The second energy conference held under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani at Lahore on Monday decided to remove Punjab’s grievance of a much more protracted power loadshedding than other provinces and adopt a uniform policy in this regard. Otherwise, it retraced the steps of the first conference and relied on virtually the same measures to combat, rather take the edge off the harshness of loadshedding that at present cripples life from eight to 10 hours in cities and 20 hours in villages in Punjab. The other provinces also suffer the impact of power shortage in the country in varying degrees. Expressing satisfaction over the adoption of a non-discriminatory schedule of hours for power cuts, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif conceded, in return, a five-day week for offices and the closure of commercial establishments by 8pm except for on Saturdays – the two decisions of the first conferences of 2010 it had refused to comply with. This time round, it is Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah who gave vent to  his reservations at the closing of shops at 8pm since, he pointed out, very little time was left after office hours ended. Mr Shah is joined by most representatives of trade bodies who maintain that their businesses would suffer, leaving them with no choice but to lay off a considerable number of their employees. They felt disappointed that no plans for the generation of more power to meet the ever greater demand had been either discussed or approved.

The early closure of shops does not seem to be a productively workable proposition. Similarly, the five-day week would delay the disposal of cases of the public seeking government decisions.

The idea is not to place hurdles in the way of efforts to reduce the burden of loadshedding, but to underline the point that when both short-term and long-term solutions of the problem of energy shortage are available, there is no justification for such restrictive measures. For instance, Pakistan has higher generating capacity than consumption provided the installed capacity is utilised to the maximum. That view found endorsement when the oil supply companies and other claimants of dues were paid off after power riots broke out in  major cities of the country. The conference should have asked all defaulters to pay up their dues, especially the circular debt of Rs 400 million of which Punjab, the largest in terms of population, owes barely 1.5 percent, prevent power thefts and reduce line losses. The long-term solution lies in laying the pipeline to fetch natural gas from Iran, commencing construction work on highly feasible projects like Kalabagh Dam and tapping several other alternative sources of energy. Besides using the country’s hydel potential, we should be exploiting the large coal reserves for the generation of power and unlimited possibilities of nuclear energy.