Citizens continued to stage protests in parts of the country on Monday against inflated power bills as the government was set to deliberate on the issue a second time.
The public has taken to the streets in large numbers since Saturday over exorbitant electricity bills on the back of a significant increase in the national average tariff. The outrage had prompted interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq to take notice and summon an “emergency” meeting for Sunday to discuss the issue.
However, yesterday’s meeting had remained inconclusive with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) saying that another round would take place today.
“Meeting on power will continue for the whole day on Monday (today) in which some relief will be given to electricity consumers,” Information Minister Murtaza Solangi told Dawn.
“We have very limited space between primary surplus and current account deficit to give relief to people. But we have to do something in this regard,” the caretaker minister added.
Solangi said the interim prime minister was considering several options to mitigate the sufferings of power consumers but he could not share details with the media till a final decision in this regard.
He, however, said the government could not tolerate that the poor were paying heavy bills while the elite class and officers of various institutions were getting free electricity.
Protests continue in different cities
Ahead of the government’s meeting, protesters took to the streets across the country to show their anger at the exorbitant bills. According to DawnNewsTV, protests were carried out in Bhawalnagar, Layyah and Lahore.
In Peshawar, citizens blocked Kohat Road, saying that electricity had become too expensive even though they were suffering hours-long loadshedding. The protesters also burned tyres and chanted slogans against the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco).
A demonstration was also held in Charsadda as protesters blocked Farooq Azam Chowk and chanted slogans against the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda).
“The increase in electricity prices has broken the backs of the poor. The people cannot afford more taxes,” one of the protestors said.
Citizens in Battagram blocked the Karakoram Highway on the call of the president of the traders’ union. Protesters blocked the highway at Khatmi Nabuwat Chowk for traffic and shouted slogans against the government for sending them inflated electricity bills.
President of the traders’ union, Abdul Ghaffar Deshani, said the people would not accept the inclusion of more taxes in power bills as they were already paying more than they could afford.
He said that government was trying to save face and was “hiding its incompetency” by burdening consumers.
Kako, a trader and union leader, said that people were paying taxes that did not fall on their shoulders. He said that the burden of new taxes would paralyse their businesses.
In Rawalpindi, protests were staged outside the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (Iesco) offices. Citizens burned their bills and chanted slogans against the government as people surrounded the Bakra Mandi grid station.
“They are sucking our blood in the name of taxes,” one protestors said. “Neither will we pay these bills nor will we let them cut our electricity,” another added.
PM says govt will not take any step ‘in haste’
The meeting chaired by the premier on Sunday was apprised that electricity worth Rs1 billion was provided free of cost to Wapda/Discos employees whereas a common citizen was paying up to Rs42 for each unit.
A statement issued by the PMO quoted Kakar as saying, “We will not take any step in haste that will harm the country. We will take measures that will not further burden the national exchequer and will facilitate the consumers.
The PM said, “It is not possible that while people face difficulties, high-ranked officials and the prime minister continue to consume free electricity paid for with the taxes people pay.”
He directed relevant departments and ministries to submit the details of officers who were being provided free electricity.
“I represent the common man,” the premier claimed, pledging that measures would be implemented to minimise electricity consumption at the PM House and Pak Secretariat.
PM Kakar said that today he would hold a detailed consultation with provincial chief ministers on the inflated bills for July and the implementation of measures for energy conservation.
He also sought a roadmap from electricity distribution companies to curb electricity theft, the statement said, adding that relevant authorities were directed to submit “a short-, medium- and long-term plan for reforms in the power sector as soon as possible”.
In a statement on ‘X’, erstwhile Twitter, he said the interim government would try to provide as much relief to people as possible while operating within its mandate.