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Power protests

April 21, 2012

POWER shortages are rising. So are tempers. People in many parts of Punjab have been out on the streets for more than a month now to vent their anger resulting from the long and unannounced power cuts. At some places the protesters have been violent, mobbing Pepco offices as well as other government installations, smashing vehicles and setting private property on fire. At least one man lost his life in Lahore last month when power protesters attacked a petrol pump. This kind of violence was once again witnessed on Thursday in Lahore, Toba Tek Singh and Gujranwala when a large number of people, including traders and industrial workers, took to the streets to disrupt road and rail traffic. What followed was excessive force by police in Toba Tek Singh to prevent the protesters from damaging private property. This amounts to treating only the symptoms and that too with a level of force that can only incite people further. That is not how the escalating power protests should be tackled. How long can the authorities expect those whose livelihood is in jeopardy because of the power shortages to keep their cool?

The solution lies in providing the people with enough electricity in their homes, shops and factories. No doubt, given our resources at present, this is a tall order. But the decision-makers must at least be seen to be taking earnest steps towards a solution. Instead, they continue to promise and boast, allowing their credibility to be further eroded, and adopt unpopular measures, as they did at the energy conference in Lahore earlier this month, as the ‘best’ short-term solution to the energy crisis. They proposed little at the conference that would eliminate or reduce supply gaps, and people are justified in asking the rulers why they are spending millions on lecturing them on the austere use of power. Going forward, the electricity crunch is projected to increase. So are the power protests. There is no guarantee the protesters will not turn even more violent, and the government will have no one to blame but itself.