Living In The Age Of The Lanterns

It was way back in the latter part of the 80s, we wouldn’t say late 80s but definitely it was after 1985, that one of our more enterprising class mates brought a kerosene hurricane lamp to class, when asked by our lecturer to bring something which was an indispensable part in the daily lives of our elders, meaning our grandparents or parents, who were already on the wrong side of 50. Another one brought a candle stand. This was when we were undergrads in Delhi University and studying in one of the more prestigious colleges, Hindu College. Needless to say, the three boys from the North East, two from Arunachal Pradesh (One went on to become an MP and if we may add, his father Gegong Apang was the undisputed master in Arunachal Pradesh) and one from Manipur were left dumb founded for at that point of time and even now, the kerosene fuelled hurricane lamp and the candle stand were very much a part of our daily lives, for reasons that should be obvious to all and there is nothing to crow about this.

Now more than two decades later, there is nothing to show that we have made any progress on this front and on the contrary everything points to the fact that the situation has been deteriorating with each passing year. Yes, we are referring to the power supply situation in the State, a place, where receiving uninterrupted power supply for 6 hours at a stretch is a luxury and people have to cope with only 3/4 hours of power supply daily. Going back to the Delhi days, we still remember how a ruckus used to be kicked up by the load shedding that lasted for one hour or so at the most, and the trouble the Power Department went to explain the difficulties and the technical aspects of power transmission. We did not understand a bit of the explanation that was given, coated as it was with technical terms and jargons, but the effort of the Power Department to explain their position did not go unnoticed in our minds.

Western Grid is a term that we became accustomed after going through all the statements that the Power Department had to say and it showed a certain degree of accountability and that was perhaps something of an eye opener for us from Manipur. We are talking about the capital of the country and its power situation more than two decades back and today we have to face the same question confronting the capital of a State-Imphal. At the moment, the Electricity Department has not set a foot wrong in its drive against faulty meters, defaulters and other illegal means of tapping power and as far as the records show, as furnished by the department, the drive has yielded quite a handsome return. The credit for this should go to the young and dynamic Chief Engineer of the Department, N Sarat Singh for cracking the whip, though there will always be the shadow of the PIL filed by three prominent personalities of the State lurking behind and threatening to spoil his party and yes there are reasons for it. Though the Chief Engineer himself made it clear that the decision to go on the drive was not due to the PIL, the reading of the situation is otherwise.

We are made to understand that the current drive is being carried out under the Electricity Act of 2003, amended in 2007. The provisions of this Act is supposed to provide the necessary bite and muscle power to the Electricity Department while dealing with obstinate consumers and habitual offenders, by way of tampering the meter boxes, illegal tapping of power etc. Acting under this Act is fine and welcome, but it is still not yet clear why it took the Electricity Department so long to crack the whip. The silent story doing the round that the State Government was awaiting the green signal from the Ministry of Home Affairs to implement the said Act, sounds half baked. Moreover, shouldn’t it be the Union Ministry of Power that should be the final arbiter on this matter? There has been no clear cut answer to this, and yes it is also partly the fault of the media that no further queries were raised along this line.

As one of our on-line readers put it, the problems in the drive can get aggravated if we take into consideration the fact that a joint family may in due course of time break up into different units or nuclear families, with all living under one roof and sharing the power tariff equally amongst themselves. Now will this amount to unauthorized connection, given the fact that the Electricity Department has not been able to provide meter boxes to all consumers. The situation is tricky and sensitive and one wrong step could boomerang on the mission taken up by the Department. As for the argument that the tariff is too high for the poor and needy, we leave it to the Government to deal with the matter, but what should not be forgotten is the fact that there are no free lunches in this age and era.

The possibility of some genuine consumers, who have been paying their tariff regularly, turning the table on the Electricity Department, cannot be ruled out altogether. It is not beyond the realm of reality or possibility for a group of small time entrepreneurs to come together and file a case against the Power Department for the revenue lost, due to non-supply of electricity. Electricity is today not only about lighting up homes but is central to the livelihood of many, such as those operating a photostat centre, a small photo studio, the neighborhood workshop where tires are fixed, the mobile operators etc. Whichever way one looks at it, the first thing we need to accept is the fact that a tough line of action has been felt for long and the Electricity Department cannot afford to continue as the white elephant forever. It also needs to check the efficacy of its staff, particularly the linesmen and of course, questions should be raised over the quality of the equipments supplied by the man who is perceived to be close to the Minister.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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