Zafar Aziz Chaudhry
However hard I have tried not to worry about the frequent power outages which have assaulted us with redoubled vigour these days, and notwithstanding the golden rules of Dale Carnegie to banish worry in all unforeseen circumstances, I confess that I have not been able to be pacified by taking it all in my stride. In a well-lighted room, when life rolls on in its usual routine, suddenly pitch darkness engulfs the room bringing all activities to a grinding halt. Darkness is equated to death and depravity in the realm of literature, because it virtually devours life which manifests itself only in light.
Shakespeare uses the metaphor of darkness to illustrate Macbeth’s slide towards depravity. Macbeth cannot face his murderous intentions and only needs darkness to hide what he is about to do. “Stars hide our fires/let not light see my black and deep desires.” In ‘King Lear’ Satan is likened to the Prince of darkness, “having jaws with which to devour love”. Similarly in ‘Othello’ and ‘Romeo Juliet’, light stands for hope and new beginnings, while darkness often personifies fear, evil, treachery, and the un-known.
The darkness which pervades most of Pakistan these days is symptomatic of the same depravity, treachery and evil for which it stands as a symbol. It indicates some extremely vile thing to have happened to Pakistan in the past of which none of us are aware. God is always just and it is an article of faith with us that He in his infinite wisdom rewards those who make the best use of the faculties with which they are endowed by Him.
Since we remained complacent in an environment where everything was changing, we took it for granted that things would change and the impending fears would be automatically overcome without much effort on our part. Since those days, darkness as any malaise has come to stay with us, with all its attending mischief and cruelties. Meeting energy crisis on war footing has never been our priority, and during the three decades since 1980s it has never figured on the top of our agenda. Political expediency, petty intrigues and lust for power of our leaders blinded us to the urgent measures which could be taken in time to arrest the ghost of a severe energy crisis which has warped our lives, eroded our economy and devastated our industry. In the midst of this crisis when life has come to a stand-still, hardly any political party or its leaders have given any viable formula to overcome this crisis within any foreseeable future? Are we destined to remain in darkness for the rest of our lives? These are some questions to which there is no answer. The subject itself has become so old that it has become out of fashion to talk about it in the media, and people have come to accept it as an inexorable fact of life in the same way as they have accepted that all mortals have to die one day.
The rising demand of electricity due to rapid village electrifications, heavy line losses, inadequate generation capacity, seasonal reduction in hydro-power, depletion of gas resources and too much reliance on imported fuel oil, coupled with mounting circular debt are the main causes of this crisis. This has resulted in an annual loss of 2% of GDP reducing the industrial output up to 37% which is unprecedented anywhere in the world. The question is what strategy was envisioned when the ever-widening gap among supply and demand between 1970s and 1990-91 was growing consistently at 9-10 percent per annum. Even after 2002 the growth in demand was not properly anticipated and no investments were made to increase the supply.
No new initiatives were taken, nor were the existing power plants repaired, refurbished or upgraded. No fool-proof policy to recover huge backlog of arrears was formulated or implemented. No comprehensive plan was chalked out for lesser dependence on imported oil and more on indigenous resources like coal, hydro-power, and other renewable resources was ever devised. In 2006 the military regime for political reasons did not allow the rise in electricity prices when the electricity tariffs were already below cost-recovery level. This led to the creation of circular debt, since the power generating companies could not pay the fuel suppliers.
Similarly the IPPs could not clear their dues and thus started producing less than their capacities. The main reason for this vicious circle was the inefficiency of distribution companies in the collection of revenues, transmission losses and below cost power tariff. Presently 68% of our electricity generation is thermal which is mostly based on imported oil and gas. Thus in view of the present tariff, it appears difficult to make up cost price deficit.
The out-of budget subsidies granted by the government to the distribution companies to minimize this deficit has not only precipitated their inherent inefficiencies in controlling corruption, wrong billing, and theft etc. It also made the energy sector suffer a loss of Rs. 104 billion, while WAPDA had a deficit of Rs. 280 billion, as per the confession made by the Federal Secretary Water and Power in the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee held in August 2012. The Secretary also disclosed that no serious consideration was being given by the government to power generation and it had yet to decide whether to go for hydel power, thermal, gas or coal. Coupled with this are the transmission losses which are as high as 22 percent. Since one percent loss means Rs. 6.5 billion, the total loss of all DISCOs is around Rs. 150 billion a year.
In this scenario, it is to be seen what went fundamentally wrong with the decision makers and what brought all of us to this mess with apparently no hope of recovery.
In this land of 5 rivers, hydro-power generation was the only cheapest and cost effective source of energy. Up to 1962-63, 60 percent power generation was through hydel source which fell to less than 30 percent in 2009-10. The remaining almost 70 percent is being filled by thermal power. Why it so happened that we switched to thermal source despite the enormous increase in the price of oil due to OPEC oil crisis of 70s which was further aggravated by the Iranian Revolution and the Gulf war in 1979 and 1990 respectively? This is because of our internal wrangling and intra-provincial rivalries and mistrust. Kalabagh Dam whose first feasibility was prepared by Messer Tiptan & Hill, a world renowned agency as far back as 1953, and later at various times by no less than 200 engineers and experts from all over the world should not have been abandoned on purely political grounds especially when it had obtained the approval of the Council of Common Interests which is the only constitutional forum to deal with such matters.
If instead of being browbeaten by a bunch of self-seeking politicians, the KBD had been constructed, it would have brought 3500 MW of electricity in the national grid which was then more than our need. Thus we let go an opportunity to exploit our water resources at the crucial time of our history for which we were made to pay through the nose to this day. We neither made any attempt to construct small and medium sized dams at undisputed sites. Needless to say that India has completed 4500 small and medium dams over a period of 60 years. Our apathy to exploit our water resources can be seen from the fact that we have the potential of more than 40,000 MW of hydro-power (if generated to full potential ), but we have the installed capacity of only 6555 MW, which is roughly 16 percent of the total potential. Hydro power is the most viable and cheap mode of power generation all over the world. Norway produces 99 percent of its electricity from hydro power, while Brazil produces 92 percent and Austria 67 percent. The cost of oil has increased 3 times in 4 years from 2007 to 2011, but our insistence to rely on oil remains un-wavering even at this stage of our economic bankruptcy.
This speaks volumes of utter lack of vision of our political leadership and policy makers. Corruption played no minor role in this rot. A Chinese firm agreed to set up a 600 MW project at Thar for 5.79 cents per unit, but the offer was spurned by the previous regime only because it did not go to their personal advantage. Their noses had become inured to the smell of oil because the rented thermal units using expensive imported oil promised them a bonanza of prosperity at the cost of poor tax payer’s money. A game which is initiated in the ominous shadows of darkness cannot be expected to give out even a feeble glimmer of light. We are ashamed that things have come to this pass but we are helpless and cannot be consoled. Thus every time darkness overtakes us, we like Hamlet cry out, LIGHT, LIGHT, LIGHT!
The writer is a former member of the provincial civil service and can be reached email@example.com.