Ahead of winter, Pakistanis brave the chill of high energy cost

October 22nd, 2008 - 4:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Oct 22 (IANS) Reeling already under spiralling inflation, people of Pakistan are having to endure another addition to their monthly expenditure as the chill of winter begins to set - the rising cost of energy and intermittent supplies.The past 10 days have also seen several protests across this country with people venting their displeasure not just over increased tariff of electricity and piped gas, but also heavy load shedding that lasts some eight hours in cities and 12 hours in villages.

“Your gas bills can increase manifold if you use gas carelessly in winter,” warned a message written in bold letters on the gas bills to consumers, adding that the use of one gas-based water and room heater each for eight hours a day can push the bills by Rs.10,000, which is more than the average income in the country.

“I received a criminally-high bill this month,” said a government official, who also participated in one such protest in nearby Rawalpindi, while fearing much inflated bills in winters.

“The bill used to be Rs.250 rupees on average. But this month, my bill is Rs.1,100 even though the number of units I consumed is less than the previous months,” the official told IANS.

“Because of load shedding, we thought that the bills would be less. But the government has increased the prices and we are being really crushed under inflation,” Sumera Khan, a receptionist with a private organization, added.

Officials said the main problem was of shortage with the difference between demand and supply reaching nearly 6,000 megawatt with no immediate plans to add fresh capacity to electricity projects.

Ahmed Ali, a shopkeeper in Islamabad, said that he has a small store to sell vegetables, which he usually closes an hour after sunset. He used to get an average bill of Rs.200-Rs.300 per month, which now it has shot up to Rs.3,200.

“How can I pay it?” lamented Ali, who has four school-going children and his monthly income after paying rent and other expenses is hardly Rs.8,000 rupees. “I am seriously thinking of shifting back to my village and withdraw my children from school.”

All this angst had led to protesters pelting stones at the offices of Water and Power Development Authority in and around Lahore, even as the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government said it was planning to invite global players to augment generation.

But with people not just complaining about load shedding and higher tariff, but also claiming they were getting more power before the present government took over in March this year, the popularity graph of PPP is also on the decline.

“What do we have to do with democracy? We want good and respectable living. But with every passing day the situation is getting worse,” said a disgruntled schoolteacher based in Islamabad.

“I wish Musharraf had stayed in power.”

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