The federal and provincial governments on Tuesday once again decided to shut markets by 8 p.m. nationwide as part of energy conservation efforts aimed at saving up to $1 billion annually, announced Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, to flat-out—and predictable—rejection by traders.
Addressing a press conference following a meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) in Islamabad, Iqbal said the chief ministers of Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had supported the decision, while the planning minister of Balochistan, representing the provincial government, had also agreed to it. Emphasizing that the measure could save up to $1 billion annually, he said market closures were merely one aspect of the government’s conservation plans, which also call for switching to LED lights and upgrading geysers to make them more energy efficient.
Noting that the NEC meeting had discussed energy and infrastructure issues, the minister said a key reason for Pakistan’s economic challenges was high global prices. “Saudi Arabia has cut down oil production by one million barrels, which poses a risk of prices rising to $100 per barrel,” he said, stressing that Pakistan’s economy would remain vulnerable so long as it was reliant on fossil fuels for its energy needs. The energy conservation measures, he explained, was aimed at countering this.
Recalling that the federal cabinet had in January decided to implement a National Energy Conservation Plan, he said it had failed to achieve its goals because there was no representation of provinces in the meeting. “So, we took it up again in the NEC, where provincial government representatives were also present,” he said, hoping the full plan would be implemented this time. The January meeting had proposed closing markets at 8:30 p.m. and wedding halls at 10 p.m., reducing power consumption in government offices and shifting to efficient electrical appliances. It had also suggested imposing more duties on inefficient electric fans, using energy-efficient LED bulbs, introducing electric bikes, phasing out motorcycles that run on petrol, and illuminating alternating streetlights.
Successive governments have proposed implementing restrictions on market timings, but have failed to achieve any substantial progress because of pressure from traders. This is already playing out with Tuesday’s announcement, with the All Pakistan Anjuman-e-Tajiran issuing a statement saying they will not shutters markets by 8 p.m. in “current” season. “The government has made many such attempts in the past but failed,” said Ajmal Baloch, president of the All Pakistan Anjuman-e-Tajiran, adding that during the summers, people usually avoid shopping during the daytime and prefer to go to markets between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. “Is it a wise decision to save energy at the cost of the country’s economy?” he questioned and urged the energy minister to hold talks with traders to resolve the matter.