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More Power to Punjab

Just how fair is Punjab’s grouse that the federal government is responsible for the province’s inequitable share in power that has adversely affected its economy?

By Aoun Sahi

Of late, Chief Minister Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif has been up in arms over what he terms as an “unfair” treatment of the province at the hands of the federal government, especially with regard to power outages.

This summer, he set up a tent office in the Minar-e-Pakistan ground, with no AC blowers, to register Punjab’s protest. He even led public demonstrations against extensive hours of load shedding and has been vociferously talking about the “Zardari gang” (his own words) responsible for the situation.

On August 23, in a press meet, the CM again expressed his grouse over the fact that the industries in Karachi are able to run six days a week whereas in Punjab the long hours of power outages have reduced the actual number of workdays to merely three or four. “This is a huge injustice to the people of Punjab,” he roared. “This attitude of the federal government shall not be tolerated.”

PML-N central leader and MNA Pervaiz Malik tells TNS that massive load shedding in Punjab has badly damaged the economy of the province. “The PPP government is clearly targeting the people of Punjab for giving mandate to the PML-N. A large number of industrial units have closed down in Punjab, rendering thousands jobless while hundreds of industrial units are on the verge of closure,” he says.

Unfortunately, he says, load shedding in Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Lahore is 10 to 18 hours while in other areas of the country it is half of that. “Punjab contributes nearly two-third to the country’s GDP, contributes 80 per cent to the total electricity bills and in return gets nearly 60 per cent of power generated in the country. It was decided at the Energy Conference to have equal amount of load shedding throughout the country. The decision obviously has not been implemented,” he says.

Officials at Pepco and Wapda confirm recovery of bills is higher in Punjab yet it faces more load shedding than other parts of the country. “We don’t manage power outages on the provincial level. It is handled by the distribution companies. Fortunately or not, five out of ten power distribution companies fall in the Punjab province while only one in KPK, Balochistan and Fata and three, including KESC, in Sindh. Punjab consumes most electricity as it has maximum number of consumers,” Ejaz Rafiq Qureshi, consultant to Pepco tells TNS.

According to data compiled by Pepco, Punjab consumed 68 per cent of total electricity generated in the country in 2011. Lesco consumes 21 per cent of total electricity, Fesco 16 per cent, Mepco 16 per cent, Gepco 10 per cent, Iesco 2 per cent, Balochistan 6 per cent, Sindh 12 per cent sans KESC, and KPK 16 per cent. “Pepco follows a simple power distribution formula. Earlier, we used to distribute shortfall among the distribution companies according to their share in power consumption, but after the Punjab government’s criticism, we modified the formula. Now we distribute the generated electricity among companies according to their share,” says Qureshi, adding Pepco does give some direction to distribution companies regarding load management.

“We recommend the companies to not cut power to industries for more than six hours a day. We also direct them to cut more power in rural areas than urban. So, the companies like Gesco and Pesco, where we have more small industries, face fewer hours of load shedding. Half of Lesco’s load is consumed by the Lahore city alone, therefore it faces comparatively more load shedding,” he says.

Another objection raised by Punjab is that it records the least electricity theft when it boasts of the highest electricity bill recovery ratio.

Presently, the private and public sector owes bills worth Rs400 billion. “It also includes bills of current month which usually are around Rs100 billion so even if we minus this figure Rs300 billion are still to be paid to the distribution companies by the public and private consumers. We have to pay almost the same amount to PSO which means there is no money at all to invest in new generation projects and infrastructure restructure or expansion. It is true that recovery from Punjab is the best while Sindh province, without KESC, is a defaulter of Rs50 billion, Fata with Rs25 billion is second among the provinces and territories,” says a senior official of ministry of water and power.

Fesco recovers 99.8 per cent in bills, Gepco 98.8 per cent, Lesco 98 per cent, Iesco 98 per cent, Mepco 95 per cent, Sepco 51 per cent, Hepco 59.1 per cent, KESC (which is a private entity) 85.6 per cent, Pesco 78.4 per cent and Qesco 41 per cent.

Pepco records 35 per cent in line losses, Hepco 34 per cent, Qepco 18 per cent, Lesco 13 per cent, Gepco 12 per cent, Fesco 11 per cent and Iesco 10 per cent. So, it demands that power should be distributed according to bill recovery ratio.

The officials at the ministry of water and power and Wapda confirm the figures but think it is impossible to match electricity distribution with bills recovery. They say that the 18th Amendment clearly mentions that the first right on the resources will rest with the province. Accordingly, Balochistan and Sindh have the first right on electricity produced by natural gas and KPK and Kashmir on hydel power. But they still distribute electricity according to the share in consumption.

Two months ago, too ensure electricity is divided among companies according to the formula, the minister for water and power appointed two representatives from every distributing company in the central electricity distribution controlling center at National Power Construction Company (NPCC) that calculates daily generation and distribution of electricity — “to make this process more transparent. We have also invited the Punjab government to send one of its representatives to oversee the process,” a senior official at the ministry of water and power tells TNS.

He adds that during the last 10 years more than 67,000 villages have been electrified in Pakistan —“Even though we have not expanded the generation capacity and infrastructure at the same speed”.

In Bangladesh, an overwhelming majority of villages is lit with solar power. It generates only 4500 mega watts of electricity while in Pakistan 1300-1500 mega watts of electricity is produced and still the country faces outages. We haven’t expanded our consumer base according to a plan,” he says.

A member of board of governors of Lesco tells TNS that electricity and load shedding formula is simple: “We receive a fax every day about total generation of electricity and Lesco’s share. We have also drafted a load shedding policy. But, because Lesco has the maximum number of load shedding exempted feeders, it becomes tough to enforce the load shedding policy. It is also true that in Lahore line losses are around 13 per cent while in Qesco they are around 40 per cent. But when it is translated in money terms, Lesco’s share becomes more than Qesco because it consumes only one-fourth of the power Lesco consumes,” he says.

After the 18th Amendment, the provincial governments have the power to formulate energy policy and can generate electricity. “We have met senior officials of the Punjab government several times, they are least interested in constructing electricity generating projects,” he says.

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