Water Thieves

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The manner in which the government is swinging into action to streamline its electricity distribution network as well as to haul up unauthorised connections in the Imphal area after a Public Interest Litigation, PIL, by three individuals, came up for hearing in the Imphal bench of the Gauhati High Court against it abject inability to avail more than about four hours electricity daily to private consumers is welcome. However we wish the government’s action had come on its own initiative and not after it was goaded into it. Basic governance is precisely about bringing about a semblance of public order through the legitimate exercise of the power of the state entrusted in the government of the day. If the government persists on what it is doing now, we are certain things will improve for the better in the near future, not so much because many unauthorised connections would have been terminated, but more so because the message sent out loud and clear would be that there is an ever present governmental authority overseeing that rule of law is established with force if necessary wherever it is breached. So far, this is what has been lacking the frustratingly for honest consumers.

But the lesson for the government must not end here. The PIL on power supply and the government’s dramatic response to it should not be just a matter of a localised, issue specific, knee-jerk reaction. Similar PILs could also begin to be filed in other areas of public services now that it is known this can make the government squirm. As for instance, if electricity supply has been bad on account of the government’s ennui all this while, the same can be said of its municipal water supply in the Imphal area. Today, tap water runs barely a few hours a week, and most consumers have to buy clean water from private water tankers for their needs. Here too the maladies are strikingly similar. Unauthorised tapping of water from the main government supply pipelines with the connivance of petty officials of the public health engineering department, PHED, is as rampant. Here, a closer inspection would demonstrate that individual consumers at will drill holes into the main supply pipelines, disregarding government norms such as allowed width of the siphoning pipelines, the side of the main pipelines where the holes are to be drilled etc. This being the case, it will be noticed even in the same locality, certain unscrupulous households with “connections” would have perennial, high-pressure water supply, depriving other honest consumers of their share of the same commodity.
Since many of these connections are made in unauthorised manner, it is uncertain if they do not cause chinks in the main supply lines through which foreign impurities could seep in from outside during non-pumping hours, thus causing health hazards for all. Before another PIL comes up in the court on this front too, the government should on its own initiative, clean up the mess and save itself similar embarrassments as the one it is facing now before the general public. The government must make its presence felt – always.

What the government is doing now, and what it is expected to do always in such matters, however cannot be the ultimate solution to these problems. While power and water thefts caused by governmental mismanagement are major factors for the shortages of these commodities, they are definitely not the only ones. There are many more, and many of these the concerned government departments had already convincingly explained. As for instance, in the case of electricity it has been given to understand that the shortage is also on account of the inability of the state to bring in adequate supply from the national grid because of its existing primitive transmission capabilities. In this regard, new state of the art transmission system are being constructed and once completed, electricity availability would have been augmented considerably. If power theft is also checked along with this, the state should see an end to its power woes. In the case of water too, shortage is also a major problem besides the organised thefts by unscrupulous consumers. The government claims once the major dam projects it is undertaking are complete this problem would be put to rest. However, if it does not manage to clamp down on water thieves, no matter how much water availability is augmented, there will always be shortage, especially for honest consumers.

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