A decade after starvation death, Bengal village lives in darkness due to unpaid power bills
The tribal-dominated village of Amlashole has been living in darkness with no electricity for more than two months, because the sole transformer was struck by lightning and has not been repaired, or replaced, since.kolkata Updated: Oct 29, 2017 15:50 IST
In June 2004 the village of Amlashole in West Bengal’s West Midnapore district grabbed national headlines after five tribals allegedly died of starvation. The government rushed supplies and tried to improve the villagers’ lives. When Mamata Banerjee came to power in 2011, she made the village her showcase project -- constructing roads, providing water supply and electricity, and subsidised ration.
But despite the spotlight, Hindustan Times has found that the tribal-dominated village has been living in darkness with no electricity for more than two months, because the sole transformer was struck by lightning and has not been repaired, or replaced, since.
The reason: Most of the consumers live in abject poverty and can’t afford to pay pending electricity bills. Amlashole lies near the Bengal-Jharkhand border at the heart of Jangalmahal that was once dominated by Maoists.
Power to Amlashole is supplied through a transformer located at Kendgara Para.
Incidentally, the village is inhabited by tribals such as the Mundas and Sabars, who are not only poor but also socially marginalised . During British rule, the Sabars were even categorised as a ‘criminal tribe’ under the Criminal Tribes Act 1871.
“We are poor people who earn our daily bread with meagre wages doing odd jobs. How will we pay electricity bills? The chief minister is giving a lot of things to Jangalmahal including rice at Rs 2 a kg, she also can give free electricity to us,” said Madan Sabar, a villager.
The villagers pointed out that during her visit to Amlashole in January 2014, Banerjee assured supply of all basic necessities to the impoverished area.
During her three-day visit to the district on October 9-11, the chief minister instructed the officials that they should not ignore the complaints and problems of the tribals.
“The people of Amlashole submitted a complaint. We are taking steps to repair the transformer,” Ujjwal Roy, the divisional manager of West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company told HT.
“I shall try to solve it within 24 hours,” power minister Sovandeb Chatterjee told HT on Saturday after learning about the problem.
According to officials in West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company, there are about 2 lakh consumers in Jhargram area, out of whom more than 1.5 lakh have not paid their bills for several years. The dues have run up to almost Rs 100 crore, the board said.
Officers of the power utility said residents of Amlashole have not paid up even after they were told to pay the due in 24 instalments.
Their bills from November 2008 till July 2014 were waived after intervention by Banerjee.