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Rs10 billion is ‘light’ amount

LAHORE, June 9: The Punjab government on Saturday showed signs of waking up to its responsibility of solving the power crisis inside its territory and pledged Rs10 billion for energy projects in the provincial budget. This was against the last year’s allocation of Rs9 billion, not even a portion of which was used for its stated purpose. Instead the money was diverted to other areas.

The provincial finance minister on Saturday spent a good part of his speech grilling the federal government over the “unjustified and prolonged” outages in the province – power being a hot issue in the country right now. And it was here that the budget speech appeared strikingly dissimilar to past such exercises.

“Punjab is being denied its rights,” minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rahman said. “The prime minister had promised to be even-handed in its dealing with all federating units on energy. But this has not been the case so far.”

He pointed out the “wrong” interpretation of the 18th Amendment. It had nothing to do with power generation rights of the province, he said, in a riposte to the federal government whose functionaries have frequently asked an angry Punjab to explore and create its own energy sources.

Mr Rahman spoke proudly about Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s role, which he described a pivotal, in securing rights for all the provinces under the Council of Common Interests (CCI). This, according to the minister, didn’t change the fact that the entire distribution (national grid), Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco) and National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) still belonged to the federation and these “acted as hurdles in the way of the provinces”.

In the coming fiscal, Punjab plans to put up 50MW coal-fired plants at six different places through an incentive-based involvement of the private sector. Also, the province, with cooperation from the Asian Development Bank, has finalised feasibility reports of 10 projects. Of the 80MW which these projects would produce, 55MW would go to the private sector.

Two of these projects are already under way, Mr Rahman said.

Punjab plans to establish a 120MW generation plant at Taunsa barrage, with the help of the Three Gorges International Company from China for the purpose.

Besides, the Punjab Power Development Board has started preliminary work on 55 projects amounting to a total 688MW.

The provincial government plans to explore alternative energy option, it would develop Centre of Excellence for Renewable Energy at the University of Engineering at Lahore and is developing an alternate and renewable energy centre at a cost of Rs1 billion.”