ISLAMABAD: The Punjab Intelligence Agencies have proposed to the provincial government to stress upon the federal government to address excessive billing issue on emergent basis as some political parties including PTI could further strengthen protests.

In a letter to Punjab Government, Provincial Intelligence Centre (PIC) explained that apropos reports of public protests in various districts of the Punjab against astronomical electricity bills, prolonged hours of load shedding and unannounced power outages, the field staff of this Agency carried out a survey of the existing situation in rural and urban areas of various districts of the Punjab and have reported that the general people are feeling agitated and perturbed over soaring electricity bills and heavy taxes and are holding protests on daily basis in this regard which are now assuming the shape of a violent movement.

According to PIC, reportedly, the situation has reached the pitch that people, especially the traders and the shopkeepers have started burning their electricity bills in public rallies/ demonstrations besides making announcements on loudspeakers of the Masajid urging the people not to pay the electricity bills. As per some social media posts, people have committed suicides in Multan, Gujranwala and Islamabad (Khanna Pul) after failing to pay electricity bill.

As per reports from the field outfits this Agency, during the last 26 days (i.e., from August 1, 2023 to August 26, 2023, a total number of 206 incidents in the form of protest demonstrations against over-billing, high taxes on power consumption, and prolonged hours of load shedding have taken place in the Punjab province. However, during the corresponding period in the month of July 2023, as many as 40 incidents of protests against excessive billing of electricity and power outages were reported. Region-wise comparative situation shows that there been an increase of at least 80% in number of protests in the month of August 2023 as compared to the month of July 2023 and with the passage of each day the protests are gaining momentum.

Perusal of the data indicates that in Aug 2023, so far, the maximum number of protests, that is, 35 have been reported in Rawalpindi Region followed by 33 in Gujranwala, 32 in Multan while 24 in Faisalabad Regions. In Lahore, there have been 41 protests against the issue and the sphere of these protests is increasing on daily basis.

As per field staff of PIC, the composition of the crowd in these protests indicates that the ordinary citizens and labour class is holding more protests due to over-billing by WAPDA, which is quite serious from law and order point of view. The significant element of these protests is this that the regions where protests are being held on daily basis are considered to be the industrial hubs of major cities.

Apart from inflated electricity bills, increase in the prices of essential commodities and public utilities are adversely affecting the economic lot of the people. Inflationary trends in the economy have made it impossible for the common man to make both ends meet. The increase in the prices of Atta, sugar, Ghee, vegetables, meat, poultry and other items of daily use is going to have its effect on the prices of other commodities. This will further add to the miseries of the common man, particularly the fixed income group.

The deteriorating economic situation is likely to cause further difficulties for both federal and the provincial Governments in days to come. Therefore, immediate attention is required to check the overall worsening economic situation. Measures must be taken to arrest the high rate of inflation at the same time ensuring that the traders do not resort to arbitrary increase in the prices. Shortage of commodities of daily use should not be allowed to occur.

The PIC is of the view that a careful analysis of trend of agitation against over billing of electricity reveals that the issue coupled with other issues, such as un-employment, price hike, non-attendance of public issues, poverty and political polarisation has made the people so frustrated that protests against excessive bills and heavy taxes may culminate into a major campaign against the government, which is likely to get out of control in days to come. Therefore, all out efforts should be made to resolve the issue of electricity tariff on war footing.