Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif has spoken again about the malaise of power theft in the country that, he says, runs up to an astronomical total of Rs 207 billion, an exact figure suggesting that he has done his homework well and knows the “some influential persons” who are involved in this dirty game that has unhinged life. There can be no question about the influential and the powerful playing the game, either by greasing the palm of an electricity official or tampering with the meter with the help of a private electrician who is out to purvey his expertise against a tidy sum; for, other classes of people could not possibly dare steal power for fear of being found out. The kunda culture, mostly associated with Karachi and spread over large parts of the city, could not be practised without political patronage. The people in Fata and other areas of Pakistan, who feel that it is their birthright to use the facility free, can also boast of a similar support. Using Mian Shahbaz’s own words “it is time to act” and, as he seems to be aware of the pilferers, he should, as far as the province is concerned, collar them immediately to disgorge the electricity charges and, thus, break the “vicious circle”. Politically, it would not be an easy task to accomplish; the list of pilferers / defaulters would not be devoid of influential persons from the PML-N. It should be left to elder brother Mian Nawaz, who is equally eager to see the last of loadshedding, to take these anti-social elements to task. It is because of their greed that the nation suffers since their share in the Rs 500 billion circular debt is over Rs 200 billion, a big chunk of two-fifths.

However, solution of the shortage of electricity does not merely lie in stamping out power theft. Replacing or overhauling the transmission system would need to be carried out and that, no doubt, entails a huge sum of money, a rather impossible proposition considering the state of the economy. Nevertheless, the required maintenance has to be done. And then, there is the need for more power houses to meet needs of burgeoning population and hydel power stations to bring down the high tariff the citizen is compelled to pay. Nandipur and Chichokimalian, which Mian Shahbaz has also talked about, would help ease the situation after they are commissioned in nine months’ time, the schedule he gave out some time back. Exploitation of alternative sources of energy is an equally important option. But, for making immediate difference, the authorities ought to be concentrating on wiping out power theft and with it the circular debt.