Tuesday, March 4, 2008


By: Muhammad Mahtab Bashir

Businessmen have had mixed reactions to the government’s decision to make markets shut down after sunset in a bid to reduce load shedding all over the country. Shopkeepers complained that they were being penalized. They also believed that the government had failed to control the vast theft of electricity. People shop after work. Customers start coming in after Maghrib. They cannot come in the afternoon because the weather is too hot. And when the weather is not a problem, the men of the house are too busy at work. Also, the women do not shop alone all the time. A majority of them wait for their husbands. So shutting shops after dusk is not feasible, in any case.

WAPDA has not been able to manage the demand that is mounting at an average rate of about 7 percent yearly, resorting to load shedding due to energy deficiency. The peak capacity shortage often reaches 30 percent of the fixed capacity, of which the energy shortage is estimated to be about 3 percent of WAPDA's total twelve-monthly generation.

The federal government’s energy preservation plan has been rejected by traders and shopkeepers throughout the country when many shopping arcades, markets and big shops remained open till late at night in all cities of the country and Lahore and Karachi in particular defying the government’s order to close by 8:00 pm. Wedding halls also remained open after 10:00 pm — the time for their closure according to the conservation plan. Traders had earlier claimed that if their shops were closed early, their business would go down as people preferred to do shopping at night to avoid the heat during the day. They had offered to extend the closure time to 9:30 pm.

The plan of early closure of markets has been devised to meet the shortage of electricity. Pakistan faces a shortage of 978 megawatts (MW) of electricity. This is estimated to increase to 1,500 MW in the next few weeks. The conservation plan is designed to save some 500 MW of electricity while the rest of the shortage will be met through load-shedding. Given the extent of the problem, the energy conservation plan seems to be the only option available at the moment. But to make it work, a considerable awareness campaign should have been launched by the electronic and print media to prepare people for it mentally. It has been estimated that 1,700 MW can be saved if the 17 million electricity consumers in the country switch off just one 100 watt bulb. It will remain difficult for the government, and the defiance of the ban has proved it, to implement the plan without first creating sufficient awareness about it. Once the plan is successfully implemented, people will adjust their daily routines according to the new timings of the markets. The shopkeepers also have the option of opening their shops a couple of hours earlier to make up for the economic loss.

On the other hand, multinational food chains had been ignored, along with a popular courier services, medical stores, paan kiosks, federal and provincial government offices and railway offices. The Shop Act was a worldwide phenomenon, which allows offices and shops to run under certain timings of the day. It was ironic that the act was not implemented here otherwise all markets would be closing by dusk. The act should be enforced throughout the year. The government's decision was completely inappropriate. The after-dark timings for shopkeepers are crucial, because business started after dusk.

The traders of Karachi are of their opinion that "The city of lights is being forced into darkness. Karachi seemed so lively and bright. And now the same Karachi is sinking into darkness. No one will appreciate Karachi for its night life ever again if this continues." 'Close off neon signs, not shops'. Shopkeepers demanded the government to implement a ban on all the illuminated billboards and neon signboards in the city instead of closing down the city's market by 8:00 p.m., if they are serious to solve the power crisis. Markets traders said they were ready to switch off 50 percent of the lights of their shops in order to save electricity but warned that they would resist any forced attempt to close down shops after dusk.

Shop keepers also said that they would have no qualms running their shop on a generator. “But why should we”? We pay all our bills. The government doesn’t go after the robbers, and they fail to notice the streetlights that are on in the daytime,” majority of them maintained. In my opinion this decision would not help because if shops are closed people would stay at home and use electricity anyway.

A lot of people criticize Government decision as people have all the rights to roam about freely. If there is a power shortage then the government should use the taxpayer’s money to install more grid stations. As it is, the government has stopped the Indian channels, which was a good source of entertainment. Now they are stopping them from shopping. The governor should rethink of another way to save electricity.”

Give me a rebate to decrease my power bill by 10% and I will think about it, but when I pay in full, and I do not get any rebates, only taxation on the tax itself (tax on tax) then I first have the right to complain if there is no electricity in my home at night and to top it up, if I have to run a generator on the fuel I buy myself to keep kids from crying through the night, then I think we have the right to complain if the government on its own decides to close the shops. Last year closing shops did not affect the load shedding at all, it just created more mess!

One idea of conserving energy is of offering prepaid electricity?
It can be a novel idea in our country but in developed countries it is ancient. Electricity meters are installed inside houses and key to be inserted into pre-paid electricity meters. If you run out of units, take the key to shop keepers and he will recharge it.

Here in Pakistan, most of the new malls are using power generators anyways. Old malls are converting to generators as well. It is not a bad idea at all for giving up the kingly lifestyles and start our days early, like it happens all over the world. In big cities like of Lahore and Karachi, most shopping malls aren't open until noon, seriously, we need to go back to basics- Early to bed and early to rise, that’s the common sense but our society needs an enforcement of these small little things, Can we change our life-style? Can Lahorites and Karachites go to bed early? Only individual who has a thinking brain can help conservation of electricity. It is all about responsibility, co-operation and selfless gains. If we are not thinking collectively with consensus and execute our policies, strategies and planning in better way, our efforts would go in smoke, otherwise.

Allow me to write concluding lines here, whether or not this policy implemented, it is a good idea, nonetheless. In fact it is a general strategy of developed nations to start day early and close it at 8 PM sharp (and they certainly do not face any electricity shortage). Majority of places abroad, it seems you are in ghost town as soon as dusk prevailed. I think it is a great idea and shop owners should follow it, they should stop waking up at 12 pm! Early to bed early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. But what, if they occupy their shops at 8:00 am sharp and customers starts walking into their shops at evening time? The only question lingers on.

The author is a freelance writer and a political analyst residing in Islamabad.

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