Incompetence meets shamelessness
There are two bits of government incompetence that the Punjab is seeing these days. The power crisis that is on the federal government’s watch. And its fallout, which is on the Punjab government’s watch. There is, however, a difference when it comes to spin. Whereas the federal government makes some sheepish attempts to wriggle out sympathy for its performance on the power front, the Punjab government makes no attempt to admit it is not doing its job properly. In fact, if the federal government doesn’t manage to make any headway, the Punjab government seems to be going out of its way to make things worse on the law and order front.
It would do the League well to realise that law and order is a provincial subject and, as is the usual case, the home portfolio is held by the chief minister himself. For the party to be egging on these protests itself is ridiculous. The rioters have already attacked several homes, including those of some leaders of the PPP. At least one person has died in the riots till the writing of this editorial.
The power minister, who laid out the loadshedding suspension schedule yesterday, said that the League is orchestrating these spirited protests and that a case could be registered against Punjab government notables.
Though he has a point, this would be just about the worst possible thing to do. The government doesn’t have its act together. To arrest opposition members, despite their rowdyness, would be giving the general public the impression that the opposition is with them in these hours of plight. They are not. The League hasn’t has anything constructive to say on the issue since it started. It hasn’t even used the Punjab government’s resources to start its own power projects.
Having said that, the federal government needs to do its bit. Yes, the government, according to the information minister, buys electricity at Rs 25/ unit and has to sell it at Rs 9/ unit but it is not as if it can do nothing here. For starters, make electricity more expensive; the fallout of having more frequent but more expensive electricity won’t be as bad. Then the government needs to cut down on transmission losses. And then it needs to invest in stand alone hydel projects of the small-dam or run-of-the-river variety.
All that requires money, yes, but it needs to free up some fiscal space from elsewhere to make up for the slack.
Having said that, the actions of the Punjab government need to be condemned. A government-enabled strike has it in it to become an uncontrollable beast.