The Chhattisgarh State Electricity Board (CSEB) has been dispatching electricity bills to the primitive Pahadi Korwa tribals of Jashpur district since April 2014. About two dozen households even settled their dues late last year for fear of being penalised. The only catch in this transaction was that these hamlets are yet to be electrified.
Over 100 households in the hamlet clusters of Kardanpath, Harrapath and Giddha in Jashpur district, about 300 km north-east of capital Raipur, do not have domestic power connections, but all have them were slapped with “outstanding dues” and warned by a CSEB official that they would end up in jail if they failed to pay up.
Initially, the villagers were surprised to receive the power bills, but chose to ignore it. “Some of them paid up after six months or so, but the unpaid dues gradually swelled to roughly Rs 1,500 per household. And to top it all was the jail warning from some CSEB staff. The tribals then approached us. We have lodged our protest with the administration. We plan to go to court if remedial measures are not taken,” says social activist Satyendra Pathak
Villagers said electrification work has been going on for some years now. They were asked to fill up domestic connection forms by contractors erecting electric poles. The CSEB apparently sent the bills on the basis of these forms, even before the households got any power connection. Power department officials, however, refute the villagers’ claims.
“They were slapped with penalty by our team and no electricity bills were issued. They were engaged in power theft. As they were BPL families, we acted leniently in penalty amount too,” says CSEB spokesperson Vijay Mishra.
Aitwa Ram, a Pahadi Korwa tribal, said he got the actual bills and was not informed about any penalty. “We are poor but not thieves. The cables are insulated so you cannot use hooks to steal. I have no capacity to pay this bill of Rs 1,462,” he adds.
CSEB executive engineer SK Khakha under whose tenure the lapses occurred refused to speak. “I am now transferred to another district,” was his reply.