Circular debt crisis?: No water in city as utilities fight

November 25, 2013 8:34 PM

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Former advise­r had propos­ed settin­g up a joint agency to collec­t bills of three utilit­ies .

In the ongoing tussle between the water and electricity utilities in the city, the ultimate sufferers are the residents who have no water coming out of their taps.

According to a spokesperson of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB), the crisis occurred due to extensive load-shedding at various pumping stations. The people of Karachi are being deprived of nearly 200 million MGD every day, he pointed out.

“We are providing 450 million MGD due to the crisis across the city,” he said, adding that under normal circumstances, they supply 650 million MGD to the city.

The spokesperson went as far as to say that the electricity utility will be fully responsible if the ongoing water crisis leads to the breakdown of law and order in the city.

For their part, the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) spokesperson insisted the water board owes them Rs25.2 billion, which is the main reason behind the water shortage. “Instead of paying this amount, it [KWSB] is resorting to issuing false and misleading statements,” said the official. “The KESC cannot function as a charity organisation.”

The KESC clarified that they have not completely cut off power supply to the pumping stations. “Only load-shedding lasting up to four hours is being carried out,” he said.

The official further said that the KWSB has consumed electricity worth Rs4 billion between February and October this year but paid only Rs200 million, which is less than five per cent of the billed amount. Even though it failed to make any payments, KESC kept supplying uninterrupted power to the pumping stations solely for the water needs of the people of Karachi.

In 2010, a warning of the potential crisis was forwarded to the Sindh government by Dr Kaiser Bengali, then adviser for planning and development to the chief minister. Dr Bengali, who had earlier conducted a financial analysis of the KWSB for the World Bank, had also proposed a possible solution to the issue in a note to the CM, which remains unattended.

In his note, Dr Bengali is reported to have explained that unpaid dues by the KWSB are the main issue, because of which it is unable to pay to the KESC. In turn, the KESC is unable to pay fuel suppliers, such as Pakistan State Oil. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that, for humanitarian, cultural and even religions reasons, it was not possible to cut off water supply merely on grounds that the bills are unpaid.

He, therefore proposed, that consumers be issued one combined utility bill for electricity, gas and water, to be collected by a collection agency set up in the private sector and the cost of which should be borne by the three utility entities in proportion to their share of receipts. In case the bills are unpaid, Dr Bengali suggested that the electricity be cut off, as suspension of electricity would not be viewed as a threat to survival, but water and gas would continue to be supplied.

Implementing the proposal would improve KWSB’s bill collection and would enable it to meet its electricity bill obligations and prevent the kind of crisis that Karachi’s water supply now faces.

On the water crises in Karachi, chief minister Qaim Ali Shah lashed out at the KESC over its attitude. “We will pay the outstanding amount to the KESC and raise this issue with the Council of Common Interest during the meeting in Islamabad,” he said, during a press conference on Monday. “We will complain about the rowdy behaviour of power utility companies.” Shah believed the utility companies, such as KESC and Hyderabad Electric Supply Company, were issuing inflated bills.

Due to threats of a law and order situation, commissioner Shoaib Siddiqui also warned the officials of the utilities to resolve the issue immediately. He also directed the additional commissioner, Mohammad Aslam Khosso, that he meet KESC and KWSB officials urgently. “We will not let people suffer and would take all steps for the benefit of citizens,” Siddiqui added.

The Sindh High Court (SHC) has issued notices to the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) on a petition seeking an end to prolonged power suspensions to water pumping stations operated by the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB).

Justice Faisal Arab, who headed the bench, will take up the matter on Tuesday. KWSB management had approached the court on Monday seeking orders for the power utility to stop prolonged power cuts to the pumping stations under the pretext of routine load-shedding.

The row between the KWSB and the KESC is not new. In April 2012, the water board had obtained a court order that restrained the power utility from disconnecting electricity supply to the board’s pumping stations, after the former did so to recover Rs20 billion dues.

KESC had appealed against the verdict and the court had ordered KWSB to continue paying monthly bills without any delays. However, the court also made it clear that power supply to its pumping stations would not be disrupted.

The board’s lawyer, Abrar Hasan told the judges on Monday that the KESC has now started disconnecting power supply to the water pumps for four hours every day. “This is disrupting the operations of the water board for 30 hours,” he said.


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