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Power restored in Bengal’s impoverished tribal village but unpaid bills mount

The state-run power supplier finds itself in a bind because many villagers in Jhargram district are so impoverished that they cannot afford to pay power bills which have mounted to Rs 100 crore.

kolkata Updated: Oct 31, 2017 15:19 IST
Koushik Dutta
Koushik Dutta
Hindustan Times, Midnapore
West Bengal,Amlashole village,Jhargram district
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee during her visit to Amlashole in January 2014.(File photo/ CM’s office)

Power was finally restored Monday evening to an impoverished tribal village in Bengal two and a half months after lightning knocked out the only transformer in the area.

The administration got active on Sunday after HT reported on how the sole transformer in Amlashole village in Jhargram district was neither repaired nor replaced as the poor tribals could not pay their outstanding bills. West Bengal power minister Sovandeb Chatterjee had told HT on Saturday that he would fix the problem in 24 hours.

Amlashole had hit the headlines in 2004 for alleged starvation deaths in the then Left-ruled state.

“We have replaced the transformer and electricity has been restored at Amlashole. We have requested the villagers to pay the bills in the regular way now,” Ujjwal Roy, the divisional manager of West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited, the state-run power distribution utility told HT.

“If there are such problems in other areas of the region, we will take necessary steps,” he added.

But villagers say they are simply too poor to pay the bills.

“Our homes were lit after more than 75 days. But we are too poor to pay bills. The chief minister is providing many things to us like subsidised rice. We would request her to waive the power bills,” said Madan Sabar, a villager.

Amlashole is located about 230 km to the west of Kolkata near the Bengal-Jharkhand border in the heart of what was once the Maoist-dominated region popularly known as Jangalmahal.

Amlashole is inhabited by tribes 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.

Read more: A decade after starvation death, Bengal village lives in darkness due to unpaid power bills

The villagers pointed out that during chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s visit to Amlashole in January 2014 she had assured supply of all basic necessities to the impoverished area.

She also visited the village earlier this month and had asked the administration to address the problems the tribal population.

WBSEDCL officials pointed out that they are in a bind as unpaid bills keep mounting in the area. Many consumers of Jangalmahal did not pay their bills from November 2008 to November 2011. Those bills were waived after the chief minister’s intervention.

But the unpaid dues since November 2011 have piled up to Rs 100 crores. There are about 2 lakh consumers in Jhargram and about 1.5 lakhs have not paid their bills for several years.

“We are happy that power has been restored in Amlashole. We are also aware about that many are not paying their bills, and due to this the power department is taking time to repair the damaged transformers in many places of the area. We are also requesting people to pay the bills. We will ask the power department to allow the consumers to pay in instalments,” said Samay Mandi, president of Jhargram Zilla Parishad.

First Published: Oct 31, 2017 15:09 IST