ISLAMABAD: Water and Power Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif, much milder after the previous day’s fireworks, gave a potentially heartening news to the National Assembly on Thursday over meeting power shortages in Karachi that added to woes from a deadly heatwave.
Winding up a two-day debate on the country’s energy crisis and more than 1,100 heatwave deaths in Karachi and other parts of Sindh, he said a new contract with K-Electric about its share from the national grid would be made in the interest of the people of the country’s commercial capital.
He said since a previous contract to supply 650 megawatts of power to K-Electric from the national grid had expired – though the utility was still getting the same amount – a new agreement would be placed before the house standing committee on water and power.
And he assured the house that “the new contract will keep the interests of the people of Karachi in view”.
The minister repeated the charge that the utility, privatised in 2005, was under-utilising its estimated capacity of 2,400MW and that it would not need even 650MW from the national grid if it operated an idle plant of 800-900MW.
He reiterated that some changes made in 2008 in the original privatisation contract of 2005 illegally favoured the company’s new owners, but said the government had no plan to reverse the company’s privatisation.
However, he said the government would go to the Supreme Court against Sindh High Court stay orders in some disputes with K-Electric and offered to place before the house, if it wanted, both the 2005 and 2008 agreements to show who did what.
K-ELECTRIC PERFORMANCE AUDIT: In a related development, the water and power ministry asked the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority on Thursday to conduct “an in-depth audit and inquiry” into K-Electric’s alleged violation of performance standards and licensing conditions.
A letter addressed to Nepra and issued to the press later in the evening drew attention to debates in parliament and the media as well as Nepra’s own communications on several occasions, as well as its statutory mandate to closely monitor a licensed entity, and said reports of frequent tripping and analysis had showed there had “not been sufficient investment” in improving the utility’s distribution system and full capacity utilisation.
“In furtherance of its earlier observations and to effectively address the current situation allegedly arising out of K-Electric’s violation of performance standards and licensing conditions, we would strongly urge the regulator to conduct an in-depth audit and inquiry/investigation to ensure that the issues arising out of any non-compliances are effectively addressed and the licensee is held duly accountable,” the letter said.
It said the Cabinet Committee on Energy “has also desired” that Nepra play its regulatory role in “improving the service delivery to the citizens of Karachi through better performance by K-Electric”.
TEMPERATE SECOND DAY: Contrary to angry outbursts on the first day of the National Assembly debate, when some opposition lawmakers demanded resignations from the minister and his Minister of State Abid Sher Ali, the second day proved temperate, like the weather outside following Wednesday’s showers in Islamabad and surrounding areas.
The minister also promised to follow the advice of a PPP member from Sindh, Ghulam Mustafa Shah, to keep his speech mild.
Yet Khawaja Asif, in the absence of opposition leader Khursheed Ahmed Shah, who incurred some of his ire on Wednesday, had a swipe at the PPP’s Sindh provincial government, saying it should also fulfil its obligations in Karachi like those of healthcare and water supply.
“Taking my resignation will not solve the problem,” he said.
Referring to reports of shortage of space in graveyards in Karachi to bury people dying from heatwave, he said this had to happen because housing colonies had encroached upon graveyards.
A government ally, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, suggested handing over the state-run Water and Power Development Authority to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which he said had the largest potential of hydro power generation.
But the proposal did not seem to find favour with the minister, who said the huge potential from rivers in the province’s Swat, Chitral and Dir districts could jointly be exploited by the provincial government and Wapda.
Responding to general complaints during the debate about power cuts, particularly during Ramazan, he said the government’s power generation plans would result in a “significant reduction” in loadshedding by 2017 and its complete eradication in 2018, when the government completes its five-year term.
In the past two days, he said, there had been no loadshedding in 95 per cent of the country during Iftar, Taraveeh and Sehri.
Since the minister mainly responded to lawmakers’ concerns about power cuts, the house, before its prorogation after a 21-day session, adopted a government motion to continue the debate on the situation arising from the Karachi heatwave when it meets next.
PROBE INTO TROOP FIRING ON IDPS: Earlier, at the start of the sitting, States and Frontier Regions Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch told the house that a committee had been set up to investigate Sunday’s firing by troops on protesting internally displaced persons (IDPs) from North Waziristan tribal area at their Bakakhel camp that killed two of them and wounded 20.
On a point of order from Mr Achakzai, the minister, who is also in charge of the affairs of people displaced by the Zarb-i-Azb Operation, said tension at the camp, in what is known as Bannu Frontier Region, resulted from IDPs’ stoning on the troops.
The troops first fired into the air and were later forced to fire at the crowd, he said.
He said those found responsible by the inquiry committee would not escape punishment.
Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2015