Power riots in Punjab

Editorial April 19, 2010

Power riots evoke a sense of déjà vu. Scenes of protestors attacking Mepco, Wapda or KESC offices in a fit of rage no longer shock anyone with a cursory knowledge of domestic events.

This past week tempers were particularly frayed in south Punjab where businesses shut down on Wednesday to protest the grueling loadshedding schedules. The response to the shutter down strike predictably turned violent when baton-wielding police charged protestors: 14 were injured outside Mepco offices in Multan, and another 14 in Vehari while protestors attacked a Wapda office in Khanewal.

Elsewhere in Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh, Okara and Gujrat, scores showed up, blocking off main roads, some vandalising properties, others chanting slogans against the cruel 20-hours of loadshedding. Similar scenes were witnessed on Friday last in Lahore over 18-hours of loadshedding.

While one condemns the vandalisation of property which law enforcement agencies have the right to contain, what options are consumers left with? Loadshedding of 18 to 20 hours a day is criminal and should prompt concerned authorities to spring into action before blood is spilled on the streets. That the Minister of Water and Power Raja Pervez Ashraf hasn’t stepped down having reneged several times on false promises is in itself a sad reflection of the priorities attached to providing citizens utilities.

It cannot be stressed enough that short-term measures are needed on a war footing — let rental power projects that do not jip the government begin operations, and let the hurdles faced by independent power producers be expedited so they can come into effect. The waffling on exploring alternative sources of renewable energy must stop and be turned into a reality so that some respite is made possible.

Our recent discussions with the US about civilian nuclear technology are a good step. A crackdown against electricity theft and the installation of smart grids to assist in a wiser consumption of energy will quell some of the anger.

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