The reasons for the power breakdown in Punjab remain shrouded within the web of accusations and counter-accusation between the National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) and the distribution companies (Discos), most notably the Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco). In what is a brazen show of scapegoating at a time when people want answers, it is truly unfortunate that no-one is willing to take responsibility for the over-12 hour power breakdown. Regardless of whether the 220kV lines managed by NTDC or the 132-kV transmission line owned by Lesco tripped first, the common reason for either case, according to preliminary reports, appears to be pollution laden fog in Punjab. The irony is not lost here as after adversely affecting the health of the people of Punjab, this smog disabled the very technology that lead to its birth.
Friday’s power breakdown must be used as a reminder of the work that needs to be done on Pakistan’s transmission lines. Suffering from prolonged apathy from the government, Pakistan’s electricity distribution system is in urgent need of repair. And any scheme that aims to eliminate load shedding must address this issue side by side. However, the government’s focus up till now has primarily been on increasing the capacity of power production in the absence of a multifaceted approach that addresses all power related issues simultaneously. Widespread structural issues remain in the power sector ranging from inefficient management and ineffective bill collection to outdated transmission lines. And how would greater production capacity be sustained if the power sector is broken from the inside is a question to which no adequate answer has yet been provided by the government.
Even the current power crisis has more to do with these underlying structural issues than strictly capacity constraints. The reason the government was not able to pay independent power producers was because it did not have a proper working bill collection system. And that in turn led to the all-too-familiar circular debt. Furthermore, even now if production capacity is able to meet all of current demand, the country’s transmission network is not adequately equipped to carry that load. The fragility of the system has been revealed by the recent breakdown, and this should jolt the government into action. It is true that work on the national grid or transmission networks do not make up for the show and exhibitionism that opening ceremonies of big power plants provide. But it would be wise for the government to pay attention to the work required on them so that it can deliver on its promise of ending load shedding before the 2018 general elections. *