Electrifying Effect: The Disconnection Drive In Manipur

Across India, rural electrification programs such as Prime Minister’s package under Non-lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR), Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reform Program (R-APDRP), State Rural Electrification and others had been undertaken with the target of achieving cent per cent result. The rural electrification scheme on household electrification at the national level viz RGGVY under the Ministry of Power was launched in April 2005. The objective of this scheme is to electrify all left out villages and habitations including remote areas, provide access to electricity to all households and give electricity connection to below poverty line (BPL) families free of charge (The last clause is strangely electrifying; we’ve never heard about it in Manipur). In the case of Manipur, Manipur Renewal Energy Development Agency (MANIREDA) under the Manipur Science and Technology Department have been supporting electrification program for the remote areas with non-conventional energy sources, such as solar, wind, biomass and others.

One report indicates that by March 2006, 1912 (82.59 per cent) villages of the total villages in Manipur have been electrified and 52.53 per cent of rural households have actually been electrified! I am totally confused; confused in the sense of understanding the term ‘electrified’. Does the term stand for providing the needed infrastructure of electricity (wires, electricity posts, transformers, etc) but without regular supply of electricity as is happening in Manipur today? Or does it mean getting ‘regular’ supply of electricity in addition to having the needed infrastructure? If it is the case of the latter understanding, then I say, it is a bloody damn report. We know how much electrified we are in Manipur.

Issue of outstanding dues

Manipur State Electricity Department (MSED) is undertaking disconnection drive at a war footing. Rationalization in power supply, i.e. giving electricity only to those who does not have any outstanding dues and removal of encroachers (power thieves or illegal connections), is the guiding principle behind this drive. However, the issue is how has the dues accumulated over the years? Is it the case of consumers intentionally voting against payment of electricity bills given erratic nature of power supply? Over and above, is there a sense of ‘being cheated’ amongst the consumers given the chaotic nature of power situation? Let me not talk about pilferage resulting from power theft and illegal disconnection instead dwell upon these few questions.

With reference to Manipur, the demands for electricity power have always surpassed the supply. Yes, there is an outstanding due to be paid. However, this is precisely because power revenue collection has always been poor. Forget about revenue collection, how many of us receive the electricity bill on a regular basis. It is more akin to the electricity power situation in our State. The reason for low revenue collection, it’s not wrong to assert, is first and foremost on account of the inefficiency on the part of the staff of the MSED. Secondly, payment of the bills is also directly related with the erratic power supply. Given the situation, consumers are reluctant to pay.

Moreover, MSED or the electricity department does not have any mechanism to charge the bill for the period where there were no power supplies. It is a fact that there is a major failure in the transmission and distribution system in some point of time and place.

Let’s also ‘acknowledge’ the other side of MSED or simply the electricity department. It is not unusual for clubs and associations hiring trucks to carry electric transformer either to be repaired or installed. In many instances, we have to pay more than the needful amount so as to be ‘given’’”post, wires or transformer. These everyday instances prove the sunken state of the department. Age-old complaints against the failure of the transmission and distribution remains to be rectified by the department. This shows that there have been many responsibilities on the part of the electricity department which could not be fulfilled and that also contribute in the present power crisis of Manipur.

Government needs to come out with a reasonable tariff structure for the people who always supported in terms of labor and money in the problems related to transmission and distribution systems. In the present situation, higher tariffs should not strangle the emerging need to use power. For example, what should be the criteria for billing the monthly electricity charges when the department itself cannot provide meter to all the consumers? Has the fixed-monthly-bill taken care of the time period when there is no power supply? There should be a mechanism, in which the electric bill should be charged in proportion to the amount of power supply. Billing should not be equal for there are unequal power supplies.

The present drive of disconnection is a hasty decision on the part of the department. The department may have many rules to back them up but the helpless people have no choice but sell their belongings to clear the dues. It is not ethical on the part of the electricity department and I hope the Government will intervene quickly.

Many a times I have noticed in the newspapers that even the MLA’s and many Departments of Manipur Government have outstanding electricity bill but no disconnection drive was launched then. The people should be given some time on moral ground.

‘No dues’ certificate for Salary

To cover up the deficit amount, the State Government has notified that every State employee should submit ‘No Dues’ certificate from the Electricity Department for every six months in order to get their salary. This rule doesn’t apply to the Central employees who are working in the State. It seems like the Government is collecting the electric bill from the State employees by force to recover the revenue. This is not fair on the part of the Government, rather shows the partial treatment to the Government employees. In order to get the salary, whether erratic or no power supply, the State employee needs to clear the electricity bill. This is a pure sign of dictatorship. A clear cut division among the employees who are working in a same State and using the same source of electricity is visible.

Cost of our living today

Completion of rural electrification is the pride of every State. Our rural economy is worst affected as the Government has done nothing for uplifting the rural people’s economy. NREGA has not served the purpose; rural development program has no meaningful change in the rural society. Is all the rural development work implemented properly in Manipur? What is the government doing? Let’s accept the truth that living cost in Manipur is becoming higher than any other economically stronger states like Punjab and Haryana. You would agree that the value of a human being in Manipur is lower than its living cost. In our State, the price of one liter of kerosene oil is Rs. 70. Transportation fare has sky-rocketed, and continue to increase. And there is no sign of initiating any regulatory bodies to check indiscriminate increase in the prices of commodities or services rendered by private institutions or the middlemen. Development should be the development of the people. Even if the Government built big Institution, Trans National Highways, Flyovers, Roadside pavements, if the people of the place cannot afford it, then whose development you are talking about.

PIL & Disconnection?

In the given situation, the Government should try to find out means and solution apart from the recent disconnection drive. Whether or not it is related to the recent PIL filed against the Electricity Department, the recent drive against the defaulters seems to be the anger released by the concerned authority to cover up their mismanagement. It is true that one should pay for what they consumed, there is no free meal. But then the supply should also be regular and regular load shedding should be minimized in any geographical or weather condition and even during the peak hour. The question in front of the authority is: is the power department ready or prepared for uninterrupted power supply, assuming that all the defaulters are disconnected? I do not think so.

The recent disconnection drive of electric line of the poor people is not the solution for what the PIL was filed for. Most importantly, those who filed the PIL cannot sit idle now; lest fury of the people is directed against them. In electoral democracy, it is easy to buy the people. Petitioners of the PIL, now, must take action to mobilize popular support or another PIL must be filed to stop the disconnection drive. There have been many popular movements against the failure in power supply, even to the extent of burning down the sub-divisional electricity department. However no such disconnection drive were launched unlike the reaction and the impact given by the PIL. There are people who can pay tax and also people who can clear their dues. But there is also the other lot. The complex reality of our socio-economic structure must be taken into account and also the working styles of various government departments in Manipur, any hasty decision will be disastrous for larger section of our society.

*The article is written by Naorem Kishorchand.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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