The winter months have seen a seeming slump in government activities. While this is partly to do with a boycott of government related news as per a decision of the All Manipur Working Journalists Union, AMWJU, in protest against the arrest of the editor of vernacular daily, Sanaleibak, A Mobi, this is not all about it. Indeed, if a scan were to be done of events that made big news in the state over the past one year or so, they have mostly been about blood and gore and little to do with government pro-activity. In other words, when violence subsides, Manipur is left with little that can be considered newsworthy. In many ways, life in Manipur has come to be defined by a very dreadful mediocrity, in direct reciprocation to the government’s own mediocrity. Everybody has primarily come to be concerned about themselves only, and never the larger common good of the society. This being the case, the only sign of something with public interest happening at the moment is the government’s drive to clean up the rampant illegal power connection in Imphal. This drive followed a Public Interest Litigation, PIL, in the court by three private citizens demanding the government to clean up its slothful governance and ensure availability of power to consumers.
While the government’s dread of the court is appreciated, it has to be said that the government must push and expedite the drive strongly so that the onerous mission of ending illegal tapping of power is over and through at the soonest. Understandably, the drive has had traumatic effects on a lot many in Imphal, with many already booked and jailed for thievery of an important public property. The thieves are obviously guilty, but the government cannot be absolved either. Had it been strict all along, this trauma could have been avoided. But because it did not bother, illegal tapping of power had come to be seen as a bad but all the same normal practice, and practically everybody had joined the unrestrained looting. However, it is better late than never. The practice must be put an end to conclusively. After Imphal, the drive must also ultimately cover the whole state.
In an earlier move, the government had raised the flat monthly base rate for domestic electricity consumers to Rs. 450 from a paltry Rs. 250. At least government employees whose salaries are released only against payment slips of electricity bills would be paying this amount, bringing up the revenue of the electricity department at least a little. We are certain even this Rs, 450 would be far less than the consumption of most of the consumers. Therefore, rather than merely raising the base amount payable with an eye to augment revenue, we suggest the government should also use this means to coax the consumers to prefer payment by meter reading. As for instance, the government could raise the base amount to something like Rs. 1000 monthly and give the option to the individual consumers that they could ask for payment by the reading on un-tampered consumption meters supplied to them. We are certain most of the consumers then would begin to prefer the latter option, as they then can be more careful about their consumption pattern and ensure the meter reading is less than the stipulated non-meter monthly base amount payable. This would indeed be a nice and imaginative piece of social engineering.
But there is more for the government to do. In its drive to have everybody pay for what they consume, it must also not forget it is a welfare government. It must realise that its policies can prove too harsh for those living below the poverty line, and there is no gainsaying there are an increasing number of such families in Imphal and the state as a whole, as is the expected consequence of a stagnant economy where the only real employment with decent salaries are those provided by the government. It must come out with a calibrated power tariff system whereby families below the poverty line are given concessions proportional to their paying capacity. It would be cruel to see electricity becoming a privilege of the rich and out of reach of the poor. Not only would this seem heartless, but in the long run this overt and extremely visible disparity within the society would prove counterproductive. Social unrests the world over are characterised by such segregation of the society into rich and poor.