Power protests refuse to die down

One-slab benefit to lighten load of power consumers floated

Zafar Bhutta August 28, 2023
People burn electricity bills as they hold protest demonstration against inflated electricity bills in Peshawar’s Gunj Chowk on August 26, 2023. PHOTO: PPI


As protests over exorbitant electricity bills refuse to die down, the caretaker government is mulling over a plan of giving one-slab benefit to household consumers that would help reduce their misery.

In response to mounting protests and growing discontent among citizens, a high-level meeting was convened on Monday to address the pressing issue.

The meeting deliberated over various proposals intended to alleviate distress of the power consumers, which will subsequently be presented to the federal cabinet for final approval on Tuesday (today).

Sources revealed to The Express Tribune that the plans to extend instalment relief to the consumers for the bill payments were discussed, giving them the option to pay their bills in more than just two instalments, offering greater flexibility and easing their financial burden.

Similarly, another proposal aims to provide relief to the consumers by allowing them to pay a portion of their heavy electricity bills during the winter months when energy consumption generally decreases.

Moreover, the meeting recommended seeking the Ministry of Finance's opinion on reducing the taxes imposed on the electricity bills. The final decision regarding tax reduction will depend on whether it contradicts the agreement between the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“If the reduction in taxes is not repugnant to the agreement with the IMF, then the government will definitely cut the existing taxes on the electricity bills,” the source added.

However, sources said there are currently no suggestions regarding a reduction in electricity bills themselves.

Read Govt falls short of giving power relief

Meanwhile, a press statement issued by the Ministry of Energy also confirmed that a high-level meeting on power bills had taken place. The proposals formulated during the meeting will be presented at an upcoming federal cabinet meeting, with the final decision resting in the hands of the cabinet.

Given that only the federal cabinet holds the authority to approve these proposals and decisions, it was decided that they would be submitted for consideration during the cabinet meeting, it stated.

Also, Caretaker Minister for Information and Broadcasting Murtaza Solangi confirmed that the energy ministry has finalised recommendations related to the electricity bills.

The recommendations were finalised in a high-level meeting held at the Ministry of Energy, the minister said while posting a news release of the ministry on X (formerly known as Twitter).

According to his post, the recommendations would be forwarded to the federal cabinet, scheduled to meet on Tuesday (today), for approval.

Protests, strikes

The proposals come as waves of violent protests have swept the nation with citizens vehemently rejecting the exorbitant prices of electricity. Citizens, traders and business communities across the nation declared they were no longer willing to shoulder the weight of exorbitant electricity costs, outrightly refusing to pay the bills while resisting any actions to disconnect their electricity supply.

On Monday, the business community in Balakot rejected the recent surge in electricity bills and announced a shutter-down strike that brought the city to a grinding halt.

Under the banner of Anjuman Tajran, the business community took to the streets en masse, demanding immediate action to alleviate their economic pain.

Similarly, in Hyderabad, the chamber of commerce also announced a shutter-down strike with countless shops and business centres slamming their doors shut. Both small and large businesses.

Mansehra also experienced widespread closure of businesses after a union of traders called for a complete shutdown of all business centres in the city.

Pind Dadan Khan also witnessed a complete shutter down strike as per the call by Anjuman Tajran against the electricity bills, which had become a source of growing concern for the residents.

Similar sentiments were echoed in Chichawatani, where the local community rallied behind the Chichawatni bar's call for a strike against the high electricity bills.

Agitated consumers in Rawalpindi surrounded the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO) grid station and set fire to their electricity bills.

The protesters vehemently opposed the government's taxation policy, lamenting that their hard-earned money was being squeezed out through exorbitant bills. They declared their refusal to submit the bills and vowed not to let their electricity supply be disconnected.

The demonstrations resulted in severe traffic congestion, causing long queues of vehicles.

‘Rs467 bn power theft annually’

Senators expressed growing concerns about the ongoing electricity situation in the country and highlighted the sufferings of the people due to theft, line losses, and defaulters.

The committee was told that the burden was placed on consumers as a result of rampant theft, which amounts to a staggering Rs467 billion annually.

Read More Nationwide protests erupt against inflated electricity bills

The committee urged authorities to take appropriate action against those involved in these dubious practices.

During the meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, members sought detailed information from the Power Division regarding electricity recovery, theft, and losses.

The chairman of the committee stressed that the nation deserved to know the reasons behind the continuous increase in electricity bills.

Officials from the energy ministry revealed that capacity charges, which were recorded at Rs185 billion in 2013, had skyrocketed to Rs642 billion in 2019, Rs796 billion in 2021, and a projected estimate of Rs2.01 trillion in 2024.

Senator Bahramand Tangi of PPP pointed out that people were now so distressed that they have resorted to burning their electricity bills.

He also questioned who should be held accountable for these problems. Pointing out protests taking place “from Khyber to Karachi”, he expressed his concerns about the deteriorating situation, which he fears may lead to civil disobedience and further weaken the nation.

The senator also expressed shock over the costs of projects approved by the power division in 2009, which amounted to a staggering $2 billion. “The power division was sleeping and approved without looking at the estimate, we will expose this corruption and conduct an inquiry.”

He accused the power division of negligence and of approving projects without thoroughly examining the estimates and called for action against those involved in the alleged blind corruption by the IPPs.