Editorial – Dismal Water Management

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It took a Public Interest Litigation, PIL, to have the government pull up its socks in matters of tightening up its power supply system to control power thefts by numerous consumers in connivance with electricity department officials. So far however, while bill defaulting consumers and those tapping electricity illegally are being penalised, sometimes humiliatingly, what everybody is yet to see is any move to haul up electricity department officials who had allowed these theft all the while, often in collaboration. The principle compromised is the vital understanding in democratic jurisprudence that everybody is equal before the law, and that nobody is above the law. If the government is serious about ensuring this widespread electricity theft racket to end, it must also apply the rod to its own officials responsible either of neglect of duty or complicity in power theft, beginning from petty ground staff to those who these personnel are answerable to. If need be this responsibility fixing must go right up to the very top, including the minister in charge.
On the electricity front it is encouraging that there is some semblance of action and thereby a great deal of consciousness of the issue among the public. This is the kind of atmosphere needed to bring any change for the better. On and off, we have also been hearing how some bill defaulters are complaining this campaign of disconnecting defaulting power subscribers should stop until the government is able provide power supply uninterrupted. This is farcical, but the message should perhaps be read more leniently. Because the government electricity department has not been alert or else neglecting its duty of collecting power taxes, many defaulting subscribers have accumulated huge bills which may not be easy to pay in a single down payment. For these subscribers, the government should offer easy instalment facilities and perhaps a package to write off certain amount if the defaulting subscribers pay up a prescribed percentage within a specified time frame.However, the problem of theft of public utilities and services is not restricted to electricity alone. It is very much happening in the municipal water supply as well with the result that thieves and dishonest consumers who illegally tap government water pipelines not only in manner designed to siphon more water than consumers are allowed to, but also often with no official records hence without tax, get all the benefits, while honest consumers are left with hardly a trickle in their taps. Most of those who would not resort to thieving have no option than to buy water from private water tanker services, a growing enterprise which are now doing brisk businesses in the Imphal area precisely because of the failure of the government to avail them this vital and indispensible commodity. It is time for the government to take a proactive stance and begin the cleaning up act in this vital service too before it is caught on the wrong foot and in extreme embarrassment, and forced to do so by the court as in the case of electricity. Indeed, it is only a matter of days before a PIL comes up on this matter too.
Apart from the failure of the government in not policing well enough to keep these important services from thieves, what is also worrisome is the fact of what seems to be a widespread lack of civic sense amongst the people of the state. The general attitude cannot but remind of the cynical outlook to public psychology which says public property is nobody’s property. This total disregard of the altruistic sense of a progressive society which lays an unwritten moral premium on “the larger common good”, does not reflect civilised behaviour or even a civilised history which so many in Manipur claim at the drop of a hat. Nobody seems to think what he or she unfairly steals from the pool of public services or public properties would deprive a fellow citizen of his or her entitlements. Not only are the putative thieves insensitive, but even the victims of these acts of the thieving consumers have become numb and fail to be outraged at the deprivation of their right. This is to say, it is the duty of those whose entitlement are diminished by these thefts to complain to the authorities, and if the authorities are part and parcel of these thieving ways, to the court or law through mechanisms such as the PIL.

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