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Protests against inflated power bills a global phenomenon

Sabir Shah
Tuesday, Aug 29, 2023

LAHORE: Massive protests have erupted throughout the country against exorbitant power bills. The mounting discontent may fuel a civil unrest and trigger nationwide strikes if government does not provide relief to enraged citizens.

However, Pakistan is not the only country where citizens are braving high electricity tariff and rising costs of living during the last couple of years.

In November, 2020, hundreds of people had staged a protest in Mumbai’s Bandra locality against surging electricity bills, though reports had surfaced in Indian media that state governments in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat had provided almost 50 per cent relief in the electricity bills. Earlier, during the beginning of India’s Covid lockdown, numerous people including Bollywood celebrities had taken to Twitter to post pictures of their electricity bills which were astronomically high. In 2022, many international media outlets had reported that high energy costs after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had ignited public unrest in various parts of Europe, including United Kingdom, Germany, Greece, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Spain and Portugal. However, quite a few European governments had sprung into action by announcing support schemes for their disgruntled citizens. The EU announced a mandatory reduction of electricity consumption in peak hours by 5 percent until March 2023 and a voluntary reduction of 10 percent of overall electricity consumption. In October, the German parliament approved a defensive shield package worth £175bn. It includes a cap on gas and electricity price from 2023. The government paid December 2022 monthly gas bill for all households and small-to-medium businesses. In September and October (2022), all taxpayers received a one-off energy payment €300.

Germany is trying to cut energy consumption by heating public buildings to a maximum of 19 C, with exceptions for places like hospitals, turning off hot water for washing hands in public buildings, lighting limits for buildings, monuments and advertising. In Netherlands, electricity and gas prices for households have been capped at January 2022 levels - up to a certain amount of consumption. Any extra use will be charged at market rates. The government is also offering a discount of €190 on energy bills in November and December to all households. There is a one-off energy allowance of €1,300 to those on lower incomes. The VAT on energy bills and tax on petrol and diesel have also been cut. Spain and Portugal had both introduced a price cap for gas - which would last for one year and aimed to halve gas bills for 40 percent of customers in the two countries. There is also a one-off payment of €200 euros for people in Spain who earn less than €14,000 a year and are not already receiving benefits. In Poland, the government planned to come out with an energy price support package for households, worth 26.8bn zlotys (£4.8bn). The Polish government went on to abolish VAT on food, gas and fertilizer and reduced it on petrol, diesel and energy bills. Meanwhile, Norway had set a maximum price that households should pay for their energy - anything over this, the government will pay 80 percent of the bill. In United Kingdom, the government has brought in a cap on the price of a unit of energy until April 2023, which will mean the typical household bill for gas and electricity will be £2,500 a year. This is being extended to April 2024, but typical bills will be capped at £3,000 a year.