By Chitra Ahanthem
Today’s FOOTNOTES is a first ever: it is an open letter and entreaty to the Electricity Department, it is an elegy to all the time I have lost more than half my mind trying to figure what to do when the light/electricity goes off while I am writing and I am stuck with a deadline that I have to meet, it is a cry for help. One reads newspaper reports that the entire state will be electrified by 2020: but if electrification means rationing out a few hours of electricity per day, pray what achievement is that supposed to be? There is a PIL seeking adequate electricity but nothing much has happened. Rather, the ration of some 5 and a half hours of electricity that happens in 3 cycles every 24 hrs has been recently decreased. It has now become a 3 hour ration of power/electricity/light every 24 hours.
5 and a half hours of electricity was difficult for most people. One still had to juggle every plug point in the house: charge mobile handsets, the battery and the inverter, do the ironing, washing, operating the water pump, heat the water and what not. Since the 5 and a half hour would be spread in three cycles (one for the morning, afternoon and night) it meant that one could only do certain things at the said hours. This would be the norm in every household. For people earning a livelihood by taking up small industries like rice milling, vehicle workshops and others; the short spells of electricity means loss of their earnings or having to invest in generators. The later meant that extra cost for petrol or diesel, which in turn raised the cost of services.
As someone operating on a freelance basis and working from home, I do not have an office, which takes away the electricity factor for me. That means I have lost the number of times I have gnashed and gritted my teeth in frustration when I am in the middle of a report I am writing or an article that I am trying to finish while the laptop battery shows a thin red blip that says “only 9 minutes left”. I have also lost count of the number of times I have lugged my laptop and left it to be charged (turn by turn) at 5 different houses in my locality where they have VIP electricity connectivity. I have also found that it is very distracting when I try to write in somebody else’s home and plus, there is always the added factor of discomfort of having people ask why I am doing what I am doing.
I am also genuinely confused over the “VIP line” : does it mean 24X7 electricity can be given to ONLY to VIPs? Or does it mean that it is a VIP line in itself? As it is, one hears that file moving fees and getting the necessary approval for the VIP line does make it special. I will not have any chance at all if this line is meant for VIPs: in no way can an unemployed and freelance writer and researcher ever have the VIP tag. Could the department please clarify who is a VIP and/or what needs to be done to get the VIP line? I am told that a person who is granted the VIP line must pay for the cable lines and that normally the grand total of the money needed to get such a line would be something in the bracket of 50-60 thousand ruppees. The simple maths tell me, that could be one reason why the 24X7 electric supply is called the VIP line: normal people would think many times before spending that much.
What then is the alternative, dear Electricity Department? One reads of power drives and bill drives and then you seem to forget everything and go back to square one. Manipur certainly must be the only place in the whole wide world where people have to pay their electric bills not per usage but by a fixed rate and that too, pay for the electric that is never there! Like many households, my family invested in a Moreh bought set pair of a battery and an inverter to make up for power shortage at nights. This was in 2000. We always thought the situation of electricity would one day improve: we are now into our third set of battery and inverter! However. Having a Moreh bought inverter and battery set (or even an Indian made set for that matter) really does not help: one cannot use the power so generated to iron, heat water, run the water pump and in my case, plug in my laptop to write!
3 hours of electricity for every 24 hours possibly means that the electricity department of Manipur may well have a shot at an entry in the Guiness book of world records. There are power cuts or load-shedding(s) happening everywhere but a mere 3 hours of power supply! Should we then congratulate you or hang our heads in shame that we the public, have allowed this to happen?
You could not have given us the 3 hour electric supply as a New Year gift or is it supposed to be a prank? I certainly hope it’s the later. So we have found it funny. Look, it’s even featured in FOOTNOTES so please, let’s stop the prank now shall we? If this is indeed serious business and is an omen of how the hours without electricity will only get longer, one shudders to think of going back to the dark ages literally. If this was anyplace but Manipur, I would have thought of reading my citizen rights: I would have pointed out to the international charters and covenants and said the state is meant to give its citizens a life of dignity and that would mean electricity, water supply and good roads. I would have thought of taking you to court and suing you for my consumer rights. But this is Manipur, where everything can happen but where everything that should happen, does NOT happen. And because this is Manipur, I will now start (or attempt) to look at how that blasted VIP line can reach my house.
And what if you could turn Manipur into another place. You can vote for change. I guess we will find out if you did soon enough. But if you feel stuck with Ali Baba and the Cave of Forty Ministers, there is the old chestnut of direct Presidential Rule. But then what.
People are stealing your electricity because they are stealing everything. Last year Sri Chidambaram promised 70 crore for that road that you have never built. He hoped for one approaching the quality of a highway in Delhi. This year he has bumped it up to 80 Crore 15% more that’s a figure and no requirement of quality in fact this year it’s not even the whole road. Once the extra “Tax” gets paid the Civil Engineer then has a few kidnappings of relatives, some tens of crores are given for that, then there are demands that 50 contracts for road workers be given to a list of names. By that time there is so little left he takes his cut and still no road. Spare me the geology lecture the Swiss have built tunnels through the Alps the British and French tunnelled under the sea, the Americans prefer suspension bridges. Manipuris steal.
But you muddle along and make do. You personally drop by friends with VIP lines nice if you can do it. Your boss has been saying the reason the Calcutta Telegraph was burnt and banned hey will this get published no matter, he says the reason was to stop Mr Hazare from visiting remember him.
This is the thing Chitters, Direct Presidential rule on its own just gives more powers to someone other corrupt Neta appointed by Congress UPA and why should he be honest. Remember the Solicitor General called back to give advice on anti-corruption to the Ibobi Singh Administration. He was shot twice in the back by two of the CM’s Ministers and thus retired from giving advice.
I have another simple plan. I know you don’t like simple plans that might work but hear me out. Invite Mr Anna Hazare to fulfill his promise and visit Sharmila. No that’s not the entire plan. That would be the first step.
Ok so I hope that he will then visit the State more widely and offer his assistance. If the people would like electricity 24/7. Roads and an entire infrastructure so that they can capitalize on Burma’s ascent to democracy and the opening up of S E Asia to India after the Depression ends. Direct Presidential Rule with Mr Hazare and Team Anna given Eliot Ness and Untouchables powers (i know the word don’t mean the same over here). Sure your boss and all his friends maybe even you Chitters (Ok not you they don’t actually pay you do they) will have huge tax bills stretching back sixty years. You can’t hide wealth and the ruling elite are showy. Pay tax or go to gaol. With the money endow the University give extra value. Build it up from bottom 1000th to top 1000th. We constantly are told how clever Manipuris are, how educated. If you stop the crooks from stealing Chitters. And since the bad boys are racketeers not insurgents they need police not the army. Denotify Disturbed Area Status forthwith and let Kiran Bedi show the DGs how police work is done. One suggestion from your local boy is that police officers dress in civilian clothes to stop them being killed. Not sure where he was going with that one. I assume he means having paid him 300k rupees to join or 2 million to be an officer he knows they are villains and wants them to pretend that they aren’t police officers. Preferable to having them swagger about looting and raping I guess but I am sure Kiran Bedi wants closure and can do a better job.
Five years and real elections and let all the parties campaign meantime. Of course it won’t happen Chitters. Now you can invite Mr Hazare your boss will say his coming is because he is an international sex spy come to destabilize Manipur’s development and to seduce Mammata Bannerjee.
Nothing like free speech eh Chitters.