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No end in sight for energy crisis

India may claim the world’s biggest blackout, but in neighbouring Pakistan an endemic energy crisis blamed on years of mismanagement cripples the economy and makes millions of lives a daily misery.

world Updated: Aug 08, 2012 23:41 IST

India may claim the world’s biggest blackout, but in neighbouring Pakistan an endemic energy crisis blamed on years of mismanagement cripples the economy and makes millions of lives a daily misery.

Six weeks after the new prime minister in Islamabad promised the shortage would be his top priority, blackouts have reached a peak — reportedly up to 16 hours a day in urban areas and as much as 22 hours a day in the countryside.

But with political posturing becoming more acute as the weak coalition stutters towards general elections, there is no quick end in sight.

Peak demand for electricity in the summer is around 18,000 MW, with a third of that coming from air-conditioning, but power companies only manage to supply 13,000 to 14,000 MW.

At the heart of the problem is so-called “circular debt”, which the commission says stood at $4.4 billion in 2011-12.

The dual effect of the government setting low electricity prices and customers failing to pay for it means state utilities lose money, and cannot pay private power generating companies, which in turn cannot pay the oil and gas suppliers, who cut off the supply.

Raja Pervez Ashraf, burdened by corruption allegations from his time as water and energy minister but sworn in as prime minister on June 22 after the Supreme Court sacked his predecessor, promised to fix it.

In mid-July, a Rs. 12 billion bailout led to a let-up in the blackouts, but since then cuts have been as bad as ever.