As deaths due to heat exhaustion continued to multiply in Karachi on Wednesday, the main opposition parties – the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf – rejected outright the federal government’s stance on the weather-induced miseries of Karachiites worsened by frequent, long-hour blackouts.
Despite briefing federal lawmakers in detail on the existing electricity distribution mechanism in the country, Minister for Defence and Water and Power Khawaja Asif was unable to satisfy the opposition in the National Assembly.
The house had adopted a motion moved by Asif to discuss the situation emerging from the electricity crisis in the country, particularly in its commercial hub. But as he lamented the deaths in Karachi due to heat, the minister, in his speech, tried to absolve the federal government of responsibility.
“K-Electric, not the federal government, is responsible for supplying electricity to Sindh,” Asif said. He added that the deaths in Karachi were caused by the heatwave and had nothing to do with the power shortfall in the country.
Read: Govt should take over K-Electric: Khursheed Shah
The minister’s statement drew sharp criticism from the opposition.
“This is no time for politics,” Leader of Opposition Khursheed Shah said addressing Asif. “I am in pain today. People are dying and there is no water available to even bathe the bodies. But you are blaming the provincial government.”
Shah chastised Asif for what he called ‘criticism for the sake of criticism’. “[Minister of State for Water and Power] Abid Sher Ali is a child, but you [Asif] are an educated man,” he said, asking the federal minister to explain where was the 24,000MW of electricity he had promised to add to the national grid.
The opposition leader urged the government to take over K-Electric in order to resolve the crisis. “Deaths due to heat in Karachi have become a national issue. The time has come for you [the federal government] to take over K-Electric. The PPP will support the move,” he added.
In response to Asif’s claim that there was a shortfall of almost 3,000MW in the country, Shah alleged K-Electric had a lot of surplus electricity which it was not providing to Karachiites. “The government should stop talking about calculations and start talking about saving lives,” he added.
“The federal government promised to end load-shedding in three months, then six months, then one year … now you say it will take two years,” Shah said, calling on the Centre to admit its failure.
“The government has failed to fulfill its promise to provide electricity to people during Ramazan,” he told reporters outside the Parliament House after the lower house proceedings.
Read: Opposition hold govt responsible for heatwave deaths, calls for day of mourning
Up to 15,000MW to be added to grid by 2018: Asif
While briefing the lawmakers, Khawaja Asif said the government was working on several projects to alleviate the energy crisis. He said massive investments were being made to improve the country’s power transmission system.
“As much as 14,000MW to 15,000MW will be added to the national grid by 2018,” the minister said. “Some 1,020MW will be added to the system during 2015-16, 4,692MW in 2016-17 and 5,142MW in 2018. An additional 3,600 MW will also be generated through LNG.”
He said Pakistan had not yet signed the contract for LNG import with Qatar but assured the country would get the fuel at the lowest rate in Asia.
PTI’s Asad Umar, meanwhile, questioned the status of the Nandipur and Gaddani power projects. “The Nandipur power project was worked on for three days. It is a Rs57 billion project which has been shut for a year,” he said.
He threw his weight behind the opposition leader and lashed out at Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. “People are dying in Karachi and the Punjab chief minister, whose family is in power, is throwing Iftar parties,” Umar said. “Look beyond your friends and relatives. Unless professionals are given control of this sector, we will have to witness another day when over 700 die.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2015.