(Dr. Yaseen Ahmad Shah, 52, was born in Sonrigund, near Avantipora, in the Pulwama district of Kashmir. He graduated from Government Boys College in Anantnag, and started his career as a college teacher at the Amar Singh College. He is presently the Principal of the Government Degree College for Boys in Anantnag, Kashmir. Dr. Shah writes under the pseudonym of Dr. Mian Mehboob)
Our Respectable Power Thieves
For quite some time now, the people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir have been debating and discussing the issue of power shortage, the modus operandi for having back our own power houses, and indeed the power theft (pilferage is not consciously used) at our own hands. Some jingoistic socio-moralists refuse to call the pilferage a theft as they believe that the electricity is our own possession. Some sporadic and occasional politicking on this crucial issue of electricity takes place and that is an expediency of democracy. We for example come across voices like - Mr. X sold our river- water rights and Mr. Y surrendered our power houses.
That apart, however, it is encouraging to find even the politicians in the opposition advising their voters and workers to judiciously use the electricity. Evidence for this is ‘The Hello MLA Program’ of the Radio Kashmir Srinagar and also the statements made by some opposition MLAs in various District Board meetings.
This is a positive stance and such a wise stand was also taken by our then opposition leaders at the time of launching of ‘The Jhelum Beautification Project’. The people in the opposition could have conveniently chosen to instigate the so called displaced souls who actually had encroached upon the banks of the river Jhelum. This should give us a hope that our politicians are maturing like their counterparts in the UP, where the plan of ‘Rs Twenty lakh Car Purchase by MLAs’ was rolled back by the Akhilesh government virtually on the advice of the opposition.
Coalition partners in unison have been projecting and pleading to the Centre for reassessing the advantages of the National Water Treaties to the state of J&K and grant the favour of transferring to the state the rights to use all the power houses constructed in the State on the financial support of the Central government. The civil society at large has been deliberating various options in this regard and one of them being to suggest to the state Govt. to issue an open appeal to the state subjects to contribute towards creating a fund and thus raise finances for reimbursing the Centre the money it invested on the construction of these power generating units. During a discussion on the issue of these finances I have pledged to make a modest donation of Rs. one lakh out of my GP Fund savings and the intend was respectfully tweeted to the incumbent CM.
Having started on this positive and somewhat rosy note one, however, is saddened to find the head of the present Govt. getting cornered on all sides as and when he chose to make a mention of the power theft /misuse at the hands of a common man and nongovernmental consumers. To corner the CM, rhetoric phrases like ‘inflicting a hurt on the national pride of a Kashmiri and casting a doubt on the collective integrity of this nation’ are generously utilized by the people rising above their respective politico- social affiliations. That, I believe amounts to being unfair to the young CM who ,it often seems is having some plan for making the state self reliant. On pure apolitical grounds the CM deserves to be encouraged for sticking to this stance and also to be reminded that his grandfather has had the guts of withdrawing the infamous ‘Food Subsidy’ that had turned out to be an object of humiliation and a white elephant for the economic interests of the State. This was done not withstanding a stiff but un- futuristic resistance of his political opponents.
To dismiss summarily the notion that we do not indulge in power theft is a falsehood that is fraught with the potent of risk to our economy and general moral and social psyche. Its economics is like a simple calculation of common arithmetic. We spend money for purchasing electricity and lose a major portion of this purchased commodity via pilferage at the hands of electricity thieves during the process of its distribution and sale. So I cannot afford to consume any space to over emphasise the fiscal aspect of the power theft and instead talk about other aspects. But, before that let us examine some instances of ‘power theft’.
The Power Development Department (PDD) authorities here had to notify the lists of people indulging in power theft (I am deliberately not using words like pilferage and hooking). These lists contained names of decisively honourable haves as well as have not’s. This needs to be clarified that our have not’s become reasonably good haves when it comes to paying their mobile phone and DTH bills and also that these have not’s could reasonably avoid the undue usage of electricity. Incidentally, I often notice a well to do retired Govt. servant on the electricity poll hooking dishonestly for a family comprising of himself, his officer son and his wife who, perhaps sadly, is the only unemployed family member. During a condolence assembly, a grief stricken son while narrating the final pre- death hours of her deceased mother (the death had been sudden although death has never cared to declare its arrival) spontaneously, in fact carelessly, revealed that the mother had minutes before her death advised him to put on the hook to enable her to prepare the evening meals. One of my aunts complained to a bijli-knowing guy that her meter was not cooperating in bijli- chouri although they had duly fixed the electricity theft with the bijli -waalas.
Another aunt turns unusually vocal to welcome the graft collecting Line man at the end of each month saying “step in sir, have some tea”. He facilitates an illegal power usage and she greases his palm. This utterance in an unusually louder voice is, perhaps, to condemn all the honest ones for not availing this available public service and thus getting entitled to a ruthless use of electricity and above all to keeping the electricity driven water motor running round the clock. This, I must admit, has caused an inconvenience as the water towards my house has refused to come in the absence of such a water sucking motor at my place. The aunt simply refuses to appreciate the logic of the honest people foolishly paying monthly electricity bills.
So, power theft is a reality although we could easily afford to either avoid it or appropriately pay for it. This, as I told, is dangerous for our psyche. What shall be a child in his formative years learning on seeing his elders creating and discussing excuses for their power theft and taking precautions to hide the act. This theft is generally programmed to clash with the timings of the magrib azaan and the dawn prayers. The children are also taught to be smart and contribute their bit of vigil in ensuring that the lawn-gates always remain bolted from the inside and always convince his friends in the neighbourhood that the cooking at home happens only on LPG heaters. What shall be the unfortunate state of mind of a person inside a prayer place standing beside or amongst the people whom he knows are established power thieves? Spiritual discomfort, I guess.
In Europe, the authorities, I have heard, do not need to delink the power supply to an area that is supposed to endure its share of load shedding. The people over there simply do not switch on their power run gadgets for that specific period and thus contribute in the nation building initiatives. We shall take some time to acquire that degree of emancipation. For the time being we stand condemned to have in place a watch and vigil mechanism to avert power theft at the hands of consumers. But unfortunately some people associated with this paid and hired service of power distribution are stabbing us in the back by facilitating the power theft and collecting money from the consumers and thus putting the government as well as the genuinely paying consumers to a lot of inconvenience and financial losses. Calculations are that if the money that is unduly going to the pockets of the Govt. appointed power guards had gone to the Govt. treasuries, the Govt. would have come to a position of providing power to its genuine power users at cheaper rates.
So the way out is not very difficult. Let the Government make the distributers of electricity at the highest as well as at the field level responsible for all the power thefts. Let big consumption- recording devices be installed at all the transformers of various localities and the concerned employees be wholly and solely made responsible for ensuring that collections commensurate to the consumption recorded against the concerned locality are accruing to the Govt. chest. The concerned employee shall automatically ensure that each domestic meter records even the fraction of the electricity units consumed by the individual domestic consumer.