Lights out!: Citizens forced to brave power cuts in sweltering heat in Karachi

Citizens forced to suffer prolonged load shedding as K-Electric remains silent


Hafeez Tunio June 22, 2019
PHOTO: APP/FILE

KARACHI: The scorching sun and still, humid air have reigned over Karachi in recent days, with no respite from sea winds. Karachiites are left to reckon with the recent heat spell with the K-Electric only adding to their woes. The power utility company has been carrying out unscheduled, unannounced load shedding in many areas of the city. Localities previously exempt from load shedding due to high recovery of utility bills are not spared either this summer.

Areas like Defence Housing Authority (DHA), Defence View, parts of Saddar, Clifton, PECHS, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Bahadrabad, Malir, Nazimabad, which hadn’t experienced frequent load shedding in the past three years, have now been forced to deal with two to three hour-long load shedding daily. Naturally, this has caused resentment among citizens.

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“It is as if we are back to five years ago, when the power played hide-and-seek in our houses,” said Muhammad Hussain while speaking to The Express Tribune. Hussain, a resident of Defence View, said that the temperature has soared in the city in the past two years. “The city sizzled but a situation like this didn’t surface despite technical faults. This seems to be a gift from Naya Pakistan,” he added.

Riazuddin, another resident of the area, pointed out that according to KE’s policy, areas with ‘honest consumers’ - those who pay their dues on time and do not engage in electricity theft - would be exempt from load shedding. The middle-aged man was protesting outside the local consumer office armed with a sheaf of paid electricity bills. “We pay our billd on time. What is the purpose behind power outage at 7am?” asked Riazuddin. He complained that there was no announced schedule for load shedding. Citizens are left in the dark literally and figuratively as, “the electricity can go out at any time”. Referring to the KE helpline, Riazuddin said that lodging complaints at 118 or 02199000 take up a lot of time and more often than not, the call goes unattended.

Was there ever respite?

Most of the city’s areas have never been relieved of power outages. For many years now, they have faced five to six hour-long load shedding spells, even in the winter season.

“We are forced to bear with load shedding thrice a day and each power outage lasts at least two hours,” said Azmat Shah, a resident of Bazarta Line. “I have a gas generator which I run every time the power goes out. I pay Rs2,500 to Rs3,000 for gas each month on top of my electricity bill,” he lamented. “We have now heard that the PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] government is now increasing domestic gas by 200 per cent,” said Azmat, referring to the recent suggestion of increase in petroleum tariffs by the federal power division. “This means that we will have to pay more than double the amount in utility bills,” he lamented.

It isn’t just domestic consumers who are miserable because of power outages. This pattern has also affected owners of small and medium-scale enterprises. Ali Raza, who owns a lathe machine workshop in Mehmoodabad claimed the recent surge in power breakdowns has caused his business to suffer immensely. “I have had to delay many orders of cutting, knurling and drilling of spare parts. There is no option but to sit idle waiting for the power to return,” he said. Raza’s area experiences two-hour long power outages frequently in the day. “This definitely affects our business”.

Water crisis

In recent days, areas such as Malir, Ibrahim Hyderi, Gadap, New Karachi and Keamari, also experienced severe water shortage following long periods of load shedding. Reports surfaced of residents coming out on the streets in protest.

“When there is no light, how can we get water?” asked Kamal Shah, while leading the protest in Ibrahim Hyderi. “We are made to suffer six to eight-hour long load shedding especially in the summer,” he claimed.

Pointing fingers

Hafiz Naeemur Rehman of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Karachi Chapter, criticised unannounced load shedding in various areas. “KE is rubbing salt in the wounds of citizens already suffering from inflation,” he said. “Before it [KE] was privatised, the federal government would give around Rs2 billion in annual subsidies to KESC [as it was known back then],” he said. Now, Rehman claims, KE receives around Rs75b in subsidies from the government. “We ask Prime Minister Imran Khan why his government continues to give such huge subsidies to a private power utility company which has failed to deliver?”

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According to Rehman, instead of relying on power producing companies, the KE must generate its own electricity to meet the shortfall. He lashed out at the power utility company for generating inflated bills of billions of rupees and looting innocent citizens. “The practice of inflated bills still continues, I request the National Accountability Bureau to take action against it,” he remarked.

Despite repeated attempts, the KE spokesperson gave no definitive comment on the prevailing situation. “We have sent the official statement on the current situation to high-ups for approval and will email it to you soon,” said a senior official of the power utility company. However, their official statement was not released till the filing of this story.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd, 2019.

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