With solar mosques and schools, Pakistan’s northwestern province pushes clean energy 

Officials of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Energy Development Organization (KPEDO) gather after installing solar panels at a government-run school in Charsadda, Pakistan, on October 12, 2020. (Photo courtesy: KPEDO)
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Updated 24 October 2020

With solar mosques and schools, Pakistan’s northwestern province pushes clean energy 

  • Provincial administration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province plans to solarize 8,000 schools, 187 health facilities and 4,000 mosques 
  • From 2018 through February 2020, 300 mosques solarized and 100 villages and 1,000 households reached, officials say

PESHAWAR: The provincial administration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) plans to solarize 8,000 schools, 187 health facilities and 4,000 mosques in off-grid areas and neighborhoods that frequently experience prolonged power outages, senior officials working on the project said this week.

The initiative is part of a Rs4.3 billion project financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to tackle a crippling energy crisis in the northwestern province, including tribal districts, located on the border with Afghanistan.

Last week, a statement from the KP chief minister’s office said the administration was working on a number of hydropower projects which would not only help overcome the energy crisis in the province but also give impetus to the country’s industrial and economic activities.

“We have decided to solarize areas that face frequent power breakdowns,” Mustafa Kamal, regional manager of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Energy Development Organization (KPEDO), told Arab News. “During the first phase of the project that was carried out from 2018 through February 2020, we solarized 300 mosques and other worship places in the tribal districts. The project also benefited 100 villages and 1,000 households.”

Fayyaz Ali, headmaster of a government-run primary school in a village located in Charsadda district, applauded the initiative, saying it was a relief for parents who had stopped sending their children to the school due to scorching summer heat and prolonged power outages.

“We invited parents to visit the school after the installation of solar panels,” he said. “Our enrollment level has surged within weeks and parents are once again bringing children back to school.” 

This October 14, 2020, picture shows solar panels on the rooftop of a mosque in Mardan, Pakistan. The equipment was installed under a Rs4.3 billion solarization project that is currently being implemented by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Energy Development Organization. (Photo courtesy: KPEDO)

According to Shaukat Afzal, who works as a public relations officer with the Peshawar Electric Supply Company, the province had surplus electricity, though it had ‘rampant power theft’ and poor distribution, which caused line losses.

“The province has 1,890-megawatt electricity, which exceeds our demand,” he said. “However, parts of the province undergo load management due to rampant power theft cases in remote areas.”

Sajid Ali, a sub-engineer with the province’s power development organization, said the solarization of a mosque cost up to Rs500,000, with the process requiring that authorities buy six solar panels, that would generate 4,000-watt electricity, and a 48-volt battery.

“The equipment can light up ten rooms and power six fans in the mosque,” he said, adding that several organizations had been awarded contracts by the government to import solar equipment, primarily from China.

Over the last year, many households in Gomal, a dusty town near South Waziristan, had decided to install solar panels on their own also, tired of endless power cuts. Some residents of the town also complained of overbilling despite frequent power interruptions.

Khalid Khan, 30, a government employee from Tank district, said solar panels were becoming popular due to their low cost, simple installation and easy maintenance.

“Given the erratic power supply, people have decided to tap into renewable energy,” he said. “The government should ensure that these areas completely switch to solar energy.”

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

Updated 29 November 2020

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

  • PSM management argues the company’s accumulated losses reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June
  • The termination of 4,500 contracts is believed to be the biggest layoff from a single entity in Pakistan’s history

KARACHI: Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) employees are going to challenge in court the company’s recent decision to terminate the contracts of thousands of workers, union representatives said on Sunday.

The management of the state-owned company on Friday handed letters of termination to some 4,500 employees, arguing that PSM’s accumulated losses had reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June, when the government decided that 9,350 workers would have to be fired for the dysfunctional enterprise to be revived.
“PSM has terminated 4,500 employees in the first phase of government’s plan to lay off 9,350 employees ... The employees have refused to accept this termination they have registered protests and have decided to challenge this decision in court next week,” Mirza Maqsood, President of Voice of Pakistan Steel Officers Association, told Arab News.

Located 40 kilometers from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest industrial complex with a steel production capacity of 1.1 million tons has been dysfunctional for the past few years. Its operations were suspended in 2015.
“Neither the Company has funds to revive the Mills nor are funds available from any other source to revive the Steel Mill. In any case, revival of the mill would require, firstly massive investment and secondly, entail a period of at least two years,” reads a PSM termination letter seen by Arab News.
The layoff was defended by federal Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar, who on Saturday said the terminated employees would be given compensation of Rs2.3 million on average.

“Since the closure of the mill, the government has paid around Rs35 billion as salaries and Rs20 billion as arears to the employees,” he said.

The discharge of workers is said to be one of the biggest layoffs of employees from a single government entity in the country’s history. 
 Karamat Ali, executive director at Pakistan Institute of Labor Education & Research (PILER), said the PSM layoff in unprecedented.
“No such number of employees have ever been fired from a single government institution,” he said.
The decision was also opposed by the provincial government of Sindh, which vowed to support the affected employees. 
“This is wrong and injustice. They (the federal government) must adhere to their earlier stance and commitments of turning the state institutions around with the help of their champions. I am with the employees,” Sindh Labor Minister Saeed Ghani told Arab News.
Mumrez Khan, convener of a representative body of employees, pensioners, suppliers, dealers and contractors of PSM, said that no serious efforts have been made by the federal government to revive the mill, claiming that negligence had caused losses even higher than those cited by PSM management.

“The accumulated losses have swelled to $12 billion on the account of closure of plants, revenue to the government and imports of steel products,” he said.