the energy crunch
Public utilities on a
virtual collision course; industries, commercial ventures, and people at
large, deprived of both electricity and gas, and compelled to take to the
streets in protest against the government’s apathy: this, in a nutshell, is
the energy and power status and outlook of Karachi, a city of almost 20
million people, this winter.
The federal government
high-ups could broker agreements among public utility providers and the
industrial sector to avoid total collapse, for the time being only, and that
took place through the imposition of some emergency, quick-fix, conservation
and cash injection measures. But there is no planning in place to resolve the
aggravating energy crisis of this industrial and economic hub of the country
on a long-term basis.
Had there been no agreement
brokered by the Sindh Governor and Federal Petroleum Minister on November 26
among the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC), Karachi Chamber of Commerce
and Industry (KCCI) and Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC), the representatives
of Karachi’s industries could go to the extent of defaulting in payment of
their electricity bills, shuttering down their businesses, handing over their
industries’ keys to government authorities as 12 hours of power
load-shedding in industrial units had become absolutely unbearable and
unacceptable for them.
The KCCI had also warned
that workers associated with 17,000 small and large industrial units in the
city would take to the streets in protest in the event that the 12 hours of
power load-shedding continued any longer. Earlier, noted businessmen and
industrialists associated with the KCCI and other trade and industrial
organisations of the city, staged a protest sit-in against prolonged
load-shedding in the city’s industrial areas, outside the Karachi Press
Club on November 23.
The KESC, KCCI, SSGC, and
Karachi Water & Sewerage Board, are all stakeholders in the energy and
resources issue and profile of the city, but every such utility and
institution is blaming the other for the deterioration of the situation, and
no entity is willing to take upon itself the essential task of correcting the
situation in order to prevent a complete collapse of power and energy
provision in Karachi.
Obviously there is a
perennially-present and crippling financial aspect of the lingering Karachi
energy crisis whose highlights are: the SSGC demands that the KESC pay its
Rs32 billion as gas dues, and the KESC in turn demands Rs15 billion from the
KWSB as power dues and several other billions from numerous defaulting
Then there are technical
reasons, rather constraints, acting behind the present energy crisis in the
city. The constraints are largely related to the depletion of indigenously
discovered and produced gas resources and the non-availability of foreign
energy resources. All plans to import gas from regional countries through
transnational pipeline projects could not materialise, despite considerable
passage of time, on account of the implications of regional and international
Then there is the issue of
use of costly furnace oil fuel for power generation, which is a scarcely used
option exercised by the KESC, as they say that utilising this expensive fuel
option would increase the electricity consumption tariff for commercial
establishments, markets, and the masses alike.
The power, CNG, industrial,
fertiliser, domestic, and commercial sectors in Sindh need gas for their
energy needs while availability of natural gas in the system has been on the
decline especially with the onset of winter.
According to SSGC
officials, the gas utility system has 1,090 MMCFD gas available while there
is a shortfall of around 250 to 300 MMCFD faced by it, due mainly to
increased consumption of gas in winter.
Also, there are
constitutional implications of the issue, as all the above concerned quarters
believe that provincial reserves of gas should be used, first and foremost,
for fulfilling provincial needs of energy as per the provisions of the
The November 26 tripartite
meeting and agreement was struck at the Sindh Governor House to overcome the
menace of 12 hour-long power load-shedding in industrial zones and for this
purpose the immediate measures recommended by the authorities concerned
included: gas curtailment to CNG stations two days a week, shutdown of
industries for four consecutive Sundays following November 26, developing a
payment plan for the KESC’s gas dues, and the curtailment of gas supply to
The agreement said that
with the implementation of these steps, gas supply to the KESC would be
immediately increased to 180 MMCFD.
Subsequently, the SSGC
announced a schedule for curtailing gas supplies to CNG pumps in the
province, specifying days and timings for the closure of CNG stations between
November 29 and December 11, 2011. The first significant closure of CNG
stations came on November 29, when from 11 p.m. that day, CNG stations were
shut down for the next 48 hours. However, in the face of mass public
agitation, the SSGC officials were pressured to restore gas supply to CNG
stations from 6 p.m. on December 1, five hours earlier than the scheduled
time for the reopening of CNG pumps.
The November 29 prolonged
closure of CNG pumps in Karachi was like a test case for the SSGC; it served
to test the waters to gauge reactions and the level of cooperation it would
receive from transporters, CNG station owners, dealers’ associations, and
commuters at large, regarding a two-day curtailment of gas supply to CNG
pumps each week.
Before and after November
29, the closure of CNG stations, gas supply to domestic consumers and
commercial ventures, especially eateries, was affected in certain areas of
the city. According to SSGC officials, a drop in gas pressure, mostly
affecting household users of gas, was related to winter’s increased demand
Resultantly, gas supply to
the KESC could not be improved to the desired level of 180 MMCFD till
December 2 and the power utility till then was unable to completely end power
load-shedding in industrial areas. Moreover, hours-long and recurring
instances of power load-shedding continued unabated in the rest of the
commercial and residential parts of the city.
Industry and trade people
say that prolonged hours of load-shedding are a severely crippling phenomenon
for small and medium enterprises and industries lacking expensive power
generation options. The cost of industrial production has also been steadily
rising due to prolonged load-shedding hours in industrial zones and the use
of alternate energy sources, rendering Pakistani products uncompetitive in
the international markets on account of their high cost of production.
The people relevant to the
CNG business in the region say that given the huge volume of investment,
contribution to the national exchequer, creation of thousands of employment
opportunities, and saving of foreign currency reserves by the CNG sector, the
budding public-service energy industry should not be destroyed by frequent
disruptions in gas supply, especially considering the fact that the province
has sufficient gas resources to meet its needs.
The CNG Association’s
representatives say that shutting down CNG stations for two days each week is
not an option for them as it would create serious and adverse repercussions
for their businesses.
Malik Khuda Bux, Chairman
of the CNG Station Owners Association of Pakistan, said that associations
related to the CNG business, had conveyed to the Sui Gas Company their
disagreement in response to the idea of the weekly two-day closure of CNG
pumps as it could create a law and order situation that would threaten the
security of CNG stations and related equipment and personnel. “We fear that
people would be infuriated on not getting gas for prolonged durations and
would go to the extent of setting CNG stations on fire or damaging them, so
shutting them down for two days a week is not an option for us,” said Khuda
In the words of KESC’s
Chief Executive Officer, Tabish Gauhar, the KESC had been fighting its case
for a justified distribution of gas resources in the country and wanted for
public utilities like the KESC to be given preference in the allocation of
scarcely available gas so that the electricity needs of 2.2 million consumers
of the city could be ably met. He said that there has been unjust
distribution of gas under which industries get around 300 MMCFD gas pressure
of which 150-175 MMCFD gas pressure is consumed by captive power plants of
industries, which is a form of energy consumption for self-generation that
should be discouraged.
The KESC Chief said that
public serving utilities like the KESC should be supplied gas on a priority
basis, while the industry, fertiliser, and CNG sectors should come afterwards
in the preference list for gas distribution. He said that the KESC needs more
gas volume to utilise its 500 or 600 MWs power-generation capacity that has
been lying idle for several days for want of more gas pressure
After all this bickering,
now it is up to the relevant state and government authorities to perform the
much-needed balancing act and patch things up among these organisations,
institutions, and utilities, having varying and divergent views, aspirations,
findings, assertions, claims, and counter claims on the energy scenario of
the province, whose upkeep, conservation, and improvement has become one of
the prime tasks for all relevant state and government circles this winter.
During this period, conservation and the careful use of energy resources
remains an effective, time-tested, and inexpensively available solution for
any emerging crisis in the power and energy sectors.
now the gas bomb
Unlike the people of
Punjab, who, for the last couple of years, have been accustomed to living
three days a week without Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), the people of Karachi
had, until relatively recently, no idea how hard the non-availability of this
domestically-produced, cheap fuel, for two days each week, was going to hit
For the last many years,
dependence on CNG as an alternative to petrol, Liquid Petrol Gas (LPG) and
even High Speed Diesel (HSD), increased to such an extent that even the
diesel-powered public transport buses were converted to CNG-fuelled vehicles,
while almost 80 percent of cars, taxis and rickshaws run in Karachi, as well
as ambulances of welfare organisations here, also switched to the easily
available, cheap gas.
But the closure of CNG
stations on Tuesday night at around 11:00 p.m. proved to be a nightmare —
equally dreadful for motorists and those who depend on public transport as
their only mode of transportation — that would be hard to forget in the
months to come.
The first victim of the
city-wide CNG stations closure was the city’s fragile vehicular traffic
system; the long queues of vehicles outside the CNG stations and petrol
pumps, which are mostly located on the busy thoroughfares of the city,
disturbed vehicular movement on the roads and people encountered immense
difficulties in reaching their abodes and destinations.
Wednesday was even more
trying for hundreds of thousands of Karachiites, who mostly depend on the
fleet of around 19,000 buses and minibuses to reach their workplaces, schools
and colleges, as hardly 3000 public transport vehicles were brought out onto
the roads by their owners, on account of the CNG shortage.
Those who earlier used to
commute via overcrowded public buses were compelled to station themselves on
bus rooftops in order to reach their workplaces. Others were seen making
hitchhiking efforts as there was no room for them in, or even on, public
The situation was even
worse for women and girls as they found the ladies compartments of public
buses filled with male commuters, and unlike them, they could not hang on to
the gates or climb on to the roofs of the packed-to-capacity buses.
To add to this sorry
situation, the state of transportation in the city was already bleak on
account of Muharram; pillion riding had already been banned by the provincial
home department so motorcyclists could not offer rides to their colleagues,
friends, or even brothers.
In the absence of public
buses and given a ban on pillion riding in the city, rickshaws and taxis
become the only available mode of transportation; but owing to closure of CNG
stations the previous night, many rickshaw and taxi owners could not refuel
their vehicles; therefore most three and four-wheelers stood idle in the face
of a transportation crisis.
This led to a chaotic
situation in the megalopolis where thousands could not reach their
workplaces. Those who managed to reach their destinations did so by paying
exorbitant fares to the few available taxi and rickshaw drivers who charged
double the normal fares because they were running their vehicles on
Motorists perhaps had some
idea that the two-day weekly closure of CNG stations in the city from Tuesday
night would cause them inconvenience, but what they faced was much worse than
what they had feared.
Queues began forming early
on in the afternoon, and by evening tens of thousands of motorists were
waiting for their turn for a CNG refuel – cheaper than petrol but short in
supply as the winter demands soar.
Despite waiting for hours
outside CNG stations, few had the good fortune of returning triumphant with
refuelled tanks, before the stations closed for the day. Even the owners of
petrol-run vehicles faced difficulty due to the long queues.
Authorities said that the
decision to keep the CNG stations closed for two days a week was taken after
talks with Federal Petroleum Minister Dr Asim Hussain and industrialists, in
order to save on natural gas, whose shortage is cited as the reason, by the
Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC), for hours-long outages in the
metropolis. But as the supply of gas to industries and the KESC increased,
the shortage hit most of the people in the city who venture out daily to
reach their businesses, workplaces, educational institutions and other
At the same time, the
two-day weekly shutdown of CNG stations also exposed the city’s dependence
on gas. For their part, taxi and rickshaw owners took full advantage of the
opportunity and hiked up their fares in an effort to maximise profits. The
drivers, however, defended the raised fares by claiming that they were
running on petrol, which is far less economical than CNG.
services run by welfare organisations such as Edhi and Chhipa Foundation,
switched to petrol to avoid any inconvenience to patients after gas cylinders
of their vehicles dried up; they realised full well that they could not leave
the needy at the mercy of public transport, or unattended in their homes and
The two-day nightmare ended
on Thursday evening but the shutdown left behind exasperated motorists, many
of whom took their vehicles to mechanics to make provisions for dual-fuel
The two-day CNG shutdown
also exposed the wisdom and expertise of our policymakers, who promoted CNG
as an alternative fuel a few years back, announced that they would bring
large-capacity CNG-powered public transport buses on the roads and issued
thousands of licences for the establishment of CNG stations in the city,
without telling the people that the era of green, cheap fuel would prove to
be remarkably short-lived.
At the time of promoting
CNG as an alternative to petrol, people were apprised by government
functionaries that CNG would not only be cheaper as compared to petrol but
would also be an environment-friendly fuel and would improve air quality in
the city where hundreds of thousands of vehicles contribute daily towards air
These authorities, however,
have no answer now as to why they convinced unsuspecting people to adopt CNG
as an alternative fuel when the country was going to face a massive shortage
of gas that would not only hamper industrial activities but would also
deprive the people of electricity and transportation, thereby crippling urban
life to an unbearable extent.
And the nightmare is not
over for Karachiites; the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) has already
announced the weekly CNG shutdown schedule to be followed till December 11,
while there is also no guarantee that in future, similar to what transpired
in Punjab, the weekly closure may even be extended to three days a week,
keeping in view the ever-increasing gap between CNG supply and demand.