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Dipender Manta , Hindustan Times
Kullu, July 10, 2013
Darkness shrouded the town for three days as the power department, fed up with non-payment of bills by the Kullu municipal council (MC), disconnected power supply to 50 streetlights for an indefinite period on Sunday. According to sources, the Himachal Pradesh high court had ordered the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (HPSEB) to take action against all such local bodies which owed more than Rs. 25 lakh to the utility.

Since the MC had not paid its electricity bills since 2001 and owed Rs. 5.12 crore to the board, a legal notice was sent to the local body.When the dues were still not cleared, the electricity department disconnected the supply to 50 streetlights for one day in March, and again on July 7.

Local residents, especially women, were left feeling insecure, particularly when forced to commute in the dark at night.

“It is difficult for women employees working till late evening in private and government offices to return home as the darkness gives cover to miscreants, who have become even more active,” said Kamlesh Verma, a resident.

Business too has been affected as shop owners are being forced to shut shop at least two hours earlier than the normal closing time to avoid becoming the targets of miscreants.Kullu shop owner Pushpa Devi said, “The cut has not only affected our business, but has also made it risky for women to venture out after sunset.”

Kullu assistant superintendent of police (ASI) Nihal Chand said patrolling had been made difficult as miscreants get more opportunity to commit misdeeds and could also easily flee under the cover of darkness.

MC vice-chairman Manu Sharma said, “We have requested the electricity department to exempt the surcharge on the bill which has been pending since 2001. We are ready to pay the rest.”He alleged the electricity department had disconnected the power supply despite timely payment of the current bills since March.

Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (HPSEB) superintendent engineer, Kullu, Pravesh Thakur said the department had given time to the local body to pay its dues but its failure to do so had forced the utility to discontinue supply partially.

Local MLA Maheshvar Singh said, “I have urged the state government to direct the regulatory commission of electricity department to exempt the surcharge and revise the rate of the bill, which would help the MC to pay its dues.”

He said it was regretful that Kullu residents and visitors alike were inconvenienced and urged the local authorities to resolve the matter at the earliest.