Plan to raise power tariff put on hold

ISLAMABAD: The federal government seems to have shelved a plan proposed by a cabinet committee on energy to raise electricity tariff by 12-16 per cent so as not to give ammunition to the agitation that has convulsed Punjab this week and which threatens to rage out of control after PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif called upon his party to lead the protest.

As a result of changing political scene and aggravating street protests against loadshedding, a ‘special emergency meeting of the federal cabinet’ scheduled for Wednesday (Oct 5) has been postponed until Oct 12, sources told Dawn.

They said the federal government had made up its mind to go ahead with energy conservation measures through a majority vote from the provincial chief ministers. If the chief ministers of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa supported two weekly holidays and early closure of markets, the majority decision would be enforced in three provinces and the Punjab leadership would have to adopt its own course of action.

A cabinet member requesting anonymity confirmed that the special cabinet meeting was postponed after a threat by the PML-Q to boycott it and support protestors because they could not afford to disappoint their voters in Punjab being supported by the PML-N.

The sources said the feedback received from Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for two weekly holidays and early closure of business and trade had been a disappointment. He is reported to have conveyed that two weekly holidays would disconnect Pakistani businesses with the entire world and badly affect domestic trade activities.

The sources, however, declined to specifically confirm if the feedback was the result of a direct contact with the Punjab chief minister after prime minister’s directions issued in a special meeting on energy on Monday.

After the consent from three provinces, the federal government would announce two weekly holidays, business closure at 8 or 9 pm, electricity supply to wedding halls till the midnight and a ban on the use of air-conditioners in all government offices before 11 am.

Officials said the capital injection ordered by the prime minister on Monday had helped enhance power generation by about 2,600MW as fuel supplies were augmented to Hubco and Kapco.

The sources said the federal government also planned to start a ruthless campaign against electricity theft with increased penalties and legal action. Simultaneously, the officials of the power companies, if found assisting electricity theft or lenient in recovery of dues, would face departmental action.

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