From Hiyang Athouba
IMPHAL, Aug 7: The Electricity Department in Manipur said to be the den of corruption has been much in the news. It is a little concealed fact that the officials construct palatial buildings, acquire properties disproportionate to their known income and even a class four employees owns brand new cars. In Manipur's context the befuddled employees have not found it necessary even to make perfunctory denials.
Manipur has been facing perennial shortage of power. At an average the Power Department can supply power for two-hour in a day. There are many villages in the valley and hills where the people have not seen electricity in their lifetimes. And the government has been spending Rs 15 crore per month to buy power from various sources. Some persons filed a PIL on the power mismanagement.
Taking advantage of the PIL the department launched a campaign to disconnect unauthorized connections. The official explanation is that since the number of unauthorized consumers is legion there is a shortage round the year. In a sense it was welcome since this long overdue official action will help augment the power position. However, there were flaws. The officials never conducted the raids, ordered the police to arrest the unauthorized consumers in Thoubal district from where Chief Minister Okram Ibobi was elected. Likewise, localities said to be close to powerful ministers were left out. The raids were also not conducted in the Imphal city dominated by the rich traders. It is on record that not a single powerful trader had been arrested for unauthorized connections although people know that it is a widespread practice among the traders.
The department claimed that several persons had been arrested and lakh of rupees collected as fines or due taxes. There was no big shot among those who were arrested and fined. Instead they are low rung persons without any political patronage or connection. The elected representatives and almost all government offices owe power bills in terms of lakh of rupees. In the eyes of law all are equal. In other words, these powerful elected representatives and heads of departments of the government offices should have been arrested like the common consumers.
Letters to editors have appeared in several newspapers pointing out that the electricity department never send the bills on monthly basis. Sometimes bills for 6 or more months are sent to a consumer. The department had also purchased very defective power metres which malfunction all the times. As a result the metre readers have been fixing tax at the rate of Rs 5 per bulb. Naturally, there are rooms for personal gains through this unheard of system.
In view of the selective raids by the officials there was a scramble for new connections. But things are made very difficult for the intending consumers since various documents which are not easy to obtain have to be furnished. There is no counter in the power department where an intending consumer could deposit the same. This is a part of the well chalked out plan to earn extra income by the dishonest officials. All these documents including the applications have to be done through some employees of the department. Once the new connection is okayed by the department after an inordinate delay the fee has to be deposited. Since there is no official in the counter money is to be deposited through the linesmen, metre readers or any employee who happens to be in a friendly term. Though the official fee for new connection is Rs 2500 only such middlemen are taking Rs 4500.
There are also allegations that some friendless persons are pulled up every now and then. They are released only after a few thousand of rupees are paid. They were not produced in a law court nor receipt given for the money paid. However, it was assured that they would not be pulled up again. One newspaper had exposed the clandestine sale of power to other states by the electricity department. The expose said that sales proceeds might have been pocketed by some higher ups since this was not reflected in the official account. A fuming chief engineer told reporters that if it can be proved that power is thus sold to other states he was ready to tender resignation.
After some days the same newspaper came out with a report quoting official documents and reports establishing that the power department has been selling power. The paper dared the chief engineer to resign. He did not issue a rejoinder. He has not resigned so far. Meanwhile, Manipur continues to grope in the dark. There is load shedding every alternate night. A consumer gets power hardly for two-hour in the day time. Long time back small scale industries had died and people cannot taste chilled beer or water.