The National Economic Council (NEC) agreed on Wednesday to close markets in all provinces by 8:30 p.m., a day after the federal cabinet considered using daylight more efficiently as part of the government’s austerity measures to address the current energy crisis.
However, trade associations have expressed qualms about the move, claiming that with lengthy power outages forcing customers out of stores, closing markets earlier was not a viable option.
At a meeting of the National Economic Council chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz in Islamabad, the chief ministers of all provinces agreed to the federal cabinet’s decisions. The recommendations and choices agreed during the high-level meeting on June 7 were shared with the participants.
The NEC convened a day after President Ari Alvi approved the body’s reconstruction, with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif serving as chairman. The chief ministers of Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan requested two days to engage with the respective provinces’ trade and commerce associations on the issue.
The chief ministers praised the federal government’s efforts to address the energy situation and pledged complete cooperation in this area.
Marriyum Aurangzeb, the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, had stated the electricity ministry had advocated making Friday a work-from-home day the day before.
She told reporters that the premier has also appointed a committee to assess the measure’s effectiveness and report back to the cabinet at its next meeting. During the peak summer months, demand outstripped generation, resulting in hour-long power disruptions across the country. The external account has been strained by rising global gasoline prices, and the local currency has hit new lows versus the dollar.
The austerity measures are part of the government’s plan to alleviate the cash crunch and reduce energy consumption, as the present demand for electricity is 28,400 megawatts, with a 4600MW shortfall in the midst of an extreme heat wave. Meanwhile, Power Minister Khurram Dastagir told a press conference in Islamabad that early market closures and work-from-home arrangements might help preserve electricity.
“The country’s electrical production is 22,000 MW, whereas demand is 26,000 MW,” the minister stated, adding that the country’s energy gap was 4,000 MW. He further stated that the industrial sector is receiving uninterrupted power and that 1,100MWs will be added to the national grid once the K-2 Nuclear Power Plant is completed.
Atiq Mir, the head of the Karachi Traders’ Alliance, said it was not feasible for markets to experience power disruptions for the entire day before closing at 8 p.m. He stated that the government’s choice was completely incorrect and unworkable.
Mir stated that markets must remain open until 10 p.m., but that if energy was provided continuously during the day, traders would have more time to think about it.