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Water and Power Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD, June 18: As the government started diverting more gas and money to manage the power crisis, Water and Power Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar said on Monday that Punjab faced some discrimination in the recent distribution of power shortfalls which led to violence in many cities.

As protesters set on fire public property and damaged private property in several cities and towns of Punjab, the government diverted 207 million cubic feet per day (MMCFD) of gas from fertiliser sector to four power stations and released Rs9 billion for furnace oil which the government claimed would add about 800MW of generation capacity to the system.

Simultaneously, the cabinet committee on energy on Monday is reported to have recommended to a high-level meeting convened by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to disconnect about 400MMCFD of gas currently being supplied to the captive power plants (CPPs) of some influential industrial units and divert it to the power sector for generating about 2500MW of additional electricity. The meeting will be held on Tuesday.

The committee was informed that CPPs, which were generally operating at 20 per cent efficiency, could improve production if such gas was provided to larger power plants in the private or the public sector.

The committee is also reported to have sought release of Rs26 billion to the power and energy sector to keep the power crisis at a manageable level. An official estimated that about Rs200 billion would need to be injected into the power sector if the government wanted to ease the power crisis before the general election scheduled early next year.

At his first news conference after taking over as the minister for power two weeks ago, Mr Mukhtar accused the government of Punjab of having a role in the current violent protests in the province which, he said, would be of no benefit to anybody but cause damage to public property.

Asked if the federal government considered any action, including registration of a case against the chief minister for the violent protests, the minister said first it would have to be confirmed if the chief minister himself took part in them.

He said Punjab’s outstanding electricity bills stood at about Rs15 billion and the provincial government had agreed to clear the amount and it had started paying the bills in instalments. But then the Punjab chief minister got annoyed and payments were stopped. He said that Sindh’s outstanding electricity bills stood at Rs51.57 billion and about Rs42 billion was outstanding against the KESC.

He was asked why there were more power outages and loadshedding in Punjab than in Sindh and Karachi and why measures for at source deduction were not taken to recover the outstanding amounts from defaulters, the minister said a committee led by Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and Minister for Kashmir affairs Manzoor Ahmad Watoo would visit Sindh in a couple of days and talk to Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah about payments.

“If they (the Sindh government) do not agree, we will use other constitutional rights and options to recover receivables.”

Regarding the KESC, the minister said: “The KESC is a political issue. We cannot afford to ignite another front when there is fire on one side.”

He said a total of Rs378 billion worth of electricity bills were currently outstanding which also included Rs166 billion of running defaults in the private sector. The remaining amount pertained to public sector entities and provincial governments, he said. The overall circular debt, he added, currently stood at Rs398 billion.

The minister said he had taken up the challenge of increasing power generation to 13,500MW by the end of the current week to restrict the loadshedding to eight hours in urban and 12 hours in rural areas.

“The biggest challenge at present is to get out of the clutches of unscheduled loadshedding which I will achieve in a few days,” the minister claimed, adding that computed demand stood at 17500MW.

He confirmed that the shortage was also misused by some quarters, some of them in the federal government, which led the system to collapse. But, he promised to ensure that no discrimination took place against any stakeholder. He said a two-member ministerial committee had been set up to monitor complaints of discrimination but declined to identify members of the committee.

Mr Mukhtar said he himself had requested the president to give him the charge of water and power ministry with the commitment that he would not disappoint him.

He said it was possible to ease the crisis substantially in three months. Some relief, he said, was also expected with improved river flows in a few days. He claimed that there would be no loadshedding in Ramazan.

The minister also confirmed that the Managing Director of National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC), Rasul Khan Mehsud, could not be removed although he ordered his suspension on the day he had joined the power ministry. However, he declined to say who was backing the influential official.