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GJM warns WBSEDCL of closing its offices over unpaid bills wrangle

DARJEELING : A stand-off with the state government appears imminent following the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s threat on Thursday to close down the offices of the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited across the hills from February 16. The GJM is irked with the power company for allegedly billing consumers in excess. According to the Morcha, dues accumulated during the statehood agitation period were being tagged in recent bills by the WBSEDCL. Gorkhaland Territorial Administration chief executive Bimal Gurung today held a meeting with WBSEDC officials in Darjeeling to discuss the issue. He did not speak to the media, but GJM general secretary and GTA sabhasad Roshan Giri said after the meeting, “We have asked the WBSEDCL to resolve the issue within February 15 failing which we will close its offices across the GTA region for an indefinite period from February 16.” He alleged, “Consumers are being charged excess amounts by way of a newly-introduced spot billing system. This is causing undue harassment to the people as they are in no position to pay such exorbitant amounts. 

This is only a ploy to make the people of the hills pay the pending amounts accumulated during the agitation for statehood.” Further, the GJM general secretary said his party had already raised the issue of waiving-off the dues of the agitation period with the chief minister in various meetings held over the years. “We placed the matter before the chief minister during the January 22 meeting in Darjeeling. She had asked the home secretary to call a separate meeting with the GTA, but this has not taken place as yet. Besides, we have also raised the issue of waiving off the agitation period bills in the bipartite and tripartite meetings held with the state and central governments,” asserted Giri. Complying with a GJM diktat, the people have not paid their telephone and electricity bills and other taxes for the period April 2008 to August 2011 as part of the non-cooperation movement against the state government. 

However, after signing the GTA agreement in July 2011, the GJM had asked the people to start paying their bills and taxes from August 2011 onwards but not the dues accumulated during the agitation period. Meanwhile, WBSEDCL officials refuted the allegation that dues from the agitation period were being added to recent bills. “This is completely untrue. Current bills have not been inflated and consumers are being charged as per usage. We have also not included the dues from the agitation period. In fact, spot billing has been introduced to provide better service and not cause inconvenience to consumers,” maintained Sibesh Deb, regional manager WBSEDCL (Darjeeling Region). He added dues have climbed up to Rs80 crore till date. When asked about the GJM’s threat to close down the company’s offices, Deb said, “I cannot comment on this. 

But we will definitely place the issue with higher authorities.” Giri also said the state government has failed to implement the sharing of electricity clause included in the GTA agreement. “The GTA agreement has a clause that says ‘a mutually agreed formula’ would be adopted for sharing of electricity and revenue between the state government and the autonomous body. But even after more than two years the state government has failed to uphold the agreement,” he said. Nearly 400 MW of electricity is generated in the GTA area by various hydel projects of the NHPC and NTPC and the GJM wants a 12 per cent share of the revenue. 

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