GILGIT: Gilgit-Baltistan is among the top regions in the world with potential to generate maximum electricity, yet protests against electricity shortfall have become a routine across GB with some areas facing up to 20 hours of loadshedding.

Farman Karim, a resident of Gojal Valley, said his area had been without electricity for several days as the machinery and water channels for hydropower stations had become outdated.

“The repairing and maintenance of the power stations remain a dream,” he said. According to Karim, frequent power outages have pushed the residents into a dark age where power supply, particularly in winter days, was limited to one out of three days.

He said that not only did the shortage of power affected routine life in the region, but business activities had suffered as well, damaging the region’s economy.

Shahzad Hussain, a resident of Chalt Nagar district, told Dawn that the area had no electricity for days as the water channel to the power station was damaged.

The frustration has pushed women residents of the area to come out on the streets to protest against prolonged electricity shortfall. Recently, they blocked the Karakoram Highway near Chalt Valley for several hours and staged a sit-in.

The protesting women were of the view that in the absence of electricity, daily life —cooking, washing clothes etc — had become impossible and education of their children was also suffering.

Similarly, residents of the Diamer district — the region where Diamer-Bhasha dam is under construction — are also facing up to 18 hours of loadshedding.

People affiliated with the tourism in GB have lost their businesses to the problem. According to a resident Tanveer Ahmed, people are now cutting trees to use as an alternate energy source, leading to increased deforestation.

An official of the water and power department, on condition of anonymity, told Dawn that GB was among world’s highest hydropower generation potential areas. The government spent 45pc of its annual budget in the power sector annually, he added.

However, due to non-technical staff, bad governance and massive corruption in the department the region was short on power supply, he said.

The official said revenue generation from electricity consumption bills was only 10pc. “The cost of electricity is the cheapest in the region. Rs3.5 is the rate per unit in GB while the rate per unit fee in other parts of the county is Rs12,” he pointed out.

According to the official, GB’s electricity revenue from consumers was Rs40 million per year but the government spent Rs85m on salaries of the power department staff.

Massive corruption in purchasing machinery and electricity equipments was rampant, he regretted, adding that tenders of power projects were being awarded over commission and bribe.

Due to the purchase of cheap machinery and substandard material, the power stations had become outdated and could not produce enough electricity, he added.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2018

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