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Wajahat Ali, Reporter

Channel News Asia

Published Date: May 20, 2015

Ire in Pakistan over energy conservation plan

Pakistan has been in the grip of a crippling energy crisis for several years. While the government has taken steps to generate more electricity, it has recently announced an energy conservation plan.

At the crux of it, the plan requires the business community in Islamabad and the Punjab province to drastically reduce its work hours. But this mandate has not gone down well with the people.

Shopping centres in the capital Islamabad usually come to life in the evening. But retailers are now angry that an energy conservation plan by the government is forcing them to shut their shops early.

The plan involves asking the business community in the federal capital and the Punjab province to close their stores and shopping malls by 8pm and restaurants by 11pm local time. While officials believe this helps save electricity, shopkeepers maintain the new operating hours disrupt their businesses and way of life.

“I used to sell about US$6000 to US$7000 worth of garments every month,” said shopkeeper Talat Saeed. “Now, my revenue has significantly declined and it stands at about US$1500. There are also several other shopkeepers who are suffering like me.”

And many of them have floated innovative ideas to address the issue. “If the government wants to conserve energy, then it should stop supplying electricity to our shops at 8, 9 or 10pm and allow us to use our resources such as generators to help run our businesses,” said Qazi Muhammad Illyas, Senior Vice President, Small Traders Association.

However, officials maintain that is not a workable solution. “Their generators are run on natural gas or diesel,” said Malik Muhammad Riffique Rajwana, Governor of Punjab province. “On one side, you are conserving energy by putting the electricity off but, on the other side you have lit the shops with generators that are also consuming diesel and natural gas.”

Experts say there is a reason why shopkeepers in Islamabad have been singled out by the government. “Of course, you couldn’t cut down the energy supplies to your industries because a lot of them are exporters,” said Dr Vaqar Ahmed, Deputy Executive Director, Sustainable Development Policy Institute. “You also can’t cut down your supplies straightaway to the services establishments because that is where a large part of your employment is created.”

He added: “Wholesale and retail sector became one of the victims, of course, because it was easier to clamp them down and the compliance was easier to achieve.”

But even the government does not know how much electricity will be saved by asking the shopkeepers to reduce their work hours. Dr Ahmed said: “Sadly because the Ministry of Water and Power doesn’t possess real time data on power sector usage by sector, it is indeed an arbitrary decision to just put a clampdown at 8pm.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is an industrialist himself, and his administrations have traditionally been viewed as business-friendly. However, his recent decision has not gone down well with the retailers in in this city – many of whom have threatened to go on a strike, if the government does not reverse its decision.