RAWALPINDI: Iesco on Friday had to seek police protection for its staff and property fearing adverse reaction from electricity consumers in different localities in the garrison city who were out to protest against the inflated bills.
The protesters appeared at Committee Chowk, carrying electricity bills, banners and placards inscribed with different slogans and demand to withdraw the increase. They marched on Murree Road causing disruption to traffic. Police were also present on the route of the marchers to avert any untoward situation.
The protesters, however, dispersed peacefully after reaching outside the Rawalpindi Press Club.
Fearing strong retaliation, the Iesco authorities in Rawalpindi requested the City Police Officer to deploy police at their offices to avoid any unpleasant situation.
In a letter to the CPO, the superintending engineer (SE) said that consumers were visiting different offices of Iesco in mobs and groups to protest against the increase in electricity bills. The employees of the distribution company feel insecure while performing their duties, he said in the letter. The SE termed the situation alarming which may lead to law and order situation and protesters may damage property and installations.
Protests break out in several parts of Rawalpindi, Taxila, Attock and AJK against inflated power bills
In Islamabad, hundreds of residents staged a protest against the increase in electricity bills at Koral, Khanna and Iqbal Town on Friday. A group of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) workers and supporters staged a protest at Tarnol.
As many as 250 residents of the surrounding areas of Khanna, carrying electricity bills and placards inscribed with different slogans appeared on Islamabad Expressway and blocked traffic on the main artery. Due to the protest, commuters had to face problems as the road was blocked. However, later the protesters dispersed peacefully.
Likewise, more than 100 residents blocked roads at Koral and Iqbal Town areas against inflated electricity bills. The protesters shouted slogans against the increase and demanded withdrawal of the increase. The protesters said the increase in bills and high inflation had made their lives difficult. Later, the protesters dispersed peacefully.
A spokesman for Iesco Raja Asim said in a statement that the distribution company had consistently given priority to consumer interests and its employees worked diligently to ensure continuous electricity supply to consumers, addressing concerns even during cold weather, hot weather, unforeseen disasters and festivals.
He said that Iesco appealed to its customers, emphasising that it was a power distribution company responsible for procuring and delivering electricity to consumers along with providing various electricity-related services.
The Iesco employees are also part of this effort. If offices or other facilities are damaged, it will be equivalent to harming the nation. Therefore, they should avoid participating in any protest that, under any pretext, damages government property, facilities, or employees.
Chief Executive Iesco Dr Mohammad Amjad Khan directed all offices to offer electricity bill installment plans to visiting customers. If customers have inquiries about electricity bills, they can contact the relevant Sub-Divisional Office, Revenue Office or Customer Service Centres.
Customers, who are unable to pay their electricity bill, can avail of installment options at Iesco field offices. “We are at public service but they should refrain from being part of any violent protest.” The spokesman said hot summer weather was also a reason behind the increase in bills as the electricity consumption increased.
When asked about seeking police help to ensure peace wherever public protests were expected, he said they had asked the local administration for deployment of police at the Iesco offices as people were planning protests. However, no unpleasant situation emerged in Rawalpindi on Friday.
The electricity consumers blocked main roads in Attock and tried to enter the deputy commissioner’s office to register their protest against inflated electricity bills. They also staged protests in Taxila, Wah and Pindigheb.
The protesters led by representatives of civil society made a powerful show at Kutchery Chowk and Railway Bridge, blocking traffic for hours on city’s main roads and later marched towards the deputy commissioner’s office and staged a protest at its front gate.
They were holding placards and banners and shouting slogans against Iesco and former PDM government for multiplying electricity tariffs and slapping over a dozen taxes on electricity consumers. A huge protest was witnessed in Pindigheb town of Attock where protesters burnt their utility bills. They also blocked Rawalpindi-Kohat road for over an hour.
Shopkeepers, traders and members of civil society also staged a protest in Basti Chowk in Wah Cantonment. Carrying placards and banners inscribed with different slogans, they said the electricity bills were unacceptable for traders’ community and salaried class.
Trader leaders from across Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) assembled on Friday and vowed to go ahead with their planned protest programmes to force the government to meet their demands, the main one related to “cruel electricity tariff.”
The assembly was held in Rawalakot under the aegis of AJK’s Markazi Anjum-i-Tajran, with around 50 participants from different parts of Muzaffarabad, Mirpur and Poonch divisions.
On Tuesday, thousands of electricity bills were torched in Rawalakot during a massive protest. Shaukat Nawaz Mir, who is secretary general of the association from Muzaffarabad, told Dawn by phone from Rawalakot that while Muzaffarabad division would observe a shutter down and wheel jam strike on August 31, the other two divisions were yet to finalise the nitty-gritty of their strike programmes.
On Monday, the AJK government had announced “suspension” of the implementation of the increase in power tariff until the “next orders” besides forming a seven-member committee to look into the issue and give its recommendations for its final solution.
However, the Rawalakot meeting of traders again rejected the official move, terming it an “attempt to gain time and sabotage the protest programmes by the people of the state.” — Amjad Iqbal and Tariq Naqash also contributed to the story
Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2023