LAHORE/PESHAWAR: Prolonged power outages triggered by well over 50 per cent shortfall for common consumers, coupled with hot and humid weather, pushed people over the edge, besetting major part of the country with violent protests causing damage to official and private property in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The urban areas suffered 12 to 14 hours of loadshedding on Monday and rural feeders faced up to 18 hours of power cuts as one of Chashma Nuclear Power Plants and three plants in Muzaffargarh (AES Lalpir, PakGen and Kapco) remained partly or fully offline. The plants had been damaged by a storm on Friday.
The severity of the protests jolted the federal government in more than one ways when apart from facing popular fury it received threats from two allies (PML-Q and ANP) to withdraw support if the problem was not solved soon.
Lahore was cut off from Islamabad as protesters put up tents on the motorway, blocking it form 11am and causing tens of kilometres of vehicular queues on both sides.
The Charsadda-Peshawar road was blocked at River Kabul.
Pepco offices were attacked in Islamabad, Abbottabad, Charsadda, Okara, Multan, Mandi Bahauddin, Sialkot and Sheikhupura and many of them were set on fire.
No loss of life was reported in the protests. The road blockades that were continuing till late in the night.
Minister for Water and Power Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar and the Managing Director of Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco) and National Transmission and Dispatch Company, Naveed Ismael, belatedly arrived in Muzaffargarh where a rainstorm had taken 1,550MW off the system and promised relief (without explaining its extent) within a day or two.
Information Minister Qamar Zamar Kaira deflected the blame for the protests on “political manoeuvring of the PML-N” rather than prolonged outages.
On the political front, PML-Q’s federal ministers handed over their resignations to their leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, citing “prolonged countrywide loadshedding as one of the reasons, as it was threatening their electoral prospects”.
The Awami National Party (ANP), feeling the heat of popular protests in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, also put the federal government on a 24-hour notice. Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour delivered the ultimatum, “threatening to join the protesters if the situation does not improve”.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Water and Power continued fudging figures of generation and national demand in a bid to make them look less pathetic, disregarding ground realities and that violent protests that marked the day.
It reported computed demand of 18,300MW in the country (excluding Karachi Electric Supply Company) and generation of 13,300MW -- a shortfall of 5,000MW, or around 27 per cent.
Up to 18 hours of loadshedding, however, belied the official claims.
“These figures are grossly misleading because they neither include massive line losses nor huge exemptions that the ministry maintains,” a Pepco official said. The current documented line losses are around 25 per cent; they bring generation down by almost 3,000MW. In addition to these losses, the power sector maintains exemptions (for VVIP houses, defence installations and hospitals), which take another 1,500MW.
Thus, around 4,500MW is taken out of the system on these accounts, but was still shown as part of generation, making these figures doubtful, he said.
Exasperated power consumers came out on roads in several cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in protest against excessive loadshedding and low voltage.
The enraged protesters created hurdles for traffic by pelting stones and burning tyres which led to exchange of fire at various places.
Besides Peshawar and Abbottabad, protests were held in Bannu, Karak, Kohat, Charsadda, Mardan, Nowshera, Swat, Lakki Marwat and other districts.
Most of the roads in Peshawar, including Ring Road, motorway, Charsadda Road, Namak Mandi Road and Dalazak Road, remained closed for hours as charged protesters shouted slogans against the Awami National Party and Pakistan People’s Party.
The situation on the Ring Road became tense when some protesters and police exchanged fire when the latter tried to open one lane of the road leading to Hayatabad. Residents of various localities placed boulders in the middle of the roads from 7am till mid-day.
Announcements were made from mosques in various localities urging people to come out and raise voice against the government’s apathy in Ramazan.
Addressing a press conference in Peshawar, ANP’s provincial chief, Senator Afrasiab Khattak, said the party would hold a conference of political parties on Aug 9 and call a special meeting of the provincial assembly to develop consensus on the issue.
The massive protest demonstrations and prolonged breakdowns, he said, were tarnishing the image of the government and it would be a bad omen for the federation.
He criticised the ‘centralised policy on electricity’.
In Landi Kotal, tribesmen took to the streets and doctors observed a token strike to register their anger against prolonged loadshedding and acute shortage of water in the area.
Sultankhel and Nekkikhel tribesmen blocked the Peshawar-Torkham highway for several hours.