Centre unveils, Traders, Punjab reject Energy Plan

-Deference Minister shares Federal govt’s Energy Conservation Plan 
-Says markets to close by 8:30pm, wedding halls 10pm
-Sees new plan would save Rs62 billion if observed countrywide
-Claims President supports initiative to reduce Power consumption
-All-Pakistan Anjuman Tajiran association insist shops will not close before 10pm, restaurants 11pm

By Anzal Amin

ISLAMABAD: Defence Minister Khawaja Asif Tuesday said the federal government had approved a new energy conservation plan under which markets/malls would close by 8:30pm, while it also banned the usage of inefficient appliances that would save the country around Rs62 billion annually.
Asif announced the cabinet’s decision in a press conference. He was flanked by ministers Federal Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman, Federal Minister for energy Khurram Dastgir KhanKhurram Dastagir Khan, and Federal Minister for Information & Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb.
The defence minister said that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had directed the concerned authorities to cut the usage of electricity by all departments of the federal government by 30%. The PM, according to Asif, also ordered the officials against unnecessary consumption of electricity in the offices.
Khawaja Asif told journalists that measures approved by the cabinet aim to save the cash-strapped country about Rs62 billion ($273.4 million) and help reduce the energy import bill.
The minister said, in pursuance of his order, the federal cabinet meeting, in a symbolic action was also held without the use of any electricity.
“The cabinet, on the recommendation of the power division, has allowed enforcing the energy-saving plan which will be applied to the entire country,” said Asif. He added that under the plan wedding halls would be bound to close at 10pm while markets at 8:30pm.
The minister said that if the guidelines regarding working hours were implemented in letter and spirit the country could save Rs62 billion. Asif also announced that the factories producing fans run on electricity will be halted. “Inefficient fans use around 120-130 watts of electricity. Across the globe, fans are available that use 60-80 watts,” he said, adding that the import duty on “inefficient” fans would be increased to decrease their consumption. The government has also banned the manufacturing of 120–130-watt fans from July 1, 2023, in the country, Asif said.
The defence minister said that the government was implementing a programme to reduce electricity consumption in fans. He said that all government institutions would install efficient devices to save electricity, adding that inefficient appliances had been banned.
Asif said that the government was also introducing a building code for the construction sector as the maintenance cost of cement, iron and glass is very high. The minister also announced that e-bikes would be introduced countrywide.
“We are slowly shifting to electric bikes. People will be facilitated by financing via dealers to shift to these facilities,” said the minister. He added that Pakistan was using oil worth $3 billion annually.
Asif also announced that the cabinet had directed the formation of a committee to submit a report on the implementation of the Work from Home (WFH) system in offices.
The minister said that President Arif Alvi has supported the federal government’s plan. He said that the government had spoken to all the provinces and stakeholders and recorded everyone’s stand on it as this will be a permanent feature, which would be beneficial for the country.
Asif said this plan would benefit everyone in the long term, adding, the cabinet would monitor and review the plan that would be imposed immediately.
The country’s foreign exchange reserves’ levels barely cover a month’s worth of imports, most of which is accounted for by energy purchases from abroad, with funds expected under an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme having been delayed.
The federal government proposed its energy conservation plan on December 20 2022, according to which all the markets and restaurants were to be shut down at 8pm; however, that time had changed now.
In the same press conference in December, Khawaja Asif announced that the federal government would finalise the plan after consultations with the rest of the provinces.
In pursuance of that announcement, a federal government delegation visited provinces to speak on the matter. The committee also met President Arif Alvi, last week.
The president called for launching a consensus-based nationwide, comprehensive, and all-encompassing electricity, gas, and water conservation strategies to conserve national resources and divert them for the welfare and prosperity of the people.
In response, Special Assistant to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister (SACM) Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif said the policy was of the federal government, and the province was not consulted prior to the announcement.
“There was also no consultation over the closure of markets and shops,” the barrister said in a statement. He further stated that the KP government is already taking steps to preserve electricity — using LED bulbs and working on solarisation.
The government is taking steps to prevent environmental pollution, he claimed, adding the decision has not yet been made regarding the implementing the centre’s power-preservation policy.
In his statement, Punjab Senior Minister Mian Aslam Iqbal said that the provincial government rejects the decision and would not accept any orders of the “imported government”.
Traders and restaurant owners Tuesday categorically rejected the federal government’s decision to shut all malls and markets by 8:30pm in line with the new energy conservation plan.
Ajmal Baloch, president All-Pakistan Anjuman Tajiran (APAT) said that the shops will not close before 10pm, while restaurants will remain open till 11pm.
Terming the government’s strategy for saving energy by halting the economic growth “counter effective”, Ajmal suggested that government officials stop using air conditioners and heaters in offices while protocols and allowances are given to bureaucrats and rulers should be stopped.
Following consultations with the traders, restaurant, and hall owners, the government — under its National Energy Conservation Plan initially unveiled on December 20 — has decided to enforce the closure of markets by 8:30pm and wedding halls at 10pm.
In response, the business community lamented that despite strong protests and assurance from the authorities, the government decided to impose its “unilateral” decision.
He noted that the business community purchases the most expensive electricity, and therefore, favourable strategies should be devised for them.
The trader further suggested that street lights should be lit after 10pm, excessive use of electricity on national highways and motorways should be reduced and electricity in parks and government offices should be turned off after sunset.
Karachi Electronics Dealers Association President Muhammad Rizwan Irfan President revealed that the Government of Sindh consulted the traders, restaurant owners, and wedding hall owners regarding the energy-saving plan.
He said during the consultation meetings, all stakeholders agreed that markets and malls should remain open till 9-10pm while restaurants and wedding halls should be allowed to remain open till 11-12pm.
“However, despite their [Sindh government’s] assurance they imposed a unilateral decision,” Irfan lamented, asking the government to bear their expenses after the imposition of its energy conservation plan.
All Pakistan Restaurant Association Chairman Ather Chawla has strongly condemned the energy plan presented by the federal government, saying that the industry is still reeling from the damage done during COVID-19 pandemic.
He slammed the Centre for imposing restrictions on restaurants, markets and wedding halls, saying: “Whenever the country faces an emergency — be it COVID-19 or any other crisis — the business community bears the brunt.” “Are we the only ones whom you can target?” he asked the incumbent government as he sought the revocation of the decision.
Chawla said millions of people’s income is associated with the restaurant industry while investment worth billions of rupees is at stake. He urged the government to reconsider its decision and allow restaurants to remain open till midnight.