ISLAMABAD/LAHORE- As the loadshedding has unleashed a virtual hell on the people across the country in this sizzling summer, a senate committee heard from Water and Power ministry on Friday that the outages span can be drastically cut if the finance ministry provides funds on time.

The Senate Standing Committee on Water and Power rapped the officials over presenting a misleading report and sought action against them for lying about the extent of loadshedding. It also stayed the recently approved increase in tariff and directed for ending discrimination in loadshedding by withdrawal of exceptions to government, military and judiciary enclaves.

The worst kind of power outages of up to 20 hours in most parts of the country has hit hard the domestic and commercial life. It has caused severe water shortage in many areas, where an unusually hot May was already taking a toll. Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) are particularly hit by the menace.

Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala and other cities in Punjab are experiencing 18 to 20 hours of loadshedding. Protest demonstrations were held in different cities of the country against the outages. In Lahore, angry protestors chanted slogans against the government, burnt tyres and cause traffic jam at main roads at Thoker Niaz Beg, Canal Road, Bhatta Chowk Cantt Area, Chungi Amrsiddu and other areas.

Government figures for the current shortfall varied from 5280 to over 7000MW.

There were even rumours that this misery has been deliberately unleashed at the instigation of the upcoming government so that it could become easy for it to ‘show the promised difference’ to the people by just ending this ‘artificially created’ increase in outages and bringing it down to ,say, 10 or 12 hours without taking much pain.

Water and Power Secretary Anwar Ahmad Khan told the Senate committee the loadshedding could be reduced by 6 to 7 hours a day if ministry of finance provides Rs3 billion per day. Holding the finance ministry responsible for the crisis he said the finance ministry released only Rs5 billion for power generation against the prime minister's direction of Rs22.5 billion. “We have held meetings with them and now they have agreed to provide Rs10 billion on May 28.”

Committee Chairman Senator Zahid Khan grilled the power ministry officials for presenting wrong figures of power outages in the country. He said the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO) is conducting up to 18 hours loadshedding in Rawalpindi city but the company's report presented to them put it at only 10 hours. He demanded that government should take action against the ministry officials for lying to the committee.

The committee also directed to conduct equal loadshedding in the country, saying that ‘no one should be exempted from this curse’ including president and prime minister houses, judges colony, minister enclaves and residences of army generals.

Similarly, Wapda employees should also be not given any relaxation in this regard. Only hospitals and defence related departments and organisations be given exemption, recommended the senators. Officials of NPCC told the committee that if this mechanism is adopted then unannounced loadshedding would be ended.

The committee directed the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) and ministry of water and power not to increase the tariff under price fuel adjustment and leave the matter for next government. The new government would decide whether to increase the power tariff or not, as caretaker government does not have any mandate to increase the prices of electricity, it said.

Showing dissatisfaction over the performance of the Nepra, Zahid Khan said that the authority takes lot of time for tariff determination and investors flee from the country.

From last one year the regulatory body is working without any chairman and not facilitating consumers, he added. The committee also decided to constitute a committee to look into the affairs of Nepra regarding tariff determination.

The committee recommended the power ministry to immediately stop supply of 650 megawatt to the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) and adding it to the national grid. However, the ministry informed that KESC has taken stay order from the court so they cannot stop supply to the company. The council of common interest (CCI) had earlier decided to gradually stop electricity to KESC, which was challenged the management of company, it said.

The standing committee said that monitoring system of the power sector has failed because officials of departments working under the ministry of water and power are giving different statements.

Secretary Anwar Ahmed admitted that monitoring system of power sector has failed however he said that the ministry is signing performance agreement with DISCOs to improve their performance.

The committee also took notice of the unnecessary delay in completion of Golen Gol power project and said that it seems that there was no oversight from the power ministry. They constituted a sub-committee under the convenership of Senator Humayun Mandokhel that will give its report to the standing committee.

According to some official sources, the generation is standing at 8000MW against the demand of 17000MW. Around 1,000MW from available generation goes to VVIP feeders and 500MW to KESC on daily basis and the remaining 6500MW is being divided to 10 power distribution companies of the country.

The IPPs and Wapda owned Gencos on Friday shared 4000MW with the national grid and the remaining 4000MW came from hydel generation. The sudden tripping at some power plants on Thursday resulted 1500MW additional shortfall, but an official said that 1000MW came back into system from Uch Power, Habibullah Coastal and Foundation Energy on Friday and remaining 500MW would back late night as rehabilitation work at places was continuing.

The power plants which had been closed for a week or so are Hubco, Kapco, Nishat Power, Nishat Chunian, AES Lal Peer, Atlas Power and dozens others due to unavailability of fuel. Both Independent Power Produces (IPPs) and Gencos are generating only 20 per cent of their total capacity.

On Friday, the Lesco conducted 16 hours shutdown in Lahore and 18 to 20 hours in rural areas. The load shedding with more intensity is continuing in the urban limits of Gepco, Fesco, Mepco and Iesco—the power generation companies in Gujrnawala, Faisalabad, Multan and Islamabad respectively. The blackout is even worst in KPK, Balochistan and Sind.

The severe load shedding created a worst shortage of water in Lahore and other cities. The ice is either available at high cost or even hardly available in the City.