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EditorialThe fragility of power infrastructure

The fragility of power infrastructure

A single glitch or minor negligence can result in the loss of billions of rupees to the national kitty. History is replete with examples where official negligence caused huge disasters. This time, ill-prepared personnel and the absence of fire-fighting equipment at the Guddu Power Plant have deprived the country of cheap electricity worth Rs. 25 billion for at least one and a half years. The roof of the power plant could not sustain the pressure of heavy rain, which caused a short circuit resulting in the complete damage of a steam turbine of Guddu Power Plant Unit-II.

It is not good news for energy-starved Pakistan and the current government, which is facing severe criticism for the ongoing power breakdowns due to the demand and supply gaps. Mainly large swathes in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were affected by the persistent power failure. In response to this episode, a committee has been formed to fix the responsibility for the negligence and a probe will be launched to establish the main causes of the fire incident. In light of these responses, the ministry’s attempt at damage control was not only obfuscating the truth but also showed how the people in charge of the power management systems have their priorities warped.

The entire country is feeling the brunt of repeated power failures. Forget for a moment the problems faced by people going about their daily lives due to a lack of electricity; the country’s commerce and industry, the main constituency of the PML-N government, are debilitated as they cannot flourish without a reliable supply of power. Whether it is the safety of the power infrastructure or the damaged transmission lines, the concerned authorities have failed to rectify the system failures completely. Regardless of the fact who was responsible when the power plant caught fire, the common reason for either case, according to preliminary reports, appears to be a failure of the system. The fire incident must be used as a reminder of the work that needs to be done on Pakistan’s electricity management system.

Suffering from prolonged apathy from the government, Pakistan’s electricity production and distribution system is in urgent need of repair. And any scheme that aims to minimize such negligence must address this issue on an urgent basis. However, the government’s focus up till now has primarily been on increasing the capacity of power production in the absence of a multifaceted approach that addresses all power-related issues simultaneously. Widespread structural issues remain in the power sector ranging from inefficient management, absence of safety measures and outdated transmission lines. And how would greater production capacity be sustained if the power sector is broken from the inside is a question to which no adequate answer has yet been provided by the government?

The fragility of the system has been revealed by the recent fire incident at the power plant, and this should jolt the government into action. It is true that work on the national grid or transmission networks do not make up for the show and exhibitionism that opening ceremonies of big power plants provide. But it would be wise for the government to pay attention to the work required on them so that it can deliver on its promise of ending load shedding once and for all.

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