Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 24, 2015

Death and agony Karachi is suffering an unprecedented heatwave which, along with the effects of massive load shedding, has so far claimed at least 400 lives (some estimates put it as high as 1,000). This is a human tragedy far worse than the Tharparkar deaths because of drought and famine that caused such an uproar against the Sindh PPP government not so long ago. Karachi’s mortuaries and graveyards are under immense pressure because of the arrival of hundreds of bodies. That pressure has necessitated burying unclaimed bodies in order to make room in the mortuaries for the unrelenting flood of dead bodies. People have been forced by this situation to make informal arrangements in their neighbourhoods for administrating the last rites to the dead and burying them post haste in the blistering heat. Karachi is experiencing temperatures of 43-44 degrees Celsius, reflecting that the city by the sea is receiving hot continental air rather than the normal cooling breezes from the water. An emergency has been declared in the city as the electricity supply has crashed and dead bodies are stacked up in the morgues. Every city hospital has similar reports on the crisis: dozens of dead bodies and heatstroke victims crowding every hospital. A large part of the city has been hit by outages, causing rage amongst the populace that has lit bonfires in protest in many localities. The heatwave only relented partially and temporarily to some light rain in some parts of the city. But the showers could not dispel the stifling heat for long. The Meteorological Office predicts that the monsoons are on their way, but they may arrive tragically too late for those who have or will succumb to Nature’s cauldron. K-Electric is under fire for the heavy load shedding, offering the mea culpa that Ramzan and the weather have not only caused a surge in demand but also an epidemic of illegal hook connections that have served to worsen the shortage. The uproar amongst citizens in Karachi was echoed in the National Assembly when the opposition walked out in protest against the misery inflicted on the people of Karachi and other parts of the country. The PPP has demanded calling a meeting of the Council of Common Interests to discuss the crisis. The PTI made the case that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it leads a coalition government, produces excess electricity yet is deprived of its needs. Long pending royalties on hydel power owed to the province could have provided the funds to set up more electricity generation projects, they argued, but the province has been unjustly denied its legitimate share of these royalties for many years. PPP co-Chairperson Asif Zardari has written a letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asking for help in overcoming Sindh’s load shedding woes. Minister of State for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali was at pains to prove that the federal government had no control over K-Electric. His senior minister, Khwaja Asif, says if people pay their bills there would be no crisis. Thereby he is rubbing salt into people’s wounds since the government and its ministries and departments are well known as the biggest defaulters of power dues. Circular debt, which is a symptom of the energy affliction, and which the government unwisely early in its tenure tried to retire through a payment of Rs 500 billion, has risen once again to Rs 600 billion according to some reports. This was inevitable since the government’s misplaced priority in this regard addressed the symptom, not the disease itself. That disease is none other than the complacent and arrogant behaviour of the government bureaucracy in not feeling accountable for paying electricity dues, thereby resurrecting the mountain of circular debt again and again and causing the whole country to be caught in the grip of energy deprivation. We have cautioned the federal government repeatedly in this space to take steps to overcome the crisis lest it suffer the political fallout of the citizens’ ire, but all to no avail. Except excuses and homilies, the government has had little to offer in the way of balm on the people’s smarting wounds. It would perhaps be an exercise in futility to remind the government of its tall claims to overcome the energy deficit within weeks if not months of coming to power. The government’s tune has changed of late to moving this deadline to years, if not beyond the ability of human beings to count. Criticism of the government for its misplaced emphasis on roads and transport infrastructure when the country is groaning from energy shortages in the middle of Ramzan and the hot weather could damage the government grievously unless it wakes up.

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