Assigning the blame: SHC wants Nepra’s viewpoint on KE’s role in 2015 heatwave

Published: January 23, 2016
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Court hearing petition on KE's alleged discriminatory electricity distribution. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Court hearing petition on KE's alleged discriminatory electricity distribution. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) expressed on Friday it desire that the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority’s (Nepra) announce its verdict about the discriminatory distribution of electricity by K-Electric (KE) in Karachi before the court proceeds with a petition seeking a judicial probe into the 1,000 deaths during last summer’s heatwave.

A division bench, headed by SHC Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, was hearing a petition jointly filed by civil society members in which KE’s alleged discriminatory electricity distribution is being touted as one of the reasons behind the mass deaths.

The petitioners, including singer Shahzad Roy, had said that over 1,000 persons had died and 40,000 others suffered heatstroke during the heatwave but the federal and provincial governments failed to understand the seriousness of climate change, despite several warnings. They had blamed the federal and provincial governments for not declaring a state of emergency until June 23 – when 426 people had already died.

The petitioners claimed that KE had failed to provide an uninterrupted power supply that could have eased the suffering of citizens. Therefore, they had pleaded to the court to constitute a judicial commission, headed by a retired judge of either the high court or the Supreme Court, to establish reasons for the deaths and hold responsible the government functionaries for their failure in taking preventive measures. The court was also requested to ascertain KE’s role during the heatwave, as it had failed to provide an uninterrupted supply of power to citizens.

During Friday’s proceedings, the petitioners’ lawyer, Faisal Siddiqui, contended that one of the issues involved in the case is KE’s discriminatory treatment in distributing electricity.

In those areas, where there is theft of electricity, the respondents, instead of taking action against such consumers, switch off the power supply to the entire areas. This has resulted in the suffering of those consumers who regularly pay their monthly electricity bills, the lawyer added.

Advocate Kashif Hanif, who represented Nepra, informed the judges that the authority had taken cognizance of KE’s alleged discrimination.

He added that the authority had heard an identical case and its verdict was ready. But KE filed a lawsuit in the SHC, which has directed Nepra not to take any coercive action against the power utility, therefore the order is not being announced, he explained.

The two-judges observed that the announcement of the order would, by no stretch of the imagination, be treated as a coercive action through the implementation of the order, if it is against the petitioner (KE).

The bench adjourned the hearing, announcing their expectation that the Nepra would announce its order well before the next date of the hearing. It also expressed the hope that the SHC’s single-judge hearing the other petition would ensure that the pending application in KE’s lawsuit is decided.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2016.

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