Let there be light

As tortuous as it has been for us, we need to support the KESC’s stand. They cannot cave into blackmail and thuggery.

Mahreen Khan June 30, 2011

Electric current has long been used as an instrument of torture to burn, shock and scar unwilling subjects into submission to the will of the evil, the avaricious and the powerful. Now, electricity is being used to inflict suffering and blackmail the entire population of one of the world’s megacities. The residents of Karachi, home to almost 20 million people and the commercial jugular vein of Pakistan, are being held hostage by a group of workers of the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) and their political henchmen, who have launched a campaign of violence and sabotage which has deprived the city and its residents of electricity.

It has been 18 hours since the electricity in our street ‘went’ and all we have to show for it is a depressing four-digit complaint number from the KESC helpline and the rather unapologetic response that the strikers are preventing their workers from restoring supply. We sit bathed in sweat, staring blankly at a dead television screen, at stationary ceiling fans, at lifeless appliances rendered into rubbish by the flick of a penknife. The electricity has not ‘gone’ anywhere, nor are we experiencing loadshedding. Our families and millions of Karachiites are the victims of calculated and wanton sabotage by former KESC workers and union thugs.

The dispute centres around the voluntary separation scheme (VSS) offered by KESC to 4,500 employees, such as cleaners, office attendants and bill distributors. Such non-core services were being outsourced to make KESC more cost-efficient. Rightsizing is fair enough but what of the poor people laid off in this economy? Well, according to the KESC they were all offered generous severance packages (on average Rs1.5m each). But as is the case in a society becoming increasingly lawless and unruly, certain groups took this opportunity to create disorder and assert their power through violence. They threatened and forcibly prevented the workers in question from opting for the VSS scheme and then began a campaign of terror against KESC workers, management and property. Incredibly, the ANP has openly supported this campaign and even called citywide strikes in support, resulting in more fear, violence and financial losses.

Over the past few months, KESC offices, substations and even power stations have been damaged, occupied and fired upon by heavily armed groups of thugs. KESC workers and management have risked and, in a few cases, tragically lost their lives trying to do their jobs and keep Karachi’s electricity going. This crisis is affecting all citizens, irrespective of social class or economic means. Those rich enough to afford generators rue the tens of thousands of rupees spent each week on fuel. Heavily populated middle-class areas have witnessed up to three days at a time with no power and hence no water supply. Families have faced the stifling heat with no way to alleviate their pain. The plight of the elderly and sick can only be imagined. The poorest families have been deprived for days on end of even the single, rusty ceiling fan that used to provide some relief from the humidity.

Businesses have been hobbled by the dispute, with factory owners handing over millions of rupees to pay armed union hooligans to ‘fix’ their electricity — to repair the same wires that these hooligans themselves have dislodged intentionally and criminally. Even in residential areas, the miscreants collect ransom from beleaguered households after deliberately disconnecting wires.

As tortuous as it has been for us, we need to support the KESC’s stand. They cannot and must not cave into blackmail and thuggery. If they do, they will seal their own fate as a company and set a dark precedent for the nation’s industries and business climate. Pressure must be brought on the government to provide protection for KESC installations and property and to persuade the ANP to withdraw its endorsement of workers who use violence and intimidation. The union must protest lawfully and peacefully.

Karachi’s residents have suffered intolerably in the darkness and the heat. But their suffering will not have been in vain if, ultimately, right prevails over might. Only then can we say: Let there be light!

Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2011.


Omeir Shakil | 11 years ago | Reply Since KESC has been privatized, we had witnessed an improvement in its performance. The load shedding was very managed, there was some one to listen to your complaints and was even courteous to greet you and listen to you till the end. At present the situation has reached its pinnacle. It has been two months for us with days with no electricity and if there is electricity then we have only one phase. And if we lucky enough to have all three phases then the voltage fluctuation is so much that we wished that there was no electricity. If we are to support KESC, then KESC should also support us. We are receiving our electricity billed on the average of may/june last year. KESC, in this current scenaria, should issue the bills based on the average of december. This should be the responsible attitute of kesc. The management knows that the people are suffering, but they have shown no mercy to them either. We have become victims at the hands of both the union (because of the vanadlism) and kesc (with their issuance of exorbitant bills).
AS | 11 years ago | Reply Heard, few ppl (boys basically) working for KESC, were beaten outside KESC headoffice with bricks, damaged cars etc. the guy received severe head injuries and was taken to hospital for CTs etc... though he is safe now ... point being all these going unreported...
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