ISLAMABAD: With temperature still below 40 degree Celsius, ghosts of loadshedding have already started haunting the length and breadth of the country. The most worried at the moment is obviously Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif since his party had won elections on the promise of dealing with the power crisis on a war footing.
With demonstrations being held over loadshedding in the interior of Sindh, where mercury in some districts has crossed 40C, and Punjab subjected to increasing outages, the government appears to have bent its mind to addressing the problem.
On Monday, the prime minister held yet another special meeting with a one-point agenda — how to keep loadshedding at a manageable level — following a similar huddle last Wednesday.
Water and Power Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Minister of State for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali, Information Minister Pervez Rashid and senior officials of the power ministry attended the meeting.
A government official privy to the meeting said the power ministry had sounded confident about keeping electricity shortfall to 3,000MW during summer, meaning six to eight hours of loadshedding.
But the situation on ground isn’t as promising as being conveyed to the power minister, or for that matter to the prime minister.
For example, a senior Wapda official told Dawn that the national grid faced a shortfall of over 5,000MW on Saturday. With this shortfall, more than 10 hours of loadshedding is a must.
“The challenging task for the government at the moment is collection of bills which currently stands at 80 per cent, coupled with pending electricity dues by private and public sectors,” the official said.
As of Jan-Feb, the outstanding dues stand at Rs492 billion — Rs366bn against the private sector and the rest against the public sector.
The crisis was because of mismanagement in the power sector which needed to be improved if the government wanted to keep the people off the streets, the official said. For regular payment to power generation companies, the government must improve recovery of electricity bills and ensure that circular debt does not pile up.
The government official claimed that Prime Minister Sharif had ordered ruthless recovery of arrears as well as current dues and asked the two power ministers to monitor the situation daily.
“I don’t want any excuse; if someone within the ministry fails to perform, change him, sack him. I want better performance. Cut supplies to electricity defaulters,” the official quoted the prime minister as saying.
In future, Mr Sharif said, no electricity connection would be restored without clearance of bills and before informing the Prime Minister’s Office.
A senior PML-N leader told Dawn that the next three to four months were crucial for the government. “Imran Khan (PTI chief) has already announced a protest movement against the government and, God forbids, if we fail to reduce loadshedding the PML-N is in for a tough summer. Therefore, the prime minister is rightly concerned and taking necessary pre-emptive measures.”
According to the official statement, the prime minister was briefed on electricity theft and performance of power distribution companies (Discos) regarding recovery of dues. Mr Sharif directed the water and power ministry to expedite the recovery drive and adopt a ‘zero-tolerance’ towards electricity theft.
The prime minister was also briefed on the electricity load management plan. He ordered that all efforts should be made to ensure consumers faced minimum inconvenience during summer.
It was decided that a comprehensive energy conservation plan would be developed and executed after holding consultations with all stakeholders, including traders, manufacturers and retailers.