Sep 3 - 9, 20

Electricity is the soul of electric home appliances. No home appliance is functional without soul. Ironically, if you have air condition in hot summer or electric heater in chilling cold winter, you cannot operate and enjoy the both without electricity. All home appliances including fan, microwave ovens, irons, room coolers, refrigerators and so on are of no use without electricity. Electronic goods have virtually lost scope in Pakistanis' lives, as they cannot run without electricity. A common man. who feels happy by using fan in summer, has lost even this luxury. Chronic electricity shortage has virtually made all electronic goods and home appliances non-functional in Pakistan. The people are also facing the shortage of drinking water, as the unavailability of electricity has made the electric motors drawing water non-functional. Fluctuation in power supply has also destroyed many home appliances.

Power outage has deprived the household women of the facility they were enjoying by using home appliances at home. They cannot use a grinder, electric oven, washing machine, dryer, carpet cleaner and many home appliances facilitating their work without electricity. Every Pakistani cannot afford to buy a generator. Those who can afford are buying generators at higher prices because dealers are exploiting the rising demand due to power outage. For poor, who hardly earn enough to meet their basic needs of life cannot even think of purchasing a generator.

The country reels from worst power crisis, which has made the lives of 180 million Pakistanis miserable, inflaming the public anger and affecting the industrial and agricultural production. But the question here arises whether responsible authorities take care of the problems, the power-starved masses are facing or not? Has there been any serious effort on the part of the government to resolve the power crisis? For how long the people will continue to suffer from the power crisis?

The Senate's Standing Committee on Water and Power was recently informed that power transmission system in Pakistan is going to collapse in four years. Though the energy loss reduction programme is underway in the country with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank and World Bank yet it is not attracting the required investment.

The committee directed power companies to disconnect the supply to the chief minister of a province if its government failed to clear electricity dues, instead of disconnecting power supply to hospitals, water boards and other public utilities that caused suffering to the common people.

The electricity demand in the country has increased to 18,600 megawatts (MW), while production has declined to 13,300MW due to insufficient supply of fuel and gas. The enraged people, reeling under worst power crisis even in the holy Muslim month of Ramadan (fasting), took to the streets and staged demonstrations in different cities and towns of the country.

Many Independent power producers (IPPs) have already threatened to shut their power generation plants due to the government's failure to pay their arrears and many including Orient, Hubco, Saif, Lal pir and Sapphire have stopped producing power due to the unavailability of oil and gas. Critics say that the non-serious attitude of the government is evident from the fact that it has not taken any action for resolution of the problem after four sovereign default notices by IPPs.

"The power crisis is likely to worsen if adequate supply of oil and gas to powerhouses is not resumed," said professor Tousif Akhtar, a member on the panel of economists in the Planning Commission of Pakistan, while talking to this scribe.

The government has been insensitive and inefficient to resolve the country's chronic energy woes. The liabilities to the entire energy chain or circular debt continued to increase in the absence of any plan for power sector reforms. The circular debt has now crossed Rs 400 billion mark.

Tousif said, "The circular debt problem has emerged due to difference between production cost of electricity and the tariff charged from consumers, which forced the government to provide subsidy. The government failed to bridge the gap in power production costs and the money paid by utility consumers."

Higher cost of furnace oil forced the government to raise power tariff, but the consumer tariff is still believed to be less than the cost of power. The expensive power particularly for commercial, industrial and agricultural sectors would further fuel the double-digit inflation pushing more people into extreme poverty in the country.

The double digit inflation is actually a result of cost-push, spawned by increasing prices of fuel, electricity, food, raw materials, transportation and construction materials. The government continuously increased fuel prices and power and gas tariffs, ignoring the plight of industry and the general masses.

Worsening power crisis is going to be the top issue in the general elections expected to be held in next six to eight months in the country. The ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is bound to pay heavy political price for its failure to resolve the growing power crisis in five years. Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf is somewhat the part of the problem as he could not do well during his tenure between March 2008 and February 2011 as power minister. Critics say that power crisis has even worsened after the Ashraf took the office following disqualification of his predecessor Yousuf Raza Gilani on June 19 in contempt of court case by the country's apex court.

Ashraf's renewed focus on energy has offered nothing to the masses, according to a report recently released by the Pakistan Economy Watch (PEW), an independent economic forum. The first meeting that the Ashraf chaired after assuming charge as prime minister was to resolve the energy crisis proved to be a useless effort. The report said, "Load shedding has increased in the harrowing summer, making the lives of 180 million Pakistanis miserable, affecting industrial and agricultural production, leading to deaths and making mobs more violent. The announcement regarding provision of extra fuel to independent power producers (IPPs) was portrayed positively, despite the fact that the problem is not scarcity of fuel but non-payment of dues."