An hours-long protest against K-Electric (KE) for carrying out unannounced and prolonged power loadshedding ended on Tuesday evening after Karachi police met with officials from the power utility and assured protesters that their grievances would be addressed.
An elderly woman collapsed and lost her life during the protest, although police denied that she succumbed to any injuries, claiming that she died of "natural causes".
Earlier in the day, police had used tear gas and baton-charged protesting residents of Lyari near the Mauripur Road, who took to the streets against the power utility. The police action came as demonstrators, who were protesting since last night, burnt tyres and blocked the road — which links the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and SITE industrial areas — for traffic.
DIG South Sharjeel Kharal told Dawn.com that Karachi Commissioner Mohammed Iqbal Memon had called a meeting at his office which was attended by KE officials. The ongoing protest against prolonged power cuts in the metropolis came under discussion, he said.
The South police chief said the commissioner had called another high-level meeting about the power outages on Wednesday (tomorrow).
Subsequently, the South Deputy Commissioner (DC) Abdul Sattar Isani held talks with the protesters who vacated Mauripur Road after being assured that their grievances and demands — release of detained protesters, exemption from load shedding on Tuesday night and an inquiry to ascertain the cause of death of an elderly female protester — would be addressed.
Isani said the police released the detained protesters, while the KE assured the protesters it would not resort to loadshedding on Tuesday night.
Kharal also defended the police action against protesters earlier in the day, saying officials were "compelled" to take action as Mauripur Road had been blocked for approximately 15-20 hours.
As a result, three or four major arteries were blocked and trucks carrying goods could not move towards KPT, he said. He added that citizens also suffered due to traffic jams caused by the protest.
"Because of the blockade at Mauripur Road, the city's nerve system was adversely affected," the DIG said. Therefore, in the morning both police and Rangers acted in an effort to vacate the road, he said.
Commenting on the female protester's death, the DIG said that police would look into the matter if the victim's heirs wanted to lodge a case.
Police baton-charge protesters
At 11am today, police baton-charged the protesters after they refused to vacate Mauripur Road. Footage on DawnNewsTV showed police commandos firing tear gas at the demonstrators who were chanting slogans against the power utility management and demanding restoration of supply.
According to City Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Asif Bughio, the residents dispersed for a while after the police action but resumed the protest shortly after.
Electricity in several areas of Lyari, particularly the one adjacent to Mauripur road, has been suspended since 4pm yesterday, he said.
"Due to prolonged disruption in the power supply, hundreds of residents blocked the road for hours," the officer told Dawn.com, adding that the police tried to negotiate with them but they attacked the law enforcers with stones.
Bughio said that they have reached out to the KE management to "placate" the protesters and prevent the situation from escalating. He added that their first priority was to resolve the issue through talks.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the traffic police said that the protest had created an immense traffic load near the Jinnah Bridge and MT Khan Road.
PTI leaders criticised the police action, with former federal minister Fawad Chaudhry chiding the PPP-led Sindh government that "they are your own people".
Elderly protester dies of 'natural causes'
Later in the day, the SSP refuted reports claiming that a 70-year-old woman died after being injured during police action. The woman died of natural causes, the officer asserted.
In a statement, he called on the masses to not fall for rumours, adding that police were also in possession of footage of the incident.
The SSP said the negotiations with the aggrieved family were underway for conducting a post-mortem on the deceased. He insisted that the woman did not die due to police shelling or baton-charge.
"The protesters are demanding a first information report against KE for the death of the woman," he said.
Separately, DC Isani said the police would initiate an inquiry when the heirs of the deceased woman would submit an application to him.
'Over 100 containers stuck in traffic'
Meanwhile, Aslam Pakhali, chairman of the All Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters, Importers and Merchants Association (PFVA), said that over a 100 shipping containers carrying mangoes and potatoes worth an estimated Rs250 million were stuck in traffic since Monday evening.
The vehicles were en route to KPT but have been stranded near the Mauripur road due to the protests.
"These fruits and vegetables are of perishable nature, especially given the high temperature in the city," Pakhali said.
He urged the Sindh government to immediately complete negotiations with the protesters, warning that delays will lead to huge losses for exporters.
Around 100 to 150 shopkeepers also staged a protest on Daud Pota Road near Garden against prolonged power outages, prompting closure of nearby roads for traffic. However, they dispersed within half an hour after talks with the local police.
Separately, protests against water shortages were also reported from other parts of the metropolis early on Tuesday morning. According to traffic police, the residents of Liaquatabad's Dak Khana, Shah Faisal Colony 2 and Kala Pul took to the streets.
In the wee hours of the day, a large number of Lines Areas residents also came out on main Sharea Faisal and blocked the key road near Gora Qabristan.
They blamed the KE for keeping their supply off for 13 hours. Shouting slogans against the power utility management and demanding restoration of their supply, the protest caused a traffic jam on one track of the arterial Sharea Faisal.
Earlier, a Dawn report stated that people were facing 12 to 14 hours of power outages in extremely hot weather, which had made their lives miserable.
Yesterday, residents from Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Surjani Town, New Karachi, Federal B. Area, F. C Area, Burnes Road, Defence Housing Authority, Clifton, Baldia Town, Manghopir, Orangi Town, Landhi, Shah Faisal Colony, Model Colony, Shaheed-i-Millat Road, Khokhrapar, PECHS, Mehmoodabad, and Defence View apartments said that the KE was carrying out unannounced loadshedding for hours in their areas.
Students appearing in intermediate exams were also affected by the prolonged loadshedding as they had to take their papers in hot and humid weather. They were also unable to prepare for their exams because of multiple spells of loadshedding during the day and at night.
Sindh CM takes notices
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah took notice of the situation and instructed provincial Minister for Energy Imtiaz Ahmed Shaikh to talk to the KE to overcome the growing power crisis.
"Prolonged load shedding by K-Electric is also creating law and order situation in the city. The power utility should fix its system," he said, stressing that the city's power crisis should be addressed immediately.