Residents of a remote north Kashmir village are stunned to have received electricity bills to the tune of several thousand rupees, accusing the Power Development Department of registering their names but not installing electricity connections at their homes.
Shabir Ahmad Chechi was surprised to receive an electricity bill in the name of his deceased father, Nizamuddin Chechi, to the tune of rupees 71,033 due at the end of August 2020. Another resident of Kawari, Naik Alam Chechi, in his 70s, initially received a bill of rupees 64,158 in June 2020 with subsequent monthly charges and accumulation of interest taking the bill up to a whopping rupees 70,372 by December 2020.
The issue was flagged on Twitter by tribal rights activist, Zahid Parwaz Choudhary of the Gujjar Bakarwal Youth Welfare Conference. Choudhary said that the residents of the “are being forced to pay the same” despite their “extreme poverty.”
The residents of the Kawari village in Lolab area of Kupwara district belong to the Gujjar Bakarwal community and undergo a seasonal migration to the pastures every summer.
Irshad Fidaie, the organization’s Kupwara district president, said that Naik Aalam is unemployed and his only source of income is manual labour and is known to beg for alms in the surrounding villages. Fidaie added that many others in the village, majority of whose residents belong to poor financial and educational backgrounds, have received similarly inflated bills.
In a video recorded by activists of the group, shared with The Kashmir Walla by Fidaie, Naik Alam is heard saying: “I have had no electricity in the last 10 years and now I am constantly receiving electricity bills. I am confused as to why do I have to pay despite no electricity.” In another recorded statement, Shabir said: “If I had the papers, I wouldn’t make an issue out of it…Two decades after his [Nizamuddin’s] death, the [PDD] has sent me a bill…I appeal the government that I neither have electricity nor do I have the resources to pay this bill.”
Fidaie alleged that the residents were disempowered and never informed of the due process by local officials. He added that the residents earlier paid the bills directly to the electricity officials but after the digital generation of bills was rolled out last year, inflated bills have been sent to many in the village. “PDD employees would come and take chickens from them,” he alleged. “They never made people aware of what arrangement was made with the department and are now sending inflated bills…They are insisting on paying the bills and are not keen on addressing the public’s grievances.”
Sachin Kumar, junior engineer in the Kupwara Sub Division, didn’t respond to calls from The Kashmir Walla. Local officials of the electricity department, however, said that the PDD either installed connections or continued old connections after new agreements with consumers were finalized upon site visit.
Fidaie said that an application given to the electricity authorities in Srinagar recently was under process. Meanwhile, Choudhary questioned how had such dues accumulated when the residents migrated to the meadows for six months and sought the administration’s intervention.