Battagram, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: On Saturday, residents of Battagram, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, took to the streets to protest against a recent crackdown on electricity theft, illegal connections, and defaulters by the local authorities. The protest led to the blocking of a section of the Karakoram Highway near the Khatm-i-Nabuwat Chowk.
The protest follows the interim government’s announcement of a comprehensive crackdown on electricity theft, which has been blamed for significant financial losses and higher electricity bills for ordinary citizens. The government’s decision came in response to widespread public dissatisfaction over inflated electricity bills in August, prompting them to take action.
Reports indicate that crackdowns against electricity pilferers have been underway in various areas. However, the residents of Battagram, particularly those from Ajmera and Chappargram, expressed their displeasure with the local administration’s actions.
Protesters gathered initially in Battagram’s main bazaar before moving to the Khatm-i-Nabuwat Chowk, where they disrupted traffic on the Karakoram Highway. Chants against Battagram Deputy Commissioner Tanveerur Rehman and the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) could be heard from the protesters.
The protesters demanded the immediate transfer of the Deputy Commissioner, citing his alleged incompetence as a source of growing unrest in the district. They also called for the restoration of electricity services to the affected areas.
Addressing the crowd, Chappargram Village Council Chairman Shaukat Hayat criticized the authorities for disconnecting electricity to the entire union council without considering the situation on the ground. He emphasized that even regular bill-paying consumers with legal connections had been affected, suggesting bias on the part of the Deputy Commissioner.
Hayat demanded the replacement of the Deputy Commissioner with someone more capable and impartial, warning that they would take more drastic action if their demands were not met.
Social and political activist Iqbal Ulasyar accused the Deputy Commissioner of favoring a contractor from his native village in Chitral, causing delays in the operation of a micro hydel power project in Ajmera. Ulasyar claimed that despite several attempts to address the issue with the Deputy Commissioner, their concerns were ignored.
Khalid Khan Ajmera, affiliated with the Jamaat-i-Islami, asserted that over 20,000 electricity connections had been severed in the area during the crackdown, including those of regular bill-paying consumers.
Advocate Iqbal Khan, a local resident, accused local and Wapda officials of violating residents’ privacy by entering their homes during the crackdown on illegal connections in Ajmera village. He alleged that these actions violated cultural norms and the dignity of residents.
Khan further claimed that various local institutions and officials, including the Police Lines, the district headquarters hospital, and district administration, also owed payments to the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco). However, they had not been held accountable, raising concerns about accountability and fairness.
This protest in Battagram is the latest in a series of demonstrations against electricity issues in the region. In July, a jirga (council of elders) had warned of further protests if the problems, including unscheduled power outages and inflated bills, were not resolved promptly. The residents had highlighted that the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake had already caused significant hardships, and unjustified electricity arrears only added to their woes.
The Battagram residents are determined to continue their protests until their concerns are addressed by the authorities.