Amidst the corporate tussle between Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) and Karachi Water & Sewerage Board (KWSB), it is always the residents of Karachi who suffer the most.
Circular debt — an official tagline for the plunging economy of Pakistan — and a phenomena which many a times is used as a shield by corporations to justify their lack of resources or inefficiencies affects people belonging to lower and middle income groups the most who are unable to afford generators and water tankers to fulfil their basic needs.
“I really do not care what transpires between KESC and KWSB or KESC or PSO. I have no idea what circular debt is and I don’t care much about it. I am a regular tax and bill payer and the government, along with all, other utility providers should ensure that I receive an uninterrupted power and water supply,” said Bushra Sami, a resident of Karachi.
Earlier in the week, one of KESC’s 132kv transmission lines tripped resulting in an outage at the Dhabeji and Gharo pumping stations. As expected the breakdown triggered a stream of allegations and claims from two of the largest utility providers serving Karachi’s industrial hub.
KESC claimed that despite a default in excess of Rs17 billion, the power supplier has maintained the 'load shed exemption' status at all the water pumping stations.
However, Zahid Hussain, Media Coordinator at KWSB denied KESC’s claims saying that, “Although Sindh High Court barred KESC from interrupting power supplies at any of our pumping stations, we still experience load shedding regularly. We experienced at least two hours of load shedding throughout Ramazan.”
Hussain went on to add that “for KWSB load shedding has been renamed as ‘technical faults’, however, it serves the same purpose.”
KESC also alleged that one of the prime causes of power outages at KWSB's pumping stations is the dilapidated condition of the Water Board's internal service cables that are unable to bear the heavy power load and hence the frequent outages. According to KESC the rundown cables of the Water Board have also become a source of trouble for KESC, since they cause frequent power failures.
Hussain denied KESC’s allegations by saying that, “there is absolutely nothing wrong with our infrastructure. In fact I would ask KESC to send a team of independent surveyors to assess the state of our facilities. However, our pipelines are damaged during power breakdowns because of the interruption and restoration of power supply affecting the heavy flow and pressure of water. On August 23, one of our 36-inches long pipelines got badly damaged due to the same reason and it got fixed earlier today.”
Furthermore, KESC said that it has called upon the Sindh Government and requested for immediate intervention by the Federal Government to settle the outstanding default of KWSB.
In response to the KESC’s narrative, Hussain said, “when KESC was a state-owned organisation, we paid Rs5 per unit of electricity; however, gradually over the period of time the amount has risen to Rs17 per unit. KWSB has filed a notice with Nepra regarding consideration of the rate; however, we still await final decision from the regulatory authority.”
“We pay Rs5 to 10 crore to KESC every month, however, we also have receivables on our balance sheet and have to adjust our cash outflow accordingly,” added Hussain
The utility further stated that the outstanding dues, payable by its single largest defaulter have reached a critical point and is constantly and spiritedly fuelling the circular debt issue for KESC. KWSB also had similar complaints and stated that various federal and provincial institutions are unable to pay which hampers its cash flow cycle greatly.
It is evident from the arguments and counterarguments presented by both the utility providers that there remains a serious lack of collaboration and sense of social responsibility amongst them. Water and power are the two necessities without which Karachi and its residents are unable to function.
Regulatory bodies continue to increase the taxes and tariff rates charged on such necessary items, however, are unable to keep a check on their respective performance and efficiency.
First went the power supply succeeded by water with gas closely trailing behind. It is only a matter of days to find out what is next to follow the league of “expensive bare necessities”.
With Files from Faiza Mirza