Exorbitant power bills: Emergency meeting at PM House today as protests continue for third day

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By Webdesk

Traders hold placards during a protest against inflation on August 23, 2023. — INP
Traders hold placards during a protest against inflation on August 23, 2023. — INP
  • Protestors burn electricity bills, refuse payment if demands not met.
  • Premier to hold meeting for redressal of citizens’ demands.
  • MQM-p asks govt to take immediate relief measures.

PESHAWAR/RAHIM YAR KHAN/HAFIZABAD: The protests triggered by the inflated electricity bills continued in many parts of the country for the third day (Sunday), with Peshawar Electric Supply Company (PESCO) Sunday seeking police security amid fears of violence.

Incensed citizens already battered by skyrocketing inflation continue to take to the streets protesting against massive hike in electricity tariffs and increased taxes in several cities across the country for the third consecutive day.

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar has called for an emergency meeting at the Prime Minister’s House today (Sunday) at 3:30pm to discuss the matter.

According to a post by the PM office account on X, the meeting would include briefings from the Ministry of Energy (Power Division) and distribution companies, while consultations would also be held to provide maximum relief to consumers regarding electricity bills, as directed by PM Kakar.

In its letter to the Capital City Police Chief Syed Ashfaq Anwar, Pesco has requested deployment of police personnel in seven sub-divisions including Khyber Circle, Hayatabad 2, Tajabad, Landi Arbab, Badaber and Deh Bahadur.

Agitated citizens, as mentioned in the letter, may enter these sub-divisions and vandalise. It stated that in the current situation, law and order could be threatened.

“Pesco employees are in a state of panic,” it added, seeking protection for employees and property.

Meanwhile, citizens staged a protest demonstration in Punjab’s Rahim Yar Khan, blocking the main road while in the province’s Chunian city angry power consumers blocked the Exchange Road and set their bills ablaze.

Protestors across the country demand a reduction in electricity tariffs and the removal of excess taxes in the utility bills, warning that they would not pay the bills if the demands were not met.

Traders, too, protested in Hafizabad by leading a rally from the city’s Fawara Chowk to the press club. In Okara’s Hujra Shah Muqeem, people came out for demonstrations as well. Protesters burnt electricity cables and raised slogans against the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) and the government.

Demonstrations by citizens and traders were also held in Faisalabad, Lahore, Risalpur,  and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Nowshehra district against the hike.

Political parties including the Jamaat-e-Islami and Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) have condemned the hike and additional taxes on power bills.

‘Electricity protests could turn violent’

MQM-P Convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, in a presser earlier today, expressed fears that the protests could turn into riots.

“It is the responsibility of the government to take immediate relief measures,” he said, speaking about the problems of power consumers in Karachi and Hyderabad.

“The pressure of circular debt is not on the owners of K-Electric, but on the consumers. Around 12 to 14 hours of loadshedding is being done in Hyderabad and the city’s traders are being forced to protest,” he added.

The politician said bills are the same, despite incessant and long hours of loadshedding.

In July this year, the federal cabinet — headed by then prime minister Shehbaz Sharif — had greenlit a massive increase in the base tariff of electricity by up to Rs7.50 per unit against the national average tariff determination of Rs4.96 by the power regulator National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra).

The regulator had hiked the tariff to increase revenue collection for the loss-making power distribution companies (Discos) during the current fiscal year. Nepra stated that the revised national average tariff for the 2023-24 fiscal year has been determined at Rs29.78 per unit kWh, which is Rs.4.96 per unit higher than the previously determined national average tariff of Rs24.82.

While the regulator cited the rupee’s devaluation, high inflation and interest rates, the addition of new capacities and overall low sales growth as reasons behind the increase, it was actually hiked to meet one of the conditions set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of introducing structural reforms in the energy sector.

However, the applicable tariff would be much higher after including surcharges, taxes, duties and levies, besides monthly and quarterly adjustments.

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