Rice millers vow to shut down factories if new power tariff not taken back

LARKANA: The Sindh-Balochistan Rice Millers and Traders Association (SBRMTA) has rejected newly imposed electricity tariff and warned if the government does not take it back on or before Dec 18, 2,500 rice mills in the two provinces will ground operations to a halt in protest.

Asad Ali Tunio, general secretary of the association, told Dawn on Thursday that the millers had received highly inflated bills and had decided to challenge the exorbitant raise in the bills in court.

The millers’ meeting decided to start staging protests outside press clubs against the management of power utilities, SEPCO, HESCO and QESCO, from Dec 10, he said.

He said the association had drawn prime minister’s attention in a letter dated Nov 11 towards the recently imposed SRO by NEPRA wherein half of the sanctioned KW load was forcefully charged. The millers demanded de-notification of the SRO and approval of subsidised tariff for the rice mills, he said.

He said in reply to a question that paddy was cultivated in both provinces on around 300,000 acres of land and their annual produce of IRRI-6 rice alone was three million tonnes. Of it 1.7 million tonnes were exported to earn foreign exchange of $1.8 billion, he said.

He said that the association estimated that 55 per cent crop had been damaged in heavy rain and flood and feared food scarcity in the days to come.

He said that despite the fact that the crop had suffered heavy damage the electricity bills had been raised which had multiplied the millers’ woes. The population in this rice belt had not yet switched over to an alternate crop after the paddy suffered damage in flood onslaught, he said.

Roughly 20 labourers were engaged in every rice mill hence the total number of workers in 2,500 rice mills in both the provinces came to 50,000, who might lose jobs if the mills stopped operations, he said, adding they would definitely migrate to towns and cities, which would further aggravate conditions in urban centres.

He said that without jobs, they would possibly turn to crimes and demanded the government pay attention towards this serious issue as the new tariff was proving disastrous for the rice mill industry.

If people at the helm of affairs turned deaf ear towards their genuine demand the millers would have only one recourse and that was to put locks on mills, he said.

He said that according to routine practice rice mills ran for only six months a year but this year the closure time would extend to ten months because of less paddy production.

During the closure time the power utilities in Sindh and Balochistan had to recover half of the sanctioned KW load in the light of recently imposed SRO, he said.

It would be sheer injustice with the rice industry which demanded the government take urgent remedial measures or the millers would shut down their factories in both the provinces after Dec 18, he warned.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2022

Date: 25-Nov-2022