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KARACHI: KESC consumers protest against load-shedding

March 19, 2008

KARACHI, March 18: Enraged electricity consumers staged a protest demonstration at the KESC headquarters on Abdullah Haroon Road on Tuesday against prolonged power outages and the utility’s reported attempt to pass the burden of a tariff increase on to consumers.

The protest was organized by the Jamaat-i-Islami on the day when the KESC chief executive officer, retired general Mohammad Amjad, was in the federal capital for a crucial meeting with the federal secretary for water and power to resolve the issue of outstanding dues claimed by Pepco, which has again put the KESC on notice for disconnection on April 1.

If carried out, this will be the second disconnection in less than a month.

Owing to the prolonged power outages, prices of petrol and diesel generators have gone up by more than 30 per cent, but the rapid surge in POL prices is also a deterrent in the use of generators. UPSs are ineffective as they cannot be recharged in the short span of time electricity is available.

Hundreds of enraged activists of the JI and members of Al Khidmat group in the city council shouted slogans against the KESC for the persistent power outages, causing huge losses to trade and industry and inconvenience to the public. They also burnt KESC bills in protest. The protesters were joined by many of the shopkeepers of the markets around the KESC headquarters. Their contention was that when there was no electricity why should the utility ask them to pay the bills.

The chief of the local chapter of the JI and former MNA, Mohammad Hussain Mehnati, held former prime minister Shaukat Aziz and his cabinet minister for privatization for the sorry state of affairs in the city’s power sector and vowed to resist the KESC’s reported move to pass on to consumers the burden of an imminent tariff rise.

He called for an investigation into the privatization process, alleging that it was done in a dubious manner. Mr Mehnati said that when the KESC was being privatized people were assured that there would be no load-shedding. But the power situation in the city proved that the assurances were wrong.

Accusing the KESC of having failed to address the issue of load-shedding, he warned that the JI would resist any attempt by the KESC to burden the consumers with the dues it owed to Pepco and the NTDC.

Former MPA Nasrullah Shaji also slammed the KESC management for the electricity crisis in the city and alleged that it was tantamount to a sellout of the rights of the people of this city and to plunge the metropolis into darkness. Yunus Barai, Hameedullah Khan and others said that Karachi was generating 67 per cent of the federal revenue but it was deliberately being deprived of electricity, which had ruined Karachi-based industries and businesses, increasing unemployment and redundancy. It had also been affecting students over the past several years, they said.

Meanwhile, Islamabad’s meeting of the water and power ministry with the chiefs of the KESC and Pepco took up the contentious issue of continued payment default by the KESC to Pepco, said to be around Rs37.1 billion.

The meeting was scheduled in the light of a March 18 communication sent by Munawwar B. Ahmad, managing director of Pepco, to Syed Mohammad Amjad, CEO of the KESC. The Pepco chief had once again put the Karachi utility on notice, asking it to make immediate payment of Rs3 billion and a plan for the balance.

Pepco has maintained that the KESC’s “issues of receivables from any customer” was entirely the utility’s responsibility “and no link can be made to the amount payable by the KESC to the NTDC.”

Pepco is also insisting that the KESC should enter into a power purchase agreement (PPA) up to 300MW with the NTDC if the KESC wished to continue to receive power supply after April1 2008.

Alternatively, the KESC might opt to purchase power directly from Hubco to a limit of 500MW for which Pepco would be willing to provide an NOC and work out the requisite modalities with Nepra, PPIB, Hubco, etc, provided the KESC was able and willing to enter into a PPA with Hubco on commercial terms with requisite guarantees and payment terms, said the sources.

Pepco has not accepted the KESC’s contention that Pepco/NTDC was responsible for the KESC’s system collapse of March 6. According to the official letter of Pepco, it had drawn the KESC chief’s attention to the sequence of events, claiming that “disconnection of 15 per cent of supply to the KESC with ample notices on each stage could not have possibly resulted in the total system shutdown”. The Pepco chief has also urged the KESC to undertake a detailed operation analysis of the events to determine the causes of the subsequent events. Meanwhile, as the mercury touched 31 degrees Celsius, the KESC was facing a shortage of up to 400MW despite the 100MW increase in supply from Wapda which was augmented to 300MW on Tuesday afternoon. Despite the revival of units three and four of the Bin Qasim power plant, the KESC’s own generation was on the decline with no immediate hope of revival.