The electricity crisis in Gilgit-Baltistan’s major cities is getting a worse crippling civic, commercial and social life. Frequent protests by the residents and political activists in GB and other cities of Pakistan have fallen on deaf ears and the power department officials seem unmoved of the woes of the people, especially the students and patients.
Whenever there are hue and cry on the issue, public representatives unabashedly make hollow promises and escape to Islamabad to enjoy the uninterrupted power facility at GB House, leaving the helpless people at the mercy of the corrupt officials of the GBPWD.
Last week, about a dozen political workers and activists of two federalist parties along with some residents of the region held a press conference and rallies at National Press Club, Islamabad, and in Gilgit demanding solution to the chronic prolonged power outages in the region.
People of Gilgit-Baltistan are living literally in stone-ages. In today’s world, in a civilised society, one can’t imagine of living without power even for a second, but in Gilgit-Baltistan it has become the norm of the day to experience load-shedding for weeks and months, remaining cut off from rest of the world.
The students and traders are hit-hard of the prolonged power outages. How the students can be expected to compete with others in this highly competitive digital age? One can easily gauge the woes of the common people how they survive in the harsh winter. How the trade, commerce, and tourism can flourish in the region? The increasing number of tourists coming to GB become frustrated and disappointed due to lack of various facilities which require electricity.
Untapped power potential
The region, despite being rich in water resources and having the potential of producing 60,000MW through hydel power projects, is experiencing a severe power crisis. If fully exploited the GB can meet not only its local needs but can also earn billions of rupees by putting the surplus power on the national grid.
People blame the rampant corruption in the power department, ill-planning, the poorly-designed power stations and incompetent and negligent staff for the crisis.
The existing power stations and thermal power facilities are even unable to meet the 18MW requirement of the region. People in Gilgit, Hunza, Diamer, Ghizer and other districts in Baltistan division are experiencing 20 to 48 hours power outages.
The increase in population and commercial activities have also aggravated the situation in almost all 10 districts.
Almost 90% of power stations in the districts of Gilgit, Hunza, and Ghizer, and Baltistan division are no longer working. In Diamer, only two out of three existing powerhouses are functional. In far-flung areas of GB, it is not too hard to find places where the facility of electricity has not yet been provided.
Unfortunately, the major political parties have been taking turns in government for the last three decades but the dismal state of the energy infrastructure shows that none of them had any vision and political will to solve the problem by increasing the capacity and upgrading the existing system which is in a shambles. In Hunza and Gilgit, there is not a single power station that is properly functioning. What little supply they get is from diesel generators which are very costly and a major source of pollution and corruption.
While, CPEC is projected as “a game-changer” for Pakistan, excluding GB from it and not including a single mega project in it shows state’s apathy towards the disputed region, alienating the people and diminishing our hopes for a better future.
Hassanabad power plant which is now under threat of the Shisper Glacier surge needs to be shifted to somewhere else and work on other projects should be started on a war footing. Misuse of electricity by affluent people should be stopped and special lines to political bigwigs and bureaucrats snapped immediately. Action should be taken against contractors for poor construction of Misgar and Naltar power stations.
There seems to be no other option but to force the sluggish and incompetent government departments through mass protests to fix the problem. There is a need to divert substantial funds towards the power sector to launch new projects and initiate work on mega projects.
Given the government’s failure to address the issue, there is a dire need to launch a sustained mass movement through mass mobilization, media, cultural and political platforms, in major cities of Pakistan to force the government to fix the problem.
Haider Ali is a student of BS (Hons) Sociology at Forman Christian College, Lahore and a progressive youth activist. His interests are political anthropology, Gilgit-Baltistan, post-colonialism and development studies.