People go violent in Lahore as protests continue against inflated electricity bills

Published August 28, 2023
Citizens stage a protest against inflated power bills in Lahore on Sunday. — DawnNewsTV
Citizens stage a protest against inflated power bills in Lahore on Sunday. — DawnNewsTV

LAHORE: While the widespread public protests have been going for the last many days across Punjab like the rest of the country, the furious people have started getting violent as they attacked power distribution companies’ officials in multiple incidents on Sunday. Many of the Lesco team members received serious injuries in the attacks in various parts of the company’s jurisdictions across Lahore, Kasur, Okara, Sheikhupura and Nankana Sahib districts, according to an official of the company.

In parts of Lahore and adjoining Kasur district, the protesters attacked the Lesco teams, scuffled with officials and injured them while reacting to being pushed to pay either on the pretext of non-payment of bills or electricity theft.

In the provincial capital, many such incidents of violence against officials were reported. In the first incident, a shopkeeper at the Shah Alam Market’s Moti Masjid Chowk attacked the Lesco team along with his brother and some locals. They thrashed the team members and injured the meter reader, Rana Imran, seriously who had to be hospitalised. The power company, however, alleged that the shopkeeper was involved in power theft. Another such incident took place at Tajpura (Madina Town) where a consumer, namely Mahmood alias Laalu, opened fire on the Lesco recovery team. As a result, a Lesco official, identified as Raja Amir, was shot. He was also shifted to hospital where he survived. The third incident was reported at Kasur where owners of an ice factory scuffled with the Lesco team. They hurled life threats at the officials. The fourth incident took place at Hamza Town’s Green Cap Society where the consumers injured the line superintendent, Waris, seriously.

“Criminal cases have also been registered against those involved in attacking Lesco teams,” he added.

Attacks on Lesco officials, injuries reported in incidents in Lahore, Kasur

Meanwhile, a number of consumers in various parts of Lahore, including Harbanspura, Shahdara, Wahdat Road and Ichhra, staged protest demonstrations against the massive increase in the power tariff and extra taxes on the bills. At Bhatta Chowk, they burnt their bills of the current month, refusing to pay them. The protesters, including women and children, were carrying placards and banners inscribed with the demands to abolish taxes on bills and cut in power tariff according to the income of the poor.

“In ongoing critical situation, we don’t have the financial capacity to pay huge electricity bills and run the rest of our domestic affairs,” complained a consumer while talking to Dawn.

On the other hand, the Lesco management expressed resolve to ensure recovery from the electricity defaulters and thieves at any cost. It claimed that its teams were attacked in various areas during the last few days, resulting in serious injuries to some officials.

“Due to high bills, the consumers have been left with no option but to either avoid paying bills or start stealing electricity through various means. That’s why, they, already irritated by such a situation, have even started thrashing the Lesco teams visiting their areas either to recover dues or control the theft,” an official source in Lecso said while talking to Dawn.

“You will see a fast increase in the power theft, number of bills defaulters, recovery operations and violence against the officials by the angry consumers in the days ahead,” the official, requesting anonymity, expressed fear, suggesting to the government to immediately approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and try to get its approval to give some relief to the power consumers, especially those using electricity up to 300 units.

According to a report shared with the media, the Lesco admin has also accelerated its drive to recover the dues from the public sector defaulting companies and departments. The Lesco teams, in recent days, recovered Rs300m from various town administrations, Rs320m from Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa), over Rs38m from PIC, Rs8.5m from the Drugs Testing Laboratory Punjab, Rs937,885 from the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), Rs1.3m from the public health institute, Rs627,677 from the Amiruddin Medical College, Rs14m from office of advocate general, Rs2.3m from public health department, Rs1.8m from the Punjab Highways Department, Rs297,619 from the local government department, Rs145,642 from the special children school and Rs120,650 from the consumer court.

The company, on complaints, suspended a meter reader and removed an executive engineer from his post.

JAMAAT-I-ISLAMI: Jamaat-i-Islami emir Sirajul Haq has announced a nationwide strike on Sept 2 (Saturday) against the inflated electricity bills, warning the government to take back the recent hike in power tariff or be ready to face the wrath of the masses.

Addressing a ceremony held here on Sunday to commemorate the 82nd foundation day of the JI, Mr Haq said the party’s strike and protests would be peaceful and appealed to the people to raise a voice against injustice and actively participate in protests. He said the JI would organise protests in front of the offices of the power utilities if the government kept showing stubbornness.

The JI emir said the prevailing inflation was a direct consequence of the flawed economic policies of the former governments of the PDM, the PPP and the PTI.

The former rulers, he said, entered into an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, laying landmines for the masses. Tragically, he said, it was the underprivileged segments of society that continued to shoulder the burdens generated by the opulent lifestyles of the ruling elite, often at the expense of the nation’s resources.

Mr Haq lamented that certain families who were beneficiaries of the British Raj, persisted to rule the country even after 75 years of independence. The military establishment, he said, always lent support to feudalistic and corrupt dynasties while the rulers established offshore entities and amassed properties, safeguarding the future of their own generations while damaging the aspirations and dreams of the nation.

This state of affairs, he argued, eroded the nation’s promise for a better future.

“The poor are unable to bear the burden of inflated bills. We will observe a strike and also hold peaceful protest demonstrations in front of the Wapda offices. We will force the government to take back the decision aimed at targeting the poverty-stricken masses at the behest of the IMF.”

The JI chief highlighted that the pursuit of peace and the equitable dispensation of justice stood as formidable challenges. Over the past seven decades, he said, the governments of the so-called democratic parties and military dictators prioritised safeguarding their own interests at the cost of the nation’s welfare and the greater good of the country.

In light of these realities, he appealed to people to exercise caution and refrain from placing further trust in these entities. Instead, he advocated for the choice of capable and principled leadership, urging the masses to shun established parties that stood exposed.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2023

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