The Anatomy of Electricity Crisis in Gilgit City

By Ume Ayman

Fatima was rushed to the hospital last week due to a heart attack. She was brought to the General Headquarters (GHQ) Hospital in Gilgit city which is the biggest such facility in the whole of Gilgit-Baltistan. During her ECG at the ICU, the light went out a number of times which caused great difficulty in monitoring her constant cardiogram. However, after a brief light out, the electricity was restored. She was fortunate that the power outage did not occur at a time when she was being treated at the operation theatre – others haven’t been as fortunate as Fatima.

Sanaullah is one of the many photocopiers at Garhi Bagh Gilgit. His shop can hardly fit four people at a time. This shop is the major source of Sanaullah’s income who has to feed a family of 7 which includes 4 school going children. Since the arrival of winters his income has seen a dip. The electricity during daylight is hardly 3 hours and it does not even go out as per schedule. Sanaullah is just one such example whose livelihood has been negatively impacted due to the ensuing acute crisis of electricity in G-B.

Abbas is a die hard cricket fan. He has hardly missed an international cricket match featuring Pakistan. However, he has been resorting to the radio broadcasting for commentary. The electricity outage has made it impossible for him to watch the match. As a consequence he has come to the local mechanic who fixes generators and washing machines. The mechanics in Gilgit city normally witness a surge in their business during winters when the electricity crisis is at its pinnacle, however, this has happened at the discomfort of thousands of citizens of Gilgit city.

In the summer of 2015, Gilgit city had to suffer through one of the worst power outages in over a decade. There was no electricity for more than 2 continuous weeks. During all this time, the general public was kept disillusioned on the underlying reasons. Majority of the people believed it was due to a mechanical failure in one of the essential components of the turbine at the 18 MW Naltar Hydropower plant. For others it was due to continuous rains triggering flash floods and landslides. Yet, many believed it was due to the lack of technical expertise of engineers and technicians working at the Hydropower plant. They reminisce the first year of completion of Naltar Hydropower plant in October 2007. During the winters of that year, people of Gilgit city were least bothered about electricity outages because there were hardly any load sheddings or blackouts. They may be correct at arriving on such a conclusion, however, silt deposits at the reservoir of Naltar may have depreciated the efficiency of the plant causing cracks on the walls accumulating debris from the mountains.

The major reasons for the shortage of electricity in Gilgit are population explosion of the city; corruption and mismanagement; scarcity of water in the rivers during winter; and the lack of technical staff.

Firstly, ever since the residents of Gilgit city saw glowed light bulbs for the first time in 1960s the population has seen an explosion. In just over four decades the population of the city has increased tenfold. Over the years, due to an upsurge in socio-economic and political activity residents of different districts of Gilgit-Baltistan have migrated to Gilgit city in search of livelihood. As a result, the demand of electricity has escalated, but the resultant supply has remained meak at best.

Secondly, corruption has plagued Pakistani society since forever. Due to embezzlement and misappropriation of funds the national exchequer has suffered a lot. Education, health, energy, and governance have received major setbacks resulting in degradation of institutions and depreciation of growth and development. The biggest manifestation of corruption in the power sector of Gilgit has come from the consumers. It has been a common practice that households use power lines connected directly from the utility poles. The electricity meters installed in households are not able to read the units of electricity consumed via these cables. Such utility cables are used by households to supply electricity to operate appliances which use the most power. These include refrigerators, heaters, electric geysers and water pumps. Another malpractice by consumers is the use of various methods to tamper with electricity meters. One such method is the use of strong magnets to saturate the magnetic fields in the meter so that the drag resistance of the internal disk motor portion is enhanced.This allows households to consume greater units of electricity while effectively consuming power without paying for it and defrauding the Water and Power Department of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Thirdly, the biggest source of electricity generation in Gilgit-Baltistan is hydel power. Home to the giant soaring rivers and gigantic glaciers, the whole region is abundant in water for most part of the year. However, water is scarce in the rivers during winters. As a result, electricity generation comes to a halt and loadsheddings (announced and unannounced) subsist for 15 to 18 hours a day during winters.

In lieu of the power crisis, the main solutions for countering the crisis of electricity in Gilgit are a comprehensive policy on population control; introduction of advanced electricity meters; construction of small water reservoirs; and effective town planning.

Firstly, it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that a comprehensive policy on population size and growth, fertility and family planning is introduced in the region. To tackle the shortage of electricity in Gilgit, the structural issue of population explosion has to be controlled. Otherwise, any effort aimed to ameliorate energy crisis will fail to hit the mark. Secondly, the introduction of smart tamper-proof meters can curb fraud and misrepresentation by the consumers. It will ensure that consumers do not employ means to tamper with electricity meters and that the Water and Power Department does not suffer huge losses incurred on it due to evasion in paying electricity bills. In this regard, an effective billing system will substantially decrease the amount of unpaid bills in the upcoming years. Moreover, stricter punishments should be imposed on consumers who are involved in evasion of and tampering with electricity bills such as heavy fines and incarceration.

Thirdly, the scarcity of water in Gilgit during winters can be responded by constructing small dams and water reservoirs. Satpara dam in Skardu is the only dam in Gilgit-Baltistan. Although, the project of Diamer-Bhasha dam is still in the pipeline, it will take a long time for the project to start functioning. Big dams also require huge investment and it is evident that large dams have become the most controversial of technologies (Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams, 2001). Fourthly, effective town planning can help mitigate the crisis of electricity. In the absence of planned towns, houses emerge before installation of electricity grids and water supply systems. In addition, it can also ensure that electricity cables are not used in violation of regulations, and that there aren’t any “special lines” of electricity.

Given the challenges and structural constraints, Gilgit has to live with the energy shortfall for a long time. There is prompt need to limit losses during transmission, distribution and thefts. Moreover, the city has a lack of experts trained in the energy economics and infrastructure, which needs to be catered to.

In the absence of political will and trained experts it is unlikely that governance will see any improvement; therefore, it is time to avoid taking shortcuts and reactionary measures. Building energy infrastructure and adding more generation capacity will not suffice. The people of G-B have to realize that merely complaining in the midst of a crisis situation will not resolve real issues. The anatomy of electricity crisis in Gilgit city cannot be understood unless the abovementioned structural constraints surrounding the issue are not resolved. The electricity crisis of Gilgit is affecting the lives of ordinary citizens – and the crisis is real.

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  1. Stupidity of PWD, once I received a bill totalling Rs. 36,000 for a month in winters where there is hardly any electricity, but got sorted from PWD office , who are not bothered to physically come and do a proper reading. Next time I got a bill of Rs. 2 in summers and when I went to bank for payment, the cashier got reluctant that you should pay next time but I insist and paid a coin, such is the state of government institutions. I think GBC PWD should seek help of USAID PDP who are doing a great job down in country for management and sustainability of power generation and distribution with assistance by cutting edge technology.

  2. Good analysis by the lady. However, I have two comments;

    1) There is a reason why GB PWD (Power Wing) is comfortable with shortages and load shedding during winters, because it allows them to run thermal units i.e. engines that run on fuel. This promises them more pocket money. Please make an analysis of the budgetary figures of fuel for winter running of engines/ generators vis-s-viz the operational expenditure on hydal units.

    2) Electricity crisis has got nothing to do with population growth. Your population is far less than the power generation potential in GB. Secondly population growth doesn’t stop you from enhancing the generation units or at-least maintaining the installed available units.


  3. Dear Shozeb, Power generation is a need and demand of electricity increases with population rise, and we are unable to meet the demand. That eventually creates shortage in demand. Second on you, that GB has a lot more potential to produce sustainable means of power but the resources are not being utilized properly.

  4. Good analysis by Ume Ayam, but i would like to recomend one of my columns for your reading on the same issue, that was written on June 10 , 2013. That is as follow.

    Need of Power Policy for Gilgit-Baltistan
    Jun 10, 2013 Pamir Times Opinions 4

    By: Israruddin Israr

    Absence of an effective power policy for power generation in Gilgit-Baltistan is the main hurdle in the way of power generation in the region. The oft-repeated argument is that there is a potential of producing around 52000 Mega Watts electricity in Gilgit-Baltistan. The so-called power policy of GB adopted by power department GB and sanctioned by Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northren Areas (KANA division) in 2007 is nothing more than a presentation of 15 pages which does not fulfill the requirements of a policy paper. The so-called power policy for GB even does not contain the basic information about method of growth, supply, city limits, domestic and commercial consumers, demarcation of supply areas, sources of power generation, power control cell, etc.

    Mr. Javed Ahmed an expert of power sector, now a day associated with a project of WAPDA in Kohistan, declared it a non-professional piece of work, which is not acceptable as a policy for the experts of related profession. He further added that “a power policy paper should contain the identification of needs, growth, supply procedure, potential, resources and required laws and its implementation on the subject. It also needs sound professional skills to draft a policy paper. That kind of policy would provide road-map for drastic changes in the relevant filed”.

    An energy / power policy can be defined as “Energy/power policy is the manner in which a given entity (often Governmental) has decided to address issues of energy development and growth including power generation, distribution, and its consumption. The attributes of power policy may include special legislation, national and international treaties, incentives to domestic and outsider investors, and guide lines for energy conservation, taxation and other public policy techniques”.

    The policy drafted and adopted by officials of Water and Power Department GB is not clear in its idea regarding potential and required resources for the power generation, distribution and consumption in GB. A comparative study of energy policies of Norway, Italy, China and other countries, which are self-sufficient in energy sector, shows the importance of energy policy. It is the power policy of Norway which helped the country to generate more than 150 thousand Mega Watts electricity. The main source of Norway’s income is electricity that has enabled it to be welfare and developed state in the world.

    Brazil has the same story. It faced power crises in 1980s. Realizing the importance of policy, the country formulated its policy and overcome energy crises. Now Brazil is one of the bigger exporters of the electricity in the world. Unfortunately, Gilgit-Baltistan has a potential which has not been realized due to nonprofessional mind and unskilled hands. The Water and Power Department of GB has been working for last four decades. Despite this it even does not has the capacity to draft a comprehensive energy policy. This is the lack of professionalism which has made natural resources of the region useless for the people of region. The popular quotation for such circumstances is always quoted like this “A man sitting on the deposit of gold becomes unconscious due to hunger”.

    The 1.5 million population of GB having lot of potential in the field of power generation are now facing scarcity of electricity. Gilgit city faces 20 hours load shedding of electricity in winter and 8 hours in summer, although the generation capacity of hydro power projects becomes double in summer. Apart from the scarcity of power, the whole population of GB has no means of employment except jobs in government organization. There is no industry and trade in the region. That is why the whole population depends on government for provision of jobs.

    The reason of dependency on public sector for employment is that the private sector has no existence in GB and outsider investors are reluctant to invest in the region due to shortage of power. According to the prescribed law pertaining to energy sector in Pakistan, the provincial governments have authority to initiate power projects of up to 50 Mega Watts, while project above 50 Mega Watts the federal Government is entitled to launch it. GB and AJK are not constitutional parts of Pakistan therefore it’s considered these both regions are exempted from the limitations of launching fifty Mega Watts’s projects of electricity. In the history of Gilgit Baltistan Water and Power Department, it has constructed and run the biggest project of 18 Megawatts in Naltar valley near Gilgit city. That was constructed by a Chinese firm as a contractor in 2009. Initially its capacity of power generation was 18 Megawatts, but after the departure of the Chinese firm it has lost its capacity. Now its capacity has been reduced to 6 Megawatts due to handling of unskilled hands of power department of GB.

    According to the figures of water and power department GB, in winter the power department GB supplies 8 Mega Watts electricity to Gilgit city. Out of it 2.5 Mega Watts electricity is being stolen with illegal connections or supplied to VIPs through special lines. In summer the total supply for Gilgit city increased to 21 Mega Watts while the total need of city is 35 Mega Watts. Currently the total production of electricity in GB in winter is 48 Mega Watts; in summer its 78 Mega Watts. Total capacity of generation of 106 power Houses installed in GB is 96 Mega Watts. While the poor billing section of power department annually collects only 80 million in district Gilgit and 190 million rupees from all the seven districts of whole GB out of total 500 million rupees estimated revenue. In the current fiscal year the department has received 400 million from finance department of GB. The figures tell the story of mismanagement in the department. Even a lay man can imagine that if the professionalism is ensured in the billing section of power department, the department can rapidly enhance its capacity in terms of professionalism and power generation because whenever the question is raised in front of concerned authorities of Power Department GB, they simply have an excuse of shortage of funds. They even do not collect their own revenue which is more than allocated fund from the Government for the power sector in GB.

    Federal Government has two mega projects of power in future in GB e.g. Bonji tunnel and Diamer Basha Dam. The total generation of both projects is 12 thousand Mega Watts. Some other projects of power are expected to be initiated by WAPDA in GB in near future. The total demand of electricity in GB is only 250 Mega Watts, which can be fulfilled by four new projects of hydro power below 50 Mega Watts. Like the WAPDA has constructed three High Head Hydro Power (HHP) projects in same manners in Kohistan district of KPK namely Khankhawar, Alai and Dubair nallah that cost 35 billion and producing 330 Mega Watts.

    The other issue of power sector in GB is lack of its connectivity with national grid which cost millions of dollars. If the federal Government just focuses on the transmission line to connect GB with national grid that will attract the Independent Power producers (IPPs) in future. Now there is no market to sell power. That is why IPPs have no attraction in the region in the field of power generation. If the area attracts the IPPs ultimately the GB would be able to produce 52000 Mega Watts electricity, which is the main potential of region. To overcome the shortcoming of power department and it’s none professionalism, an independent power board is needed to establish. Engineers should be on filed work instead of holding the executive’s post as it is considered a bad practice in the world.

    An Islamabad based NGO “Sustainable Solutions (Pvt) limited (SSPL)” has recently initiated a project of citizen’s voice funded by USAID, which has its focus on the communities’ participation in policy making and ensuring the effective coordination between service providers and consumers. This is the first experience for the local communities of GB to gain the information about power sector and its miserable condition. The studies on the subject have also unveiled the role of mafias in the sector who create the artificial shortage of power to full fill their vested interests.

    The ultimate solution of above mentioned issues is to lay down an effective power policy for GB. It will identify the need of area, potential, resources for power generation and the possibilities of investment on the sector. But the proposed policy should not be a presentation of 15 pages which was adopted in 2007 by the power department GB, it should be comprehensive policy paper developed by internationally recognized professionals of relevant filed. It should have two portions: one for mega projects and the other for small projects. So that both portions would collectively be able to harness the total 52000 Mega Watts potential of power generation in GB, which can be surplus after fulfilling the needs of GB and Pakistan. An effective power policy for GB can change the future of GB by bringing prosperity.

    The writer is a GB based senior journalist and columnist. Email: israrjpc2004@yahoo.com

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