AN ongoing dispute between Peshawar and Islamabad over loadshedding in KP has flared up once again, with the provincial government now demanding that power cuts not exceed 12 hours in any area.

However, though the PTI’s stance appears to be ‘pro-people’, it also risks creating impediments in the fight against electricity theft, and the party will soon realise it should reconsider its policy on the matter.

It is pertinent to mention here that Pesco, which powers most parts of KP, is among those distribution companies that regularly report high theft and loss of electricity, with ‘line losses’ climbing to as high as 60pc on average on its network. This means that Pesco customers, on average, pay only Rs4 for every Rs10 of electricity they consume. The rest is picked up by other bill-paying customers across the country, as it is factored into the uniform national tariff.

To penalise delinquency in the payment of bills, many electricity distribution companies have been imposing loadshedding in low-recovery areas, due to which even bill-paying customers may suffer hours of no electricity for no fault of their own. The same is true for those in KP who are dutifully paying their bills but still suffering because Pesco is unable to recover the money others owe.

However, while Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur’s gung-ho response to his province’s electricity crisis may endear him to his party’s supporters, he seems to be taking a counterproductive approach to an issue that needs to be resolved responsibly.

Instead of emboldening protesters who keep breaking into electricity grid stations, Mr Gandapur should encourage his provincial subjects to clear their due bills and use his authority to ensure that theft is minimised. This seems to be the surest way of ensuring that honest citizens do not continue to suffer.

To be fair, the KP government does seem to realise where the problem lies: just last month, it amicably concluded discussions with the federal government on the same matter. However, the onset of summer has brought with it immense public pressure for a quick resolution to the loadshedding issue, which is a tall order given the complexities of the economics of electricity supply.

Mr Gandapur has suggested on multiple occasions that the dues owed to KP by the centre should be used to offset the province’s electricity liabilities, but while he is justified in seeking his province’s fair share, it appears unlikely that it will materialise given the centre’s severe resource constraints.

Both Peshawar and Islamabad must, therefore, find a way out of the mess. Till then, however, protesters must not be allowed to interfere with the electricity grid. It seems dangerous and irresponsible and should not be condoned by the KP government.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2024

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