PM Shehbaz announces solar-powered tube well package for Balochistan farmers

Published July 8, 2024
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announces the solarisation programme to the Balochistan cabinet on July 8. — DawnNewsTV
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announces the solarisation programme to the Balochistan cabinet on July 8. — DawnNewsTV

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday announced that 28,000 tube wells in Balochistan will be solarised to provide farmers with cheap electricity, on behalf of the federal and provincial governments.

The premier arrived at Quetta airport earlier today for a one-day visit, where he was received by Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Sarfraz Bugti and Balochistan Governor Jaffar Khan Mandokhail.

An agreement on the initiative was signed in the presence of the prime minister, chief minister, governor and a group of federal ministers. Later, the premier addressed a sitting of the Balochistan cabinet and highlighted the details of the initiative.

PM Shehbaz said the programme would cost Rs55 billion, with the federal government covering 70 per cent of the cost.

“We expect implementation in three months,” he told the cabinet, adding that he had confidence in CM Bugti.

Highlighting the fine details of the programme, PM Shehbaz said that 28,000 tube wells in the province were connected to the power grid but were only active for short intervals during the day — two hours at the least — affecting farmers.

“These tube wells in Balochistan should be running all day, but they only run for several hours because people don’t pay their bills. The federal government shoulders that burden,” he lamented.

According to Shehbaz, the state lost between Rs70bn and Rs80bn in revenue and paid Rs500bn to cover costs because of non-payment of bills.

Calling the Rs500bn sum a “subsidy”, he bemoaned that it was “going down the drain”, adding that the province could progress greatly if the amount was invested into its development,

“We will cut the electrical connection to tube wells and make them solar,” the premier reiterated.

“Farmers will be able to use them and pay very little for electricity […] solar is the cheapest power source in the world.” He added that farmers would be provided solar panels and connections to feeders would be cut.

“Farmers would lose out, only getting two hours of electricity every day. Now, farmers will get cheap electricity to power their tube wells and that loss [of Rs80bn] will be gone,” Shehbaz added.

The prime minister said that CM Bugti had committed to implementing the programme in three months, recognising that it was “no small task”.

“If you can get it done, we will recognise your efforts,” he said. “I’ve never seen any CM follow up as much as this one.”

The prime minister further said: “In three months, when these [solar panels] will be installed, power theft and non-payment will be gone.

“This is the reform agenda, as Nawaz Sharif intended. This is our view and of the Balochistan government’s.”

However, he reiterated that the responsibility for implementing the project lay with the Balochistan cabinet. “I am not here to lecture you,” he said, before recommending the cabinet to pursue “large procurement” of panels for the scheme.

“Here’s an example,” he said. “Suppose you get solar panels from trree or four companies for this project and pay a certain amount of money. Instead of getting panels from those companies, subsidise the farmers to buy them. The price difference will be night and day,” he explained, adding that he would leave the decision to the cabinet.

The prime minister hailed the project as revolutionary and said it would bring about “deep-rooted structural change”. “The Kissan Programme will provide much cheaper electricity and we will work with all provinces,” he added.

PM Shehbaz also highlighted that there were still one million tube wells nationwide that operated on oil. “We import the oil for these tube wells for $3.5bn […] that’s Rs700bn.

“In our next phase, we will transition those 1m tube wells away from oil,” the premier said, describing it as “a quantum leap in the national interest”.

“Balochistan is an important province of Pakistan with a beautiful people, be they Baloch, Pakhtun or settlers,” he said. “But if they’re [the provinces] lagging behind, there are reasons I won’t get into right now […] but Pakistan cannot progress until Balochistan does.”

He then highlighted Punjab’s contribution to the province, which he said was “the highest” of all the provinces in the 2010 National Finance Commission award.

CM Bugti also briefed PM Shehbaz on ongoing development projects as well as the state of provincial administration and law and order.

The governor also met PM Shehbaz and discussed administrative matters and the overall law and order situation. He thanked the prime minister for taking an interest in the province.

Security

Towards the end of the session, PM Shehbaz talked about the need to ensure effective security and action against terrorism within the provinces.

He referred to discussions during his recent visit to China, where Chinese engineers told him that they “don’t go to dangerous areas [in Pakistan] but Pakistan is our friend” — something he slammed as “embarrassing” before the cabinet.

“If you want prosperity in the provinces, then security is our number one requirement,” Shehbaz said. He highlighted how the federal government contributed immensely to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s counterterrorism effort when it was in the throes of an insurgency.

“We helped KP, which was a frontline state at the time and still is,” he said. “They have made endless sacrifices, as has Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab, the army, the citizens and the police.

“Punjab contributed the most to KP’s funding against terrorism […] we have been contributing the most to Balochistan’s counterterrorism funding since 2010,” he added, stating that over 14 years, Punjab had managed to pledge Rs150bn.

“I don’t want to be political saying this, I am happy to say this as a Pakistani. I am hopeful you will all come together to use this money wisely,” he said.

“I have visited Gwadar many times, during one of my visits I learned that the Safe City Project had been closed. Thankfully it’s been re-awarded,” he said.

“Gwadar will be a major source of income and a major global port. It will generate more income than Reko Diq,” he said, adding that China had built an airport and a hospital in Gwadar to make it a competitive global port.

“Our enemies who attack these installations are enemies of CPEC, enemies of the Pak-China friendship and enemies of Pakistan and Balochistan’s progress,” Shehbaz declared.

“We have a powerful army and powerful security and police forces. If we can eliminate the threat of terrorism, it will only benefit Balochistan,” he added, stating that this was a goal only achievable if the province cooperated with the Centre.

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