ISLAMABAD - The government Wednesday informed the Supreme Court that it will review its decision to hike the power tariff for the domestic and agriculture consumers.

Heading a three-judge bench hearing a suo moto case regarding the recent debilitating increase in electricity tariff, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry questioned the rationale for September 30 notification that effected up to 72.6 percent surge in power tariff for domestic consumers.

The chief justice asked Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif to withdraw the notification, or the court will pass a judicial order. He said the apex court’s intervention would not make a good impression and that the court’s notice should not be considered adversarial.

Justice Chaudhry asked the minister to sit down with the attorney general and take a decision and inform the court after the break. But Khawaja Asif sought time till Friday to submit the statement. The minister however said, “We will review the decision.”

Attorney General Munir A Malik, representing the federation, contended that National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) has determined the tariff and the government had staggered it. He said, “If the federal government had notified the power tariff as determined by the Nepra on August 5, it would not be a bomb but a nuclear bomb.” Justice Jawwad S Khawaja said if such was the situation the government should not have kept it hidden from the nation. He said lack of transparency create difficulties, adding the courts are blamed that they were interfering and determining the prices.

The chief justice inquired about the government policy to recover outstanding amount Rs441billion. He said if the government had controlled the power pilferage, the circular debt could have been reduced. The CJ remarked that controlling the power theft is responsibility of the provincial governments. The chief justice said the law-abiding and honest consumers pay their bills regularly but there are some elements that are not paying and it is because of them that the majority is suffering. “Kindly identify and take action against those who are not paying their bills and those who are thieving electricity,” he added.

Nepra Chairman Khawaja Muhammad Naeem informed the court that Lesco is the most efficient distribution company regarding collection and upward payment of bills, but recovery is very poor in Sukkar region of Sindh. The chief justice said the tariff hike should not be across the board as it enhances the miseries of the law-abiding citizens. He said with the hike of tariff the line losses and pilferage also increase. The Nepra chief said that theft and line losses are converted to ‘debt’.

Khawaja Asif informed that in Pesco there are 101 feeders from where the recovery ratio is 3 to 20 per cent, while the 97 per cent are defaulters. He said in Pesco only one private sector owes Rs50 billion. The chief justice questioned why the federal government was not taking notice of it. He said: “For this reason we had suggested to give electricity to the provinces in bulk and deduct the bills from the NFC Award amounts.”

Earlier, the court observed that all the companies, including the KESC, under the Companies Ordinance have to approach Nepra for the determination of tariff. Nepra is independent and statutory body, the court noted. On the request of Khawaja Asif, who said he needs to seek necessary instructions, the court adjourned the case until tomorrow (Friday).

PARTIES BACK SUBSIDY CUT: PERVAIZ

APP adds: Minister for Information Pervaiz Rashid said on Wednesday that all major political parties had backed the partial withdrawal of power subsidy.

Talking to media persons here at the Parliament House, he said PPP, PTI and Balochistan National Party had endorsed the power subsidy cut. The government had taken up the matter at the Council of Common Interests (CCI), which was attended by all chief ministers, who supported the proposal for partial withdrawal of subsidy on power consumption, he added.

Replying to a question, Pervaiz Rashid said the government would still give Rs 150 billion subsidy.