South Asia

Government 'incited' mob rampage at Karachi power firm

Karachi Electric Supply Company staff extinguish a burning car torched by sacked employees on 20 January 2011
Image caption Sacked workers ransacked the company's offices and have set up a protest camp

A power utility serving Pakistan's biggest city has accused the provincial government of instigating Thursday's mob attacks on its offices.

The violence came a day after the Karachi Electric Supply Company sacked some 4,000 employees in a restructure.

The MQM party - part of the ruling alliance in Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital - has demanded that the workers be reinstated.

The KESC says government has no right to "dictate" policy to a private firm.

The company holds exclusive franchise rights to supply electricity to Karachi, a southern port city of about 17 million people.

Power cuts

The utility used to be owned by the government, but more than 70% of shares were bought in 2005 by a Middle Eastern consortium.

Last month, the KESC offered a voluntary separation package to about 4,460 non-management and non-technical employees.

Under the scheme, employees were to be offered 6.8bn Pakistani rupees (£62m; $101m) in cash and investment certificates, KESC general manager Zulfikar Ali told the BBC.

But barely 400 staff opted for the scheme by the company's 15 January deadline.

On Wednesday, the firm sacked the other 4,000 or so workers who had been approached about accepting redundancy.

A day later, angry workers ransacked the company's offices in the Gizri area of Karachi.

They have set up a permanent protest camp near its head office, opposite the Sindh chief minister's residence.

The MQM party chief, Altaf Hussain, called for the "immediate reinstatement" of the sacked employees, in a statement on Thursday.

He said that if the KESC did not meet the demand, the MQM would "start a peaceful movement for their restoration".

The MQM has been critical of the company's failure to augment power generation, which it says was one of the conditions of its privatisation deal.

Karachi has seen angry street protests in recent years over recurring power cuts, which have brought air conditioning systems grinding to a halt, making life unbearable in the stifling summer heat.


The KESC says the decision to retrench "redundant" staff has been taken in view of its financial constraints.

"The government has no right to dictate policy to a private company," Mr Ali said.

"Ministers of the provincial government have aided, abetted and even instigated the violence that caused huge damage to the company property yesterday."

Sources say most of the sacked employees were given jobs in the KESC on political grounds during 2002-08 when General Pervez Musharraf was in power, and that few of them actually turned up at the office on a daily basis.

Latif Mughal, a KESC union leader, told the BBC: "It is true that political parties that are in power now have expressed solidarity with the [sacked] employees.

"But it is not correct to say that they are instigating workers to violence."

Latif Mughal has long been affiliated with the PPP party, which leads Pakistan's coalition government, and is also in power at a provincial level in Sindh.

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