EDITORIAL: From Pan Shops To…

We have got to grant this. At least N Sarat Singh, the Chief Engineer of the Electricity Department was candid enough to admit that he has learnt about the availability of no due certificates at road side pan shops! The no due certificate norm was introduced as part of the Electricity Department’s initiative to check non-payment of power tariff and it is mandatory that all Government employees produce the same at the time of collecting their salaries. It is a different matter that such a rule does not apply to the elected members of the House for enjoying VIP connection in their official quarters.

For those who are familiar with the  way that corruption and all its accompanying ills have smoothly blended with the social norms of the Manipuri society, such a story as no due certificates being sold at road side  shops will not come as a surprise, but this should be no reason why such an act should not stir our conscience. The Chief Engineer has admitted this and it remains to be seen how the loopholes will be plugged and whether any punitive action would be taken up against all the employees involved in the racket.

What is significant in the public posture of the Chief Engineer is that it has come at a time when the Electricity Department is on a drive and pulling up people on charges of power theft, non-payment of power tariff and other irregularities, following the filing of a PIL by three citizens of the land over the erratic power supply in the State. The no due certificate at the pan shops story tells a significant tale and is just a symptom of the greater illness dogging the Electricity Department.

As things stand today, questions have already been raised over the manner in which the Electricity Department has launched its drive. These questions are serious for it can have far reaching social implications, that can be interpreted as stratifying the society into the haves and the have nots. It could mean, that A, a well to do Government employee will continue to enjoy power supply, while B the next door neighbor may just have to cope with lanterns and with the present state of Public Distribution System, even lanterns may be used only on rare occasions, since kerosene is not available at the subsidized rate but is sold at Rs 40 or so per liter in the black or grey market.

Such a situation provides the perfect opportunity to create social unrest and tension and division of society into classes and this will be all that more acute, when the 6th Pay recommendations begin to make its presence felt. We have put in this line of thought as something of a note of caution, for there are still many loopholes that need to be looked into. It calls for more than pulling up defaulters to set things right and the Government need to work out a broad policy of levying power tax, according to the income of a family or a household. Why not work out a model, where there can be three classes of power tax liable to be paid? To work this out will obviously mean a tough task and it will need more than a Commission to address all the factors involved.

The one day workshop on Electricity Consumers’ Awareness, jointly organized by the Joint Electricity Regulatory Commission of Manipur and Mizoram and the All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union on February 24 came at the right time, but the question of greater importance is whether, the workshop managed to shed light on anything to do with educating the consumers or was reduced to just another seminar or symposium, where the invitees felt  more comfortable sitting at the back row and catch their forty winks.

The Chief Engineer spoke at length on the measures that are in the pipeline to improve the power supply situation in the State and also repeated the immense loss incurred during transmission. The schemes in the pipeline are fine and welcome, but we would like to take this opportunity to remind all that loss of energy during transmission is a global phenomena and not unique to Manipur. If the loss is monumental and defies human explanation, then definitely there must be some technical defects. Why should the public suffer for want of electricity when the people responsible for its maintenance and supply are not doing their job?

The pre-paid meter system is a good idea, we agree, for then it would mean every household has to fork out a certain sum of money before they get access to power supply. The question that however remains to be answered is, what will the Electricity Department do, if there are more defaulters than the honest and conscientious citizens? Will the pre-paid system work in such a way that the moment the balance is exhausted, power supply will stop automatically, something like the system which the mobile service companies have for their pre-paid customers ?

So far there has been no coherent explanation, but the surprising thing is, everyone seems sold to the idea of the pre-paid meter system, which has been touted and trumpeted aloud but which no one seems to understand. Another point which we feel the Electricity Department should explain to the public is the frequent break downs of transformers in almost all the localities of Imphal and other places? Is there a mechanism in place to check the quality of the transformers or is there some unwritten code struck between the powers that be and the suppliers to make more money on the sly?

These are simple questions, but nevertheless which affect the daily activities of each and every single citizen of the land. It is a pity that the participants or resource persons at the workshop preferred the high brow approach with all technical jargons rather than addressing basic issues, which are familiar to all the Tombas and Chaobas of the land.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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