The electricity bill collection drive, in particular the disciplining of bill defaulters and outright power thieves is indeed encouraging for honest consumers of this essential service. When so many steal so blatantly and without any fear of being caught or hauled up, it is only but natural for even the honest consumers to begin thinking it is they who are the odd men out, and that it would be better for them to also follow the crowd. The result has been for many who would have been honest to end up as thieves, dragged into it by the sheer circumstance of the government’s lethargy and corruption. It has also come to light from complaints by many consumers that they had not received power consumption bills for years, and now as the court-induced bill collection drive gets underway, they find themselves with huge accumulated dues against their names, more often than not outside their capacities to pay. Many of these connections, it is learnt from news reports, have also been disconnected. This is hardly likely to be lasting, and indeed, it is also learnt that those whose connections have been terminated, reconnect their power lines on their own once the officials disappear, indicating that the authorities would have to resort to perpetual tough policing if they want their drive to be successful totally. Such a situation would indeed be unfortunate. For one, it would be such a waste of government manpower, for another, it would create unnecessary social tensions. Both would also have been perfectly avoidable had the government not allowed the situation to come to such a pass.
As of now the situation is bad. The total electricity due pending with private consumers as of now, according to the chief engineer of the department, is a whooping Rs 298 crores. Of these, only Rs. 10.3 crores have been collected so far. This outrageous and almost universal thievery accounts for 80 percent power loss, according the chief engineer. This would be unthinkable anywhere, and for this reason alone, the present power consumption disciplining drive, although very late, is still absolutely called for. However, it would be wrong for the government, the power department in particular, to assume a high moral ground. Had it been doing its bit honestly and diligently all these years, the present situation would not have arisen at all. That is to say, had it been sending out consumption bills and pursuing punctual clearance by the consumers all along, the huge deficit would not have mounted to the extent it has now. Had they been carrying out their responsibilities as specified, it would have been much easier for the consumers too to pay up.
This being the case, the government must think of evolving a repayment scheme. It must think of easy instalment schemes for those burdened by huge accumulated power dues, and perhaps even waived of a percentage of it. This would be more profitable too, for if it insists on full down payment, a good many if not the majority would be simply helpless to pay. Obviously, it is better to have at least half than to have none. The government must also evolve another scheme to ensure that no home of its citizenry living below the poverty line is left dark. If it must, let it hike up the general power cost to subsidise the commodity for those in low income groups. And for the no income group, it could even devise a scheme by which they get to have a limited connection, say two CFL bulbs worth of consumption for eight hours daily free and anything above it, chargeable. After all, India is also a welfare state in spirit, with a vow to look after its weak and slow sections. The government hence cannot afford to have anybody left out of the benefits of the system totally. It is not only unethical, but ultimately it would prove socially unprofitable. Gross disparity and inequality would always breed contempt for the system from those on the fringes. An insurgency torn state like Manipur should understand this logic better than anybody else. So then, let the government bask in the richly deserved public appreciation in its current power drive, but let it be humble enough to admit that the situation was allowed to degenerate to the present situation by none other than itself. Let it therefore also foot a percentage of the consumption bills pending with low income power consumers.