‘former PM’ for Gilani, PPP lawmakers protested vociferously, with Ijaz Dharma and Syed Ghani taking the lead. Ghani claimed that an amount of Rs.38 billion was missing from Bank of Punjab’s accounts, for which Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, should be held accountable.
Later, the Senate adopted a resolution condemning the terrorist attack on the mausoleum of former ANP senator Ajmal Khattak and demanded action against the perpetrators. The resolution was moved by Senator Zahid Khan of ANP.
Chairman Bukhari prorogued the session.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2012.