MUZAFFARABAD: The Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government has decided to withdraw the recent increase in electricity bills and maintain the power tariff at the July level, in a move that will put an additional burden of Rs10-12 billion on the exchequer, a senior cabinet member said on Friday.

Speaking at a thinly-attended press conference along with two other colleagues in the press information department, senior minister Waqar Ahmed Noor said this and some other important decisions were taken by the AJK cabinet at its lengthy meeting here, the other day.

According to him, it had happened for the first time in the past 75 years that the Azad Kashmir government had not increased electricity tariff on a par with Pakistan.

“Not only that the government has endured the burden of Rs10 to 12 billion by suspending the increase in the electricity bills of August, it has also decided that the late payment surcharge on the unpaid bills of last month, which stands at Rs220 million, will not be claimed either from the consumers,” he said.

Move to put around Rs12bn additional burden on exchequer, cabinet member says

He said the cabinet had approved the creation of the State Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Sepra) for the regulation of electricity tariff.

The senior minister claimed that the government would provide 100 to 200 units of free electricity to the poor people in the next two to three years by reducing line losses and eliminating power thefts.

Mr Noor disclosed that the cabinet had deliberated on amendments madeby [the concerned federal authorities] in Feb 2022 in the provisions of the Mangla raising agreement of 2003 that dealt with bulk tariff and water use charges/net hydel profit.

“The cabinet has rejected those controversial amendments because neither the [AJK] president nor the elected government in Muzaffarabad was taken into confidence before the move,” he said.

Regarding other decisions, he said the cabinet had lifted a ban on appointments, transfers and postings of government servants, in addition to extending the employment period of all ad-hoc/temporary employees until September 30.

The cabinet, he said, had also approved increasing the upper age limit for government jobs from 35 to 40 years for a period of three years.

While underlining the need for a strict, impartial and across the board accountability, the cabinet had constituted a subcommittee to review amendments to the AJK Ehtesab Bureau Act with a direction to submit its report within one month, he said.

The minister said the cabinet approved to use Rs2 billion from the recurring budget on developmental activities, and the same amount would be transferred back to the recurring budget on availability of funds from Islamabad.

The cabinet also gave its approval to the Rs504 million surplus budget of the AJK Auqaf department in addition to deciding to abolish the discretionary funds/powers of its high-ups to save Rs26 million per annum, he said, adding that athree-member ministerial committee was formed to compile lists of the illegal occupants of the properties of Auqaf department and submit its report within a week.

He said the cabinet had formally approved a 35pc increase in the salaries of government employees from B-1 to B-16 and 30pc from B-17 to B-22 and a 17.5pc increase in the pensions, whichwould put an additional burden of Rs19 billion per annum on the exchequer.

The senior minister said until the long-pledged water bodies were built in Muzaffarabad, 20 cumecs of water would be discharged in Neelum river. He said earlier only Rs650 million were allocated for medicines across Azad Kashmir but the present government had enhanced it to Rs1.1 billion.

Previously, each tehsil headquarters hospital was given medicines worth Rs700,000, but we have increased this budget to Rs3.5 million, he added.

Similarly, he said, budgets had been given directly to the police stations rather than the offices of district police chiefs. “These initiatives are directly benefiting the common man,” he claimed.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2023

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