The federal government has laid the blame of over 1,000 heatstroke deaths in Karachi on a ‘negligent’ Sindh government.
After being accused of culpable negligence by opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly, Water and Power Minister Khawaja Asif skilfully passed the buck back at the provincial government, accusing it of indefinitely deferring debates on the burning issue.
“The primary responsibility for deaths in Karachi is on Sindh’s rulers, though the Centre accepts its partial responsibility,” the minister said, concluding the debate in the legislative house on load-shedding across the country.
Apparently trying to dismiss the link between the deaths and load-shedding, he claimed that 70% of the heatstroke casualties in Karachi were of labourers. The rest of the deaths occurred at homes, he added.
After sensing the mood of angry lawmakers, he recalled that over 3,000 deaths were reported in India due to the severe weather conditions in the previous month.
Asif, who also holds the defence portfolio, advised the provincial governments to set up their own electricity generation plants.
Read: Blistering heat: City sells Rs1b worth of ACs during heatwave
He even accused a few legislators of abetting electricity thieves in their constituencies. But he dodged the queries of many lawmakers, who urged him to name and shame the culprits.
He said the Centre had no obligation to provide 650MW to K-Electric (KE) now, as the agreement between the two parties had expired.
Amid calls to renationalise the power provider of Karachi, he said the government was pursuing a policy of privatisation.
“We have no intention to reverse any privatisation. [But] we will seek guidance from the House before finalising any [new] contracts with K-Electric.”
Asif said that new power plants would enable the government to overcome the ongoing power crisis by the end of 2018. “Load-shedding will end completely by 2018,” he promised, adding to a battery of vows made by government officials over the years.
He hoped the Nandipur project, which, according to him had been delayed for two years during the previous regime, would be completed by the year-end.
Thar coal would also become the future source of energy in the country as the Sindh government was vigorously pursuing the project with massive investments flowing in.
Before Asif’s speech, Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Syed Wasim criticised the federal and provincial governments for not helping the people timely. He also regretted that no representative of the federal government had visited Karachi to sympathise with the affected people.
Wasim’s party colleague Dr Nikhat Shakeel called for an end to the blame game between the federal and provincial governments. “Attention should be paid to resolve the problems of the port city.”
Read: Death toll from killer Karachi heatwave surpasses 1,000
Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Aijaz Jakhrani advised the federal government to own up the mess without beating about the bush. “It is your ministry’s responsibility to control load-shedding in Karachi,” he told the water and power minister.
Jamaat-e-Islami’s Sher Akbar Khan called for an all-parties conference to discuss the issue of load-shedding across the country.
Dawar Khan Kundi of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Mahmood Khan Achakzai of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and Syed Mustafa Shah of the PPP also advised the federal government not to resort to tit-for-tat responses and ignore the real issues.
Sheikh Aftab, chief whip of the ruling PML-N in the National Assembly, moved a motion on the deaths of innocent people due to the heatwave in Karachi.
The debate on this issue will resume in the next legislative session after Deputy Speaker Javed Abbasi prorogued the session for an indefinite period.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2015.