The power gap

Hamna Zubari April 23, 2010

KARACHI: All consumers are equal but some are more equal than others, especially when one is talking about electricity in a blistering summer.

Reports indicate that power outages are being scheduled selectively, with certain areas in every city either exempt from or suffering fewer hours without electricity. On Friday, the Chief Engineer of Planning for the Islamabad Electricity Supply Company (Iesco) Raja Saeed Ahmad admitted that the Presidency, the PM House, the National Assembly, the MNA hostel, the Diplomatic Enclave, and ministers’, judges’ and generals’ colonies are exempt from power outages.

In an exclusive talk with The Express Tribune, he said the schedule for power outages is being followed by the Iesco on the express directions of the Ministry of Water and Power through Wapda. Former Iesco CEO Raja Ghafoor says the Iesco administration is helpless when it comes to eradicating discriminatory policies. “[IESCO] has always been directed by the authorities concerned to provide electricity through special feeders to the elite classes of the federal capital, at all costs,” he says. In Peshawar, electricity is provided to the cantonments with limited interruptions.

A resident of Peshawar Cantonment who requested anonymity told The Express Tribune that there were no scheduled or regular power outages in the area during the day. He said those houses which were attached to the Military Engineering Service (MES) did not face outages, while other houses which got their electricity from the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco) had to face regular outages. Comparatively, Javed Khan, a resident of Landi Abrab village in the outskirts of Peshawar said people in his area were seeing outages lasting between 14 and 15 hours a day. However, Pesco spokesperson Shaukat Afzal insists there aren’t any areas in the city where outages don’t occur.

“The entire city, including Governor House, the Chief Minister House and the cantonment are subject to power outages; there were no exceptions to this rule,” he avers. Move over to Quetta where most areas in the city suffer about eight hours of power outages daily. Except those where the Governor’s House, the Chief Minister’s Secretariat, the Telegraph and Telephone House, offices of security agencies and the Civil Secretariat are located. This area has an average of four hours without power any given day. Significantly, hospitals and emergency services in the city have no alternative power facilities.

Only a few emergency operation theaters in the Civil Hospital and the Bolan Medical College Teaching Hospital have back-up power supplies. The situation is even worse in remote districts of Balochistan where power outages range from 18 to 22 hours every day. A similar situation prevails in Lahore. A number of ‘important’ and ‘sensitive’ buildings are exempt from power outages, Pepco officials told The Express Tribune. Interestingly, Pakistan Muslim League-N chief Nawaz Sharif’s house in Raiwind is among these. Other buildings supplied electricity continuously are the Punjab Governor’s House and CM Secretariat, Government Officers’ Residences (GOR-I) and the cantonment.

These offices, buildings and areas are provided connections from two or three sources, said a Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco) official. “Never have all grid stations been switched off at a time, provided the main supply is working,” says the Lesco official. Pakistan Electric Power Company (PEPCO) Managing Director (Energy Conservation Management) Muhammad Khalid said these areas or buildings are exempt due to their ‘sensitivity.’ But he did not respond to a question regarding why the houses of government functionaries are also exempt. In Karachi, KESC spokesperson Aamir Abbasi denied that there was any prejudice in its load management plan.

“It is completely wrong to say that the company prefers conducting maximum loadshedding in low-income group areas, while the city’s posh areas are given preferential treatment.” Instead, Abbasi insists the greatest outages occur in areas where there are the most cases of power theft. “Now, if the people living in posh areas such as Defence happen to have legal connections and pay their bills on time, obviously loadshedding in such areas will be minimum and less than three hours. However, in areas such as Model Colony where kunda connections are thriving, the company does maximum loadshedding,” he said.

However, there are areas in Karachi where power outages don’t occur even though residents don’t pay their bills. Gulu Mian is a resident of Baba Bhit Island, a neighborhood of around 15,000 thousand people in Keamari town. “Loadshedding here occurs only for an hour, three times a day. It is true that no one on the island pays their bills,” Gulu says happily.