• Govt ‘to pay bills’ of ‘life-line’ consumers, i.e. households using up to 100 units of electricity
• As per Discos, over 4.123m households consumed up to 100 units in May
• Hamza Shehbaz says ‘ready to face possible NAB case’ in bid to provide relief
• Rs100bn set aside for Punjab Chief Minister Roshan Gharana Programme

LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz announced free electricity for households consuming up to 100 units, from July. The relief programme is supposed to benefit, as claimed by the government, an estimated nine million poor families — about half of the population of the province.

“I was told not to take big decisions without a cabinet to steer under-developed areas out of difficult economic conditions. It could become a NAB (National Accountability Bureau) case, but I said I am ready to face any difficulty to provide relief to the people,” the chief minister told a press conference here on Monday.

The announcement comes in the wake of a ban imposed by the Election Commission of Pakistan on initiating any development project until the July 17 by-polls on 20 Punjab Assembly seats.

Terming it the “largest relief package in the history of Pakistan” for providing relief to the downtrodden, the chief minister said free electricity would be provided to all the consumers of the province using up to 100 units a month. About half of the population of the province will be provided free electricity from this month and the Punjab government will pay their bills in August, he explained.

“The Punjab government will pay the bills, including duties and taxes, of more than nine million families using 100 units of electricity, as Rs100 billion have been earmarked for the Punjab Chief Minister Roshan Gharana Programme.”

Elaborating the criteria for selecting the beneficiaries of the programme, he said the consumers using 100 units of electricity per month in the last six months would avail the facility.

Within a year, Mr Shehbaz said, the provincial government would also start solar projects as an alternative source of energy for the needy people across the province.

A former managing director of the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco) has lauded the Punjab government’s measure, calling it targeted relief for the poorest of the poor.

“When the federal government has been left with no fiscal space to rescue the downtrodden, the Punjab government has taken the initiative from its own resources. We have seen this type of relief only in Indian Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan where the state (provincial) governments subsidise their respective farm tube-wells,” he said, requesting not to be named.

Data available from the power distribution companies reveals that there were over 4.123m households that consumed up to 100 units during May. During the last 12 months, they had consumed more than 1.9 billion units costing over Rs31.9bn.

As per estimates based on government figures, if nine million lifeline consumers are using 100 power units a month, they will be consuming 900 million units each month. At an average cost of Rs7.74 per unit for the protected consumers, the total per-month financial burden for the provincial kitty will be around Rs7bn.

The former Pepco MD said the number of consumers using up to 100 units a month kept changing with the change in weather: in summers, it will drop and go up in winters.

Meanwhile, CM Hamza claimed he had been working hard to provide relief to the people from the day he took charge of his office, and added that he had introduced a flour subsidy worth Rs200bn though he was advised not to without cabinet [approval] because the NAB could question its legality.

But, he said, he replied the people needed it, adding that now a 10-kilogramme flour bag was available at Rs160 less than the market rate across Punjab. Free medicines were also being provided in all district and tehsil headquarters hospitals in the province, he announced.

Hamza credited his government for what he claimed passing the best local bodies act in a short period of time and today, it was going to provide the third biggest relief in the form of free electricity to the people of the province.

The government was also planning to provide solar panels to consumers using 100 units of electricity a month so they could get rid of power bills permanently.

“The steps taken for providing subsidised flour, free medicines and electricity are not meant for any political gains, but the aim is to alleviate the sufferings of the people,” he insisted.

The provision of solar panels under the Ujala programme (launched by his father Shehbaz Sharif as the chief minister) would also save electricity and encourage the private sector, the CM concluded.

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2022

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