LAHORE: The power generation system virtually collapsed on Monday with all major cities and towns in Punjab suffering up to 20 hours of loadshedding, leading to violent protests across the province.
The PML-N provided an impetus to the protests when its workers, as a matter of party policy, joined the demonstrations. MNA Hamza Shahbaz, son of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, is reported to have organised and led some rallies.
The country has been facing severe electricity crisis for two days.
With hydel generation receding further, oil squeeze worsening and two nuclear power plants stalled because of technical faults, the electricity deficit shot up by over 8,000MW -- almost 50 per cent of the demand.
Although the federal government claimed that it was releasing some money to pay dues of the oil supplier, Pakistan State Oil, it did not happen till the filling of this report.
Two major power plants -- Hubco and Kapco -- remained offline. One nuclear plant which was due to become operational in the morning sank again because of technical faults at 10am.
The people suffering from prolonged power outages took to the streets and attacked government and private properties. A police station came under attack in Gujranwala when police baton-charged protesters in an effort to keep the situation under control.
A DSP, an SHO and a number of policemen were injured when they came to rescue staff of the Gujranwala Electric Power Company headquarters ransacked by the protesters who later blocked the Grand Trunk (GT) Road, burnt tyres and pelted two trains with stones. They also burnt a Wapda bus and smashed windowpanes of a private bank on the GT Road.
Monday’s power riots in Punjab were the worst for the reason. The crisis was treated as a law and order problem by police and rulers. All local power distributors and planners disappeared from the scene, leaving police to deal with the situation, sometime brutally.
Lahore led the protests with more than a dozen protest rallies, blocking as many roads and creating miles-long traffic jams. The city traffic was in a mess as protesters blocked more than a dozen roads, creating vehicular pressure on other roads.
The protesters torched an office of the Lahore Electric Supply Company on Ravi Road and a garbage truck of the city government. The protests continued till late night and police were seen clashing with protesters.
The protesters also blocked the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway and Lahore Ring Road.
Most of the protesters were youths, especially students. Carrying clubs and stones, they tested police in most cities, ransacking shops, busses, traffic signals and installations.
Faisalabad was the third worst-hit district where a complete strike was observed. All markets in Clock Tower, including the Montgomery, Jhang, Bhawana, Aminpur, Chiniot, Kutchery, Rail and Kharkhana bazaars remained closed.
A few mobile phone traders in Kutchery Bazaar, however, carried out their business by pulling half shutters down. Traders set up a protest camp at the Clock Tower intersection and raised slogans against the federal government and President Asif Ali Zardari.
Protests were also reported from Sialkot, Gujrat, Okara, Mianwali, Toba Tak Singh and other towns in the province.