Vehicles of two police officers  were set ablaze by protesters on the Ring Road on Sunday. Fire-fighters are trying to salvage whatever has remained of the vehicles. —Photo by Tariq Mahmood

LAHORE: Worsening power crisis not only triggered violent demonstrations in several cities and towns of Punjab on Sunday but also sparked fresh tensions between the provincial and central governments.

 

In Lahore, people burnt an office of the electricity supply company (Lesco) and official vehicles of an SP and a DSP. The DSP and several other policemen were injured while trying to disperse violent demonstrators protesting enhanced power loadshedding. Police used teargas, fired in the air and used batons to beat up people in several areas. In Bahawalnagar, protesters also stormed the house of an MPA.

The electricity shortfall on Saturday exceeded 8,000MW. On Sunday, unofficial estimates suggested that the shortage had gone up further, leading to 20 hours of loadshedding in Lahore and other cities.

Pepco authorities put the deficit to 6,976MW over the past 24 hours. They said the generation was 9,878MW and the demand was 16,854MW.

They expressed the hope that the situation would improve in about 36 hours because of a government decision to make payments to power generating and oil companies.

Pepco is attributing the extraordinary loadshedding to a number of reasons -- circular debt caused by non-payment of dues to private power generating companies by Pepco and by them to PSO, closure of two nuclear power plants at Chashma due to technical faults, reduction of water releases from reservoirs by Irsa, and reduced production by Pepco due to financial constraints and lack of infrastructure.

Moved by the countrywide protests, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani convened an energy conference in Islamabad on Monday and invited all chief ministers to suggest measures to overcome the problem.

But Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s secretariat said it had not received any invitation by 10pm. But the chief minister will be in Islamabad on Monday to attend a party meeting.

Like common people, Mr Sharif also expressed anger and dismay over the unending power outages and blamed the federal government for that.

Speaking at a function at Alhamra, he said Punjab was being targeted through the enhanced loadshedding which was badly affecting industry and had now become a nightmare for dengue patients, destroying machinery in government hospitals.

He alleged that corruption by the Zardari government was a major cause of loadshedding which could be reduced by clearing dues of power generation and oil supplying companies.

Earlier, talking to journalists in Nankana, he said he would not like to talk to President Zardari because, he alleged, he was corrupt and was keeping (looted) money in Swiss banks.

His remarks were rejected by Minister for Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan.

She told a TV channel it was necessary for any politician to focus on ground realities, instead of just airing his views on certain issues.

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