ON the face of it, closing shops early is a sound idea. Not only would the move help save energy during the stifling summer heat, it can also bring down the import bill as less foreign exchange is spent on procuring fossil fuels to run our power plants. However, while the government is quick to announce such cost-cutting measures, implementing them is not its strong point. The administration on Tuesday announced, after a meeting of the National Economic Council, that markets would be shut by 8pm from July 1 to conserve energy and save up to $1bn per year. The government had made a similar announcement in January, but the directives were widely flouted. This time around too, the reaction from traders has been swift and non-compromising: businessmen from Lahore, Islamabad/Rawalpindi, KP and elsewhere have rejected the government’s move to down the shutters early. They say people prefer to shop in the evening to avoid the daytime heat, and that implementing early closures would be bad for business. Moreover, traders have called for discussing the measures in parliament before implementation.
Ideally, in order to save both energy and foreign exchange, we as a nation need to alter our lifestyles. Starting the day early and taking advantage of daylight can help save on energy costs. But changing lifestyles is a long-term project, for in major cities like Karachi most markets only open after midday. Moreover, the state prefers to buckle under pressure rather than sticking to its decisions, as has been witnessed during previous calls for early market closures. The government also backtracked from collecting taxes from retailers through electricity bills. Unfortunately, the PML-N-led administration is powerless before its own key constituency — the business community. However, traders need to rethink their opposition in the national interest. If they want to stay open late and consume more power, perhaps they should be ready to pay higher bills for this ‘privilege’.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2023