A proposal to shut down markets at 8:30pm in an effort to conserve energy came under discussion on Wednesday during a meeting of the freshly reconstituted National Economic Council (NEC).

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired today's meeting, which was attended by the chief ministers of Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan did not attend the meeting and Chief Secretary Shehzad Bangash represented the province instead.

According to a handout issued after the meeting, all four provinces agreed in principle on the proposal to close down markets by 8:30pm. However, the chief ministers of Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab sought two days to consult trade bodies and business communities in their respective provinces.

During the meeting, the chief ministers were consulted on the national strategy for tackling the energy crisis. The participants were also informed about the federal cabinet's decisions and proposals for conserving energy, the statement said.

On the other hand, KP Finance Minister Taimur Khan Jhagra said on Twitter that the province had not agreed to close down markets. "KP has not agreed to this. It was put forward that KP will decide after consultation with the CM," he said.

'Measures planned to conserve electricity'

Meanwhile, Minister for Power Khurram Dastgir said the government had planned a number of measures to conserve energy, including two weekly offs and work-from-home for one day of the week. He also said that the government was taking practical steps to address the energy crisis.

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, the minister said inefficient and expensive power plants would be gradually phased out.

He said the country's total power generation was 22,010MW while the demand was 26,227MW, adding that the shortfall stood at more than 4,000MW on June 7.

The minister said the government had decided that power plants which used imported fuel would no longer be set up. Massive investment will be carried out in the solar energy sector in order to increase its output to 10,000 MW, he said.

He went on to say that the demand for electricity had increased due to the increase in temperature. The minister added that the government had implemented a zero-loadshedding policy in the industrial sector.

Energy crisis

The decision comes as Pakistan is currently facing an energy shortfall, with parts of the country witnessing hours-long loadshedding.

A day earlier, the federal cabinet decided that priority would be given to holding government meetings virtually till an energy conservation plan was approved. The cabinet also decided to cut the consumption of utilities at the government level and in offices by 10 per cent.

On Monday, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the government had taken steps that would reduce power shortfall to three-and-a-half hours by Tuesday.

“We have taken decisions for additional funds and arranged some additional fuel to bring down loadshedding to three-and-a-half hours by Tuesday and to less than three hours by June 16,” Abbasi had said at a press conference.

In the next phase by June 30, he added, the loadshedding duration would be further brought down to less than one-and-a-half hours and the government would ensure its management in a way that people are not affected adversely.

Earlier this month, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif had suggested taking advantage of "365 days of sunshine" and operate markets in the daytime as opposed to the convention of "opening markets at 1pm and closing them at 1am".

"Our markets open at 1pm and close at 1am. This [practice] is found nowhere in the world," Asif had said on Twitter. "God has given our country 365 days of sunshine and yet we turn on the lights in the dark to do business."

If markets set the right business hours then — with Karachi excluded — 3,500MW of electricity can be saved. "Tough circumstances call for tough decisions," he had added.

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