Row with Centre escalates after Gandapur ultimatum

Published June 20, 2024
KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur gives directions to Wapda officials about the new loadshedding schedule at a grid station.—Dawn
KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur gives directions to Wapda officials about the new loadshedding schedule at a grid station.—Dawn

D.I. KHAN/PESHAWAR: A row between the Centre and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on loadshedding that had ostensibly settled last month resurrected on Wednesday after KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur issued an­­other ultimatum, telling the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco) to reduce outages on all grids to 12 hours a day.

Pesco is among those distribution companies whose power losses are as high as 60 per cent and last month, Energy Minister Awais Leghari had explained that those feeders where losses were between 20 and 80 per cent would face 15-16 hours of outages. Against this backdrop, an agreement was reached at the end of May, with both sides agreeing to address the issue ‘soon’.

However, as outages continued to plague KP, CM Gandapur — who is in Dera Ismail Khan for Eid holidays — visited the local grid station and directed the staff to ensure loadshedding did not exceed 12 hours a day. He issued similar directives for the rest of the province and asked the lawmakers to ensure the same. In a similar vein, a number of PTI lawmakers visited respective grid stations across the province, including the provincial capital, to forcibly end the loadshedding over the Eid holidays.

Meanwhile, Mr Leghari approached the interior ministry on the issue.

CM tells Pesco to reduce outages to 12 hours, visits grid station to resume supply; Leghari seeks interior ministry’s intervention

In a letter addressed to Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi, the energy minister said that the KP police were not registering FIRs against those who entered the grid stations and restored the supply. He also shared a report issued by the CEO of Pesco.

According to the report, he added, members of the KP Assembly had illegally issued orders regarding the restoration of power supply. Such incidents were being reported from Mardan, Charsadda, Tank, Bannu and Peshawar.

The energy minister urged the interior minister to ensure that all such persons be stopped from entering the grid stations who forcibly get power supply restored.

Speaking at a press conference at his residence, CM Gandapur lashed out at the federal government for not honouring its commitments to the province and demanded the payment of Rs1.6 trillion owed to the province by the Centre under various heads. He said the PM contacted him for support for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal, adding, “But I want the province’s money first; otherwise, I will tell the IMF that they [federal government] borrowed in our name and further burdens our people with taxes.”

“Federal government had asked the province to give them one and half months time and cooperation in recovering electricity dues, which the KP fully complied with,” he claimed, adding that now the energy minister, Awais Leghari, was not responding to his calls and text messages. It may be noted that on May 28, CM Gandapur addressed a press conference with Mr Leghari and the interior minister in which both sides “clai­med to have reached an agreement to end power loadshedding in the province, recover pending dues, and, address the issue of line losses”.

Mr Gandapur asked the public not to damage Pesco assets built with the taxpayers’ money; however, he added that the federal government had not kept its promise of reducing power cuts from 22 hours to 18 hours a day. “I declare that there will be no loadshedding for more than 12 hours on any feeder in the province,” he said, adding that the federal government had reduced the power supply to the province whereas the Pesco was “cooperating”.

“We will not remain silent on this issue, we will talk to the federal government again and demand an answer,” he said.

Interference in Pesco affairs

As intrusion in Pesco offices become increasingly common due to prolonged power cuts, CM Gandapur said he had told the KP police chief not to register FIRs against citizens on the Pesco’s complaint.

A senior Pesco official told Dawn they were facing issues of interference in many of the parts of the province, including D.I. Khan, Peshawar, Tank, Lakki Marwat, and Shabqadar. The official cited instances where the police and district administration allegedly escorted mobs to the grid stations.

On the other hand, Pesco is understood to have shared a report on the situation with the federal government. Meanwhile, in-charge of D.I. Khan grid station Waseem Khan said they had forwarded the 12-hour outage schedule made by the CM to Pesco chief.

‘Visits’ to grid stations

The announcement by the KP CM prompted some visits to the grid stations but some lawmakers, like Haji Fazal Elahi, had already been doing that. Mr Elahi visited the Rehman Baba grid station and forcibly restored power supply on high-loss feeders.

A Pesco spokesperson told Dawn that this action resulted into tripping of the grid, which plunged a large part of the provincial capital in prolonged darkness. “Rehman Baba grid supplies power to more than 20 feeders of the Peshawar and its tripping also affected other grid stations,” he said.

On Saturday and Tuesday, Mr Elahi intruded the premises of the grid station: a video on social media showed him lying on a cot inside the grid on Tuesday. Last Saturday, he entered the same power grid while heading a large protest and restored power supply on feeders undergoing scheduled outages.

Pesco spokesperson said the power utility would approach the police for an FIR against the MPA. Following his lead, MNA Zulfiqar Khan from Nowshera restored power supply after entering a grid station. He had also posted a video on his Facebook page.

Abdul Ghani from the Bara area of Khyber barged into the grid station and restored the supply whereas MPA Shafi Jan in Kohat also visited the power station to do the same. In a Facebook post, Mr Jan said he resumed supply on feeders about which the public had complaints.

In Charsadda, minister Fazal Shakoor Khan visited the grid while MPAs Khalid Mohmand and Arshad Umerzai visited the Tangi grid after the chief minister’s directions. A video posted on social media showed another provincial minister Pukhtoon Yar Khan visiting a grid station in Bannu.

Meanwhile, police in Peshawar’s Mathra area booked a tehsil council chairman, Mohammad Asim, and three others for entering a grid and restoring power supply. As lawmakers’ intervention to restore supply continued, locals in Charsadda and Swabi protested the outages.

Faiz Muhammad in Charsadda and Muq­addam Khan in Swabi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2024

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