Sunday, February 20, 2011

In the Twilight of Electricity’s Department Disconnection Drive: Missing Questions

Recently three Manipuri gentlemen have filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the State Government in connection with erratic power supply. As a response or rather as a reaction to the PIL, electricity department had initiated a rigorous drive against the defaulters and unauthorised (illegal) power consumers under the Manipur Electricity Regulation Act 2003. The drive has resulted into the disconnection of many defaulters and put some of the unauthorised consumers behind the bar (as reported in newspapers). The reaction of the electricity department to PIL filed by the three gentlemen is sudden, drastic and unprecedented. It appears as if the department is suddenly awakened to its duty, which has been forgotten long ago. These three gentlemen should be applauded for making power department move through the PIL. It is needless to emphasise the importance of electric energy for the comfort and happiness of ever increasing middle class element in our society. In the modern age, life without electricity is simply unthinkable. This is particularly true for middle class element who is directly accessible to modern appliances and electronic gadgets to which modern notion of comfort and happiness solely depend. Second point is electricity, nowadays, is the moving force behind small scale industries, enterprises etc. in the state. For all the services that electricity provide us, it has become an essential component or should we say commodity in our life just as water, food, shelter, health and education. Nevertheless it is another matter that nobody talks about rising cost of health, education, poor quality of drinking water as well as scarcity of supply. Perhaps powerful section of our population can make access to the above sector and commodity from alternative source of services and market except electricity. For instance quality drinking water can be bought from market, quality health service is available in the expensive private hospitals and similar is the case of education. In fact ‘quality’ is the hallmark of middle class that defined their craze for ‘privatization’ and ‘opening up’ which is believed to bring an era of development and quality services in the state. The notion of good governance which is going around media and intellectual circle of the state is intrinsically related to the notion of privatization and liberalization. Good governance as a concept and practice in the third world became eminent from the 90’s of the twentieth century. This is a concept which became popular with the onset of economic globalization. Logically this idea is also related to the transparency and reform in the government and administrative practices. Reason behind the notion of good governance is to drive home the point that only privatization and liberalization with necessary structural transformation can serve consumers (people) better by providing goods and services.
Coming to the present disconnection drive launched by the Electricity Department, Government of Manipur, one cannot help but submit that it is too harsh an action whose victim is mainly the already victimised section of our society that is poor and downtrodden fellow of our society. Anyone having rooting in the moorings of Manipur society will agree with Yenning’s observation that the current disconnection drive is too hasty and harsh and it is untimely. Current action shows the very act of arbitrariness committed upon the larger section of the population by invoking an act which is so far oblivious to the public. It is untimely because from next month onward there is series of examinations which are crucial to the future career of younger generation. The ongoing drive of the electricity department to fish out the defaulters and illegal consumers with the help of state police, though appears justified and legitimate to some but to many it sounds like thunderbolt coming out of nowhere and the very act is unjustified and untimely. The action is too harsh because most of the consumers have to sell their belongings (property) to clear the dues in order to get the light. Another point is that most of the defaulters and unauthorised consumers belong to the poorer section that may not be in a position to clear the dues. Many are AAY and BPL card holders who are getting PDS items because of their poor economic condition. The crux point is, would they be able to clear their dues at one go. Definitely not, then what is the solution? One of the interesting points is the calculation of dues based on compound interest. This remind us of old feudal era where big landlords exploited and appropriated labour and property of the peasants and farmers. In fact compound interest is a kind of theft committed in broad day light by using arithmetic. This system must have no room within a democracy. One crucial point which we seem to have forgotten is to analyse the reason why around eighty percent of the consumers fail to give electric bill. What went wrong with the service provided by the electricity department? Why did the department remain mum so long on the issue of regular supply? Where have gone the promises of state government to the general public of Manipur for cheap and regular electric supply while initiating Loktak Project? One of the crucial missing element with all of us is, we very often ask but never question. It is time we the people of Manipur start questioning. We should now start questioning the reason why power (bill) rate per unit is very high in the state, what is the electricity department doing with regard to the defaulters who belong to the so called very very important persons (VVIPs)? Why does the government fail to deliver cheap and regular electric supply when there are abundant hydel power sources? Why should we pay rupees 400 monthly when there is no electric supply to the public?
The present disconnection drive is partial in the sense that it is applying only to the general public who have been overburdened with so much chaos and issues which perhaps are more crucial than the erratic supply of electricity in the state. So far electricity department is not touching the VVIPs area, quarters of ministers and MLAs as well as the government departments. According to media reports, till 30th September 2010 rupees 250 crores were due to consumers and rupees 22 crores to Government Departments which is nevertheless not detail. Some of the Government Departments which are yet to clear their bills are PHED Rs 7.85 crores, MAHUD Rs 3.07 crores, IFCD Rs 2.39 crores Medical Rs 99 lakhs, Electricity Department Rs 75.17 lakhs, Revenue Department Rs 68.47 lakhs, Manipur Police Rs 58.34 lakhs, GAD Rs 47.13 lakhs, Art and Culture Rs 46.57 lakhs, Minor Irrigation Rs 41.13 lakhs. Out of the Rs 250 crores due to the consumers, the amount due to the ministers, MLAs and VVIPs are also included. The moot question here is, who will disconnect the power supply of Electricity Department.
Considering the various flaws of the Electricity Department and unnecessary tension and anxiety resulting out of the current drive, we lay down following as charter of demands in the interest of general public of Manipur.
Stop immediately the current disconnection drive in the interest of students in view of the ensuing Board and Council Examinations.
Give a time period to the consumers to clear their dues and allow them to clear the bill on instalment basis.
Reduce the per unit charge of electricity to the affordable level that is rupees 3 per unit.
Stop archaic feudal style of taxing by removing compound interest in the calculation of electric bill.
Looking at the poor economic status of the general public and likely economic burden that may be resulted from their effort to clear the due, we demand for fifty percent waiving of the dues in the interest of the poorer section of the society.
Free electric supply to people who are living below the poverty line.
State government initiates the required process to appropriate the ownership of Loktak Hydel Project.

We believe that above action will go a long way in easing the burden of the people, and at the same time can restore regular supply of electricity to the people. In a democracy, there are certain procedures and ways of doing things, one cannot do things arbitrarily. It is equally important to see that both rich and poor be accommodated within a democracy. What we need here is the rule of law rather than rule by law. At the same time, in our craze for regular supply of electricity we should not remain blind to the falls and flaws of the concerned department and state Government and to the plight and untold miseries that will be accrued from the current drive launched by the Electricity Department in reaction to the PIL filed by the three gentlemen.

This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, February 13, 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment