Manipur continues to reel under a power crisis. Two things above all are responsible for this. One is obvious, and has been repeated endlessly by media commentators of all hues. This has to do with power theft. According to an electricity department official who spoke at a recent interface with the public organised by a civil society body, while power theft is a common phenomenon in all the states of the northeast and indeed India, in no state the theft is anywhere close to the atrocious 80 percent recorded in Manipur. Imagine, only 20 percent of the electricity consumed in the state is paid for by the consumers, which include in a major way, several government departments. It is common knowledge today that practically every consumer steals, some partially, and others totally. The government says this will be taken care of by new technologies which are soon to be introduced, such as by using air pocket sealed cables which cannot be tapped easily illegally and underground cables which will be even more difficult to access illegally. Also soon to be introduced is a prepaid system, similar to the mobile phone pre-paid cards by which consumers would have to buy first and use the commodity. All this is very well, but the only problem is, while the department may come to acquire the right hardware to prevent theft by the public, it is unlikely the siphon would be totally plugged considering much of the power thefts which have been happening so far, are in connivance with department officials, petty and not so petty. If this corruption is also not put an end to, no matter what theft proof hardware is introduced, the security will be breached from inside and it will be back to square one, or at least very close to it again.
The second cause for the power paucity in the state, as per official claim is that the state does not have a transmission system which can bring in the volume of electricity needed by the state from the national grid, although its quota is very much available for it to use. The claim also is this transmission system is under construction and by this year it would be ready, and thereafter the shortage would be history. While we welcome this news, what is beyond comprehension is, why is the government not taking the matter on an emergency footing? While the internet broadband equivalent of electric power transmission system is being built, why is it not thinking of an alternative means to make power available to consumer in the meantime? If the new transmission lines as well as the power theft fool-proofing are billed to take another year or so, why is the government taking the public so much for granted that they can remain power starved for so much longer.
We can suggest a way. As per the official explanation, all states have to buy power from the national grid, and that from the electricity produced by the Loktak Project, the state gets only 12 percent as its share and the rest goes to the national grid. If this is so, until the transmission line which would bring in enough electricity for the state is ready, why is the state not thinking of buying all of the rest of the electricity produced by the Loktak Project after taking its 12 percent, instead of the electricity produced first being sent to the national grid first and then re-transmitted back to the state. This option should have been available all throughout the last many years the state has been living with an acute shortage of electricity. We suspect that the government was aware of this but was not interested. As some reports are indicating, the state is currently selling off its share of electricity to other states, and the revenue earned is being projected as the state’s earning. This, if true, is outrageous. It is like selling off rice to make a profit, when the state is in a famine situation, the kind of bigoted government policy that led to the momentous women’s uprising in 1939 which the state today celebrates as the Second Nupi Lal. In this regard, it is interesting that a Public Interest Litigation, PIL, has been filed by three individuals. Hopefully this will goad the government to wake up and swing into action for better. In the meantime, it is also time for the public to be aware of their rights to not only demand to have the basics a government is expected to guarantee its citizens, but also to know the reasons behind failures of the government to do what it is expected to do. Unless such awareness come about, they will continue to be taken for granted by the ruling elite, just as they have been condemned to a decade of frustrating and spirit-sapping rosters of load shedding and power cuts.