GEPCO, Gujranwala Electric Power Company becomes an utter failure, sparking the protests, shutdowns, agitational sit-ins and besiege of Gepco offices due to unscheduled, criminal and fatal load shedding and power outages that has reached to 22 hours a day (The Nation, 2011). After remaining out of powers at all the hours, people went berserk to stage mass protests crying anti-government slogans, burning tyres, blocking roads, sitting in, and whatnot (GEO Television, 2011).
On Saturday, October 02, 2011, Gepco has not provided the electricity to any area of Gujranwala Division more than one hour after four to six hours’ power outage. This days’ total time of power cut has reached 22 hours. The series of this massive power cut commences about ten days ago when Gepco has increased the load shedding timing to 18 hours a day, then 20 hours a day, finally touching 22 hours a day now. Power cut was 16 hours a day on September 28, 2011 when Mr. Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, The President of Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) states,
“16 hours unscheduled load shedding had crippled the industrial activities and the export industry of Sialkot is on the verge of collapse” (Daily The Nation, 2011).
He said the electricity situation was damaging the export industry of Sialkot, which produces against orders and delay results in cancellation of orders. We have time and again appealed that the authorities must realize the special status of Sialkot industry and extend favour and cooperation so that hard earned foreign orders are not disturbed but no one pays heed,” he lamented and added that no option had been left for the public and the industry but to protest against the ‘forced’ load shedding.
Mustafa Ch. said that it was very unfortunate that high ups including Chief Executive Officer Gujranwala Electric Power Company (Gepco) authorities concerned had switched off their mobile phones and reluctant to attend telephone calls on land lines.
He expressed deep concern about the woes of Sialkot industry due to acute power crisis and said that the authorities concerned had been repeatedly requested to provide a 200 MW power to Sialkot keeping in view its exclusive status of being the only export industrial city of Pakistan. Damage to exports would not only cause irreparable harm to the economy only but it will create unemployment and crime rate. He demanded the authorities concerned to work on war footing to bring an end to the massive power outages, as its criminal negligence is adding fuel to the fire besides mounting annoyance in the public.
On October 02, 2011, Traders observed complete shutdown in wake of the worst ever power loadshedding in Sialkot on the appeal of Markazi Anjuman Tajran. The district is facing 20-hour power outages daily. The traders kept their shops closed and staged a protest demonstration at the Allama Iqbal Chowk. The traders were wearing black arm bandages and also carrying banners and placards. They chanted anti-government and anti-Gepco slogans. The protesters also burnt tyres on roads and kept the traffic our of gear on various inter-city roads. They also warned to besiege all the Gepco offices in Sialkot on Sunday and Monday, besides, staging sit-ins.
Talking to the newsmen on this occasion, Anjuman President Ghulam Mujtaba said that the perturbed traders would not pay their electricity bills as a protest against the “unending” and unscheduled loadshedding of electricity in Sialkot. He strongly condemned the stepped up duration of power load shedding, saying Sialkot based SMEs were unable to adopt the alternative ways for getting electricity (Daily The Nation, 2011). Sialkot industries were suffering great financial loss of millions of rupees daily, as the exporters were unable to ensure the timely dispatch of their export consignments to their foreign destinations. Situation is identical all over Punjab and “to add injury to the anguish, police swooped upon the protesters and indiscriminately charged them with batons. They stopped breaking batons on the already broken backs of the poor protestors only to cop 7 of them to populate the lockups” (GEO Television, 2011).
PPP Government and The Gepco politics
Instead of focusing on the betterment of supply and generation, Gepco’s management is busy into the internal filthy politics of power. On September 08, 2011, The Gujranwala Electric Power Company’s board of directors on Wednesday appointed a junior chief engineer as company CEO in sheer violation of the seniority principal. According to the seniority list, now available with TheNation, Mehboob Alam is at 28 down on it. It includes 13 general managers (one rank senior to chief engineer) and 15 chief engineers in the country’s power sector (Daily The Nation, 2011).The post of CEO in a power distribution company is only meant for a general manager working anywhere in the power sector. The senior officers of the Pepco are terming the decision, made by the PPP-led government, as another step forward to appoint its blue-eyed persons on important professional posts by ignoring the merit policy.Gepco’s CEO, one amongst the eight DISCOs running under the Pepco, belongs to the city of Lala Mosa and his appointment is backed by the Kaira family. It was also learnt that the Gepco board of directors chairman Hassan Javid is the nephew of Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar.
Earlier, the Pepco MD had issued a letter (bearing number 25400-504/MDP/DD (CM)-1/PT-03) on June 1, 2011 appointing Mehboob Alam as the CEO on “current charge basis”. Senior general manager Muhammad Ilyas Sheikh was looking after the post. Another general manager, Mr Ilyas, took the matter to the Lahore High Court. Meanwhile, the Gepco board of directors passed a resolution in favour of CEO Mehboob Alam on June 13, 2011. However, the court in its verdict on June 21 suspended this resolution and directed the Board for inviting ‘recommendations of the authorities concerned and experts in the power sector for names of competent professionals for the appointment as CEO of the Gepco.’ Mr. Mehboob, however, continued working as the company’s chief. Ilyas Sheikh, saying Mehboob Alam was fully aware of the court order, then filed a contempt of court petition in the LHC. The LHC, on August 19, by disposing of the contempt of court petition, declared that Mr. Mehboob ‘cannot continue to function as the CEO’. However, bypassing the orders of the court, Mr. Mehboob continued working as the CEO. Mr. Mehboob, after the court verdict on August 19, approved a posting order in the Gepco and also attended a board of directors meeting on August 23 in the capacity of the Gepco’s CEO.
On Wednesday (Sept 07), the Gepco board of directors held a meeting on a one-point agenda and appointed Mehboob Alam as the CEO for the third time. This, say the insiders, has been done against the procedure ordered by the LHC and without following a general process for appointing a company head. A senior officer of the Pepco said the board of directors “should have advertised the post [of CEO], sought recommendations of experts in the power sector in order to appoint an appropriate person on this key post”. The officer added that the appointment of Mr. Alam was totally on political basis, which could further create a row of disappointment among the senior officers and could increase the problems, which the power sector was already facing, the officer added.
It is not the only story, rather, The ruling Pakistan People’s Party’s strongholds – Larkana, Dadu, and Sukkur – top in electricity theft as influential people in these areas are reportedly involved in influencing Wapda staff to stay away from taking any legal action against power pilferers (Cheema, 2011). Line losses in Sukkur Electric Power Company are reported to be 40 per cent more than any other distribution company. It is also pertinent to mention here when Hyderabad and Sukkur were one unit, the losses were 38 per cent. Separating Sukkur region from Hyderabad proved good for the HESCO region as they became able to prove that they were not that much involved in power theft.
The second in the list of line losses is Peshawar Electric Supply Company (PESCO). It is pertinent to mention here that in the case of PESCO militancy is the main reason in many areas as due to law and order situation and loose administrative control, the Wapda staff could not move to these areas to take action against the people involved in pilfering power (Cheema, 2011). Third in the line is KESC in Karachi, another PPP stronghold, where the line losses are ranging between 36 to 38 per cent and again under a safe estimate over 50 per cent of these line losses actually fall in the purview of power theft. Over 50 per cent shown as line losses, was actually power theft, being done by the people under the political patronage of the ruling elite of the area. Poor people of Pakistan are paying through their noses the bills for the power being stolen by the vested interests all over the country in connivance with the officials of the department or under the political patronage. Line losses for Lahore and Multan Electricity Supply Companies are 13.5 per cent and 16.5 per cent respectively. IESCO, FESCO and GEPCO are below or equal to 10 per cent that is supposed to be in tolerable limit but these areas are facing worst power crisis in Pakistan.
In Lahore, Rampant loadshedding has brought about mass protests across Pakistan breaking the back of already crippled business activities. Gujranwala is the same story. Powerless sufferers over there gave their ire a vent by burning tyres on the GT Road. Faisalabad has too been boiling with the same sentiments. This Manchester of Pakistan is a victim of 14-18-hr loadshedding and as a result its once fabled textile industry has become a vegetable deep in the rot. There in Chichawatni people besieged a grid station but to no avail, as it didn’t earn them what they were protesting to have.
Police Firing on Protestors in Lahore
The biggest victim has been the heart of Pakistan’s business.
Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) President Mian Abrar Ahmad has strongly criticised the KESC over industrial loadshedding and said it looks like that power utility has taken upon the role of the government and was trying to dictate the government and at the same time trying to create breach between industrial consumers and others. KESC is also trying to destroy billions of rupees investment of the industry in captive power plants, he added.
It would be worth mentioning that industrialists made this huge investment as KESC was unable to meet the requirements of industry and this investment was made as a last resort to keep the wheels of industry running.
President KCCI appealed to the President, Prime Minister, Governor Sindh, Chief Minister to take notice of un-constitutional steps initiated by KESC. He further said that KESC is trying to create law and order situation and it should be noted in light of PCO. The Chamber chief has given following points for their consideration.
Misleading statement with regards to quantum of gas utilized by Captive Power Plants, it is 160 MMCFD not 175 MMCFD, Industry has been closed for 8 hours. 2 spells of 4 hours each un-necessarily and in all the past years in case of supply of 160 MMCFD, there will be zero loadshedding. Why then today, gas supply is 175 MMCFD, industry is being shaded for 8 hours. The KESC by shedding industry wants to bankrupt the entire industrial sector and blackmailing Government as when industry stops functioning, Government is afraid of unemployment ratio going up, and when industry creates hue and cry, new investment also shy away and the Government knowing population growth want it other way round.
KESC want to take Government of Pakistan under pressure so that they do not pressurise for payment to SSGC and PSO and they are some how siphoning the fund in the name of expenditure, O&M import at exorbitant rates etc. Today KESC has to pay more than Rs50 billion to these utilities, he maintained.
- Cheema, U. (2011, September 20). PPP strongholds top power pilferage list.Retrieved October 03, 2011, from Daily The Nation: http://nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Politics/20-Sep-2011/PPP-strongholds-top-power-pilferage-list
- Daily The Nation. (2011, September 08). (Power)ful man gets confirmed.Retrieved October 03, 201, from Daily The Nation: http://nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Lahore/08-Sep-2011/Powerful-man-gets-confirmed
- Daily The Nation. (2011, October 02). Businessmen observe complete shutdown.Retrieved October 03, 2011, from Daily The Nation: http://nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Regional/Lahore/02-Oct-2011/Businessmen-observe-complete-shutdown
- Daily The Nation. (2011, September 28). Crippling power cuts haunt industry.Retrieved October 03, 2011, from The Nation: http://nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Regional/Lahore/28-Sep-2011/Crippling-power-cuts-haunt-industry
- GEO Television. (2011, October 02). Loadshedding runs riots nationwide.Retrieved October 02, 2011, from GEO TV: http://www.geo.tv/10-2-2011/86987.htm
- The Nation. (2011, OCTOBER 02). Trade bodies reject POL price hike, rap outages. Retrieved OCTOBER 02, 2011, from The Nation Daily: http://nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Regional/Lahore/02-Oct-2011/Trade-bodies-reject-POL-price-hike-rap-outages