KARACHI, Pakistan, Aug. 8 (UPI Next) -- Two Pakistani provinces have raised strong objections to a provision in a federal government plan that would allow the federal government to deduct money from provincial funds to cover power bill arrears.
The language is included in the July 22 National Energy Policy for 2013 to 2018, intended to resolve a prolonged energy crisis that has brought major disruptions to Pakistanis' lives. It seeks provinces' help in ending rolling blackouts in three to four years, recovering $3.37 billion in electricity arrears incurred by provincial governments and consumers, and ending power pilferage. The federal government buys bulk electricity from private power companies and sells it to consumers.
Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, however, where 80 percent of the country's electricity is produced, are protesting the federal deduction provision. Sindh particularly objects to the amount of the arrears it has been assessed.
Sindh government spokesman Taj Haider said the province had been asked to pay $402.5 million -- more than 10 percent of the total $3.37 billion in outstanding bills -- as just the first installment of its share.
Although Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have brought concerns related to the federal plan up before a government body that handles disputes between provinces and the federal government, the issue of federal deductions -- which Sindh has claimed is overbilling -- has not been resolved.
Haider called the new policy "extra-constitutional," saying it had not been prepared in consultation with the provinces.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also opposes the federal deduction.
"We are ready to provide every possible support, including security, to the electricity staff for recovery of bills and for controlling theft," Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's chief minister, Pervez Khattak, told the newspaper Dawn.
"But it is the responsibility of the power companies and WAPDA (Pakistan's Water and Power Development Authority) to identify theft and recover electricity bills," he said.
Overall, the plan is aimed at increasing domestic power supplies by switching from imported oil to coal, then green sources, to fuel generators, a shift that is expected to produce substantial savings and increase power generation by as much as 500 megawatts a day.
"The proposed strategy will change the energy mix of Pakistan in favor of low-cost sources and significantly reduce the burden of energy to the end consumer," the policy says
The International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2008-12 says that 62 percent of Pakistan's population has access to electricity. With demand far outstripping power production, blackouts are a major problem in Pakistan.
Urban areas face six to eight hours of blackouts a day, and rural areas 14 to 16 hours. In industrial cities such as Karachi and Lahore, power is diverted from residential areas, mostly in the daytime, to commercial and industrial areas. In rural areas, there is no fixed time for blackouts.
Mohammed Ismail, who owns a tailor shop in Karachi, said his business was suffering because of blackouts just as customers were ordering suits for the Muslim festival Eid, which began Aug. 7.
"I have eight employees, and I have to pay them," Ismail said. "So I've arranged a small power generator that runs on diesel, which has raised the cost."
That is just one of many problems the rolling blackouts are causing.
Dr. Javed Jamali, chairman of the doctors' association at Karachi's Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center, Pakistan's largest public hospital, said the government recently installed four big generators there in case of power failures, even though the hospital is exempt from blackouts.
"Two or three years ago, when the hospital was not exempt from power outages, there was a problem of electricity, and 28 wards remained without power for three to four hours during the day and at night," he said.
"In those days it was common to postpone, reschedule or delay surgical operations," he added. That is now happening at non-exempt hospitals.
Shahzadi Mumtaz, a rural woman from Qambar-Shahdadkot district in Sindh province, said by telephone that her village had no power for 15 to 20 hours a day in the summer.
"The power comes only at night for a few hours," she said. "There's no natural gas in the village. We have to cook food with charcoal."
"But we have become adaptive to live life without power," she added. "The men go out for work in the fields and cool off in canal waters. But women have to stay at home."
Ibrar Ali, an assistant at a publishing house, works nights in Karachi and sleeps during the day. Because the power goes off for two hours every day at 9 a.m., his fan does not run and he cannot sleep well.
"Some people have purchased or hired generators and UPSs (uninterruptible power supplies), but I can't afford extra money for equipment and diesel," Ali said, "So I sleep for a few hours when electricity comes at 11 a.m. and then get up."