This past weekend was one of the worst ever for most people. Not only was it muggy because of the monsoon, but people observed a long and difficult fast because of Ramazan. The electricity shortfall was about 6500 MW on Friday and Saturday, while little relief was expected on Sunday. Federal government sources said that oil-fired plants in Muzaffargarh and the Chashma-II reactor were undergoing repairs, but the real reason was the failure to implement the government decision to enhance gas supply to the power sector from the existing 300 million cubic feet per day (MMCFPD) to 700 MMCFPD. Another factor was indicated by Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif in Okara on Saturday, when he called for the loadshedding to be carried out evenly. He complained that the Energy Conference decision to that effect was not being followed.

The federal government may have better reasons than a desire to do down  Punjab, but the fact is that it will seem as if it is drawing political benefit from human suffering. The protests over this loadshedding have continued, and it is something of a relief that they have not been greater. They should also serve as a warning as to what might happen if loadshedding goes on as it is. Also, Public Accounts Committee Chairman Nadeem Afzal Chan may be a lone voice at the moment, but it needs to be noted that some things about his threat to resign against inequitable loadshedding. First, he may have pointed out how the provision of electricity may have already become a political tool, by noting that power went for 20 hours in his constituency, but for only six hours in the Prime Minister’s. Second, he is not some opposition rabble-rouser but a PPP MNA. Third, and perhaps what should give the PPP most pause; he might be alone now, but what if others agree with him? This cannot be a fortunate situation for a party which faces a general election in less than a year’s time.

Mian Shahbaz also said that a 300MW station was lying idle in Karachi. If that is so, it would indeed reflect very badly on the federal government. However, this is a time when all leaders, irrespective of political affiliation, must unite to end any discriminatory treatment. Mian Shahbaz is so concerned because he realises how easily the situation could go out of hand. The federal government should take notice of this, while Mian Shahbaz must not absolve himself of responsibility entirely. He is totally empowered to take action and set up electricity generation plants.