ISLAMABAD - Water and Power Secretary Nargis Sethi on Wednesday fired Mepco Chief Abdur Rashid Tariq over the charges of corruption, irregularities and failure to bring down loadshedding to five hours in urban areas and seven hours in rural areas.

According to sources, Sethi took this extreme decision after issuing many warnings to Tariq. It was learnt that despite clear directions, up to 14 hours loadshedding was carried out in the Mepco jurisdiction.

Sethi directed all Disco chiefs to reduce loadshedding to five hours in urban areas and seven hours in rural areas.

The sources said the Mepco chief was unable to control loadshedding in his jurisdiction and up to 14-hour loadshedding was reported from Bahawalpur, Multan, Rajanpur and some other areas. There are 13 districts, including Sahiwal, Bahawalnagar, Bahawalpur, Vehari, Khanewal, Layyah, Rahim Yar Khan, Muzaffargarh, DG Khan, Multan and Rajanpur, under the jurisdiction of Mepco.

It was learnt that Mepco officials were openly selling electricity to influential people and industrial units through ‘Kunda system’. It was also learnt that wrong billing was common in the area. Mepco officials were selling electricity and charging the amount of this electricity from other consumers. Heavy bribes were being taken in civil works as well as for granting new tube-well and other industrial connections.

It is learnt that after the Mepco chief’s sacking, other bosses of the company are under strict surveillance and are likely to be removed in near future, if things do not improve in the company.

Reportedly, new Mepco chief, Muzaffar Abbas, assumed the charge of his office on Wednesday.

It is learnt that Abbas was appointed on the orders of Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif. He was sent to Multan before the removal of Tariq.

The Mepco is the biggest distribution company of the country, having 4.845 million consumers. It has service area of 105,505 square kilometres with 475 officers in grade-18 and above.

Sethi and her team members are hopeful that the new chief would reduce loadshedding and control corruption and misuse of authority, while the Mepco officials think otherwise.

“The Mepco is the biggest distribution company of the country with over 4.8 million consumers of whom 50 percent are lifeline consumers who use between 100 and 200 units per month,” a Mepco official told The Nation. “We have 72 kilometres average feeder length, whereas 25 kilometers length is ideal. Due to this vast network and obsolete system, we are facing high line losses,” he said.

He was of the opinion that it was unfair to compare Mepco with Lesco or Gesco where feeder length average is 27 or less than 30 kilometres. He said loadshedding was due to less supply of electricity to the company.

“We have been asking for 3,600MW, but are being given only 1,800MW. We told State Minister Abid Sher Ali in his recent visit to Multan that with this quota we cannot reduce loadshedding,” the official said. He was of the view that unless the Mepco quota is increased according to the demand, the new chief could hardly do anything to reduce the loadshedding duration.

He refuted the allegations that SDOs were appointed after taking heavy bribes and those SDOs were making money by illegally selling electricity to industrial units and others.

“SDOs’ appointments were strictly on political basis in the last PPP government. This trend has decreased somewhat, but has not ended,” he pointed out.

“PMLN MNA from Multan, Malik Abdul Ghaffar Dogar, is calling the shots in Mepco and most of transfers and postings are done on his orders,” the official said.

Dogar, while talking to the Nation, denied the charges. He, however, appreciated the decision of removing Tariq. “The Mepco was a hub of corruption; Tariq and his associates were busy minting money through transfers/postings or any other official work. Their main aim was to make money,” he alleged.

“I have done nothing for my personal gains, but if I come to know that someone is corrupt, it is my right to get him transferred,” he explained.

This is not the first time that a senior water and power official was removed over corruption charges. Reportedly, Pepco chief Zargham was recently removed from his post over corruption charges. Some say he had resigned. More details about his removal and charge sheet have yet to come.

In the recent past Ali Zulfiqar Kiyani, the general manager (GM) of Islamabad Electric Supply Company (Iesco), was suspended over allegations of embezzlement worth Rs 76.6 million.

In another corruption case, Lesco CEO Arshad Rafique and Director Operations Mehboob Ali were handed over last month to FIA over corruption charges and electricity theft.