Govt Ready for Rethink on Power tariff, SC Told

Khawaja AsifISLAMABAD: The anguish of people over the steep rise in electricity tariff finally reached the corridors of power. Water and Power Minister Khawaja Asif turned up in the Supreme Court on his own on Wednesday to inform it that the government would review the Sept 30 notification of increasing the power rate for domestic consumers.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, which had taken up the matter during the hearing of a case relating to loadshedding, observed that the government should settle the issue on its own by withdrawing the notification or whatever they wanted to do instead of leaving it to the court.

At this the minister came to the rostrum and said the government could review its decision. He then hastened to add that the government was reconsidering the notification. The increase has created hue and cry across the country. Three major opposition parties — the PPP, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Muttahida Qaumi Movement — announced that they would hold protests outside the Parliament House against the government’s decision.

The apex court described the notification as an instrument which lacked statutory backing because it had been done without any fresh determination of power prices by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra). The court also explained that its decision should not be taken as adversarial. It should be seen as a helping hand instead. On the other hand, the government insisted that the Sept 30 notification was in continuation of the one issued on Aug 5 for increasing tariff for commercial and industrial consumers.

Khawaja Asif made a feeble attempt to justify the jump in rates by linking it to the rising cost of production due to power theft. He cited the example of Peshawar, where only three to 20 per cent consumers paid their bills while the rest were involved in power theft. The court countered by questioning why electricity was being supplied to those who were involved in theft. “The court will not allow law-abiding citizens who faithfully pay their dues to suffer and pay for those who never clear their dues,” the bench said.

On Tuesday, the court had indicated that it would issue an injunctive order if it transpired that the Sept 30 notification lacked statutory backing. On Wednesday, Attorney General Muneer A. Malik tried to explain that under Section 7(3A) of the Regulation of General and Production of Electricity Power Act 1997, the government had the authority to notify power tariff after its determination by Nepra. “This is my understanding of the law,” he said. The final notification was to be issued by the federal government on the recommendation of Nepra, he said, adding that had the government considered the determination done by Nepra, it would have been like dropping a nuclear bomb on people.

“Drop the atom bomb if you like to and the court would not come in the way,” said Justice Jawwad S. Khkawaja, a member of the bench. He said whatever the government intended to do should be done openly because lack of transparency always created problems inviting undue criticism of the court for interfering in the executive’s domain. The chief justice regretted that subsidy was being given to fertiliser companies, but peasants were neither getting subsidy nor fertiliser. If fertiliser was not available in the market then gas being supplied to fertiliser companies should be diverted to some other industries so that people could get benefit.

Justice Khawaja recalled that gas was not being supplied to some plants producing 400MW of electricity. The court said recovery of Rs441 billion power dues from different sectors would help reduce circular debt. The court asked the attorney general to get instructions from the government on the fate of the notification and adjourned the hearing to Friday. – Dawn