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Power breather, not waiver, for hills

Kalimpong, March 3: The West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (WBSEDCL) today said it would not disconnect connections of commercial establishments in the hills for now following a meeting with GTA chief executive Bimal Gurung in Darjeeling.

The state power distribution utility, however, made it clear that dues accumulated over the three years between April 2008 and July 2011 would not be waived.

Consumers in the hills, both domestic and commercial, had not paid their electricity bills for 39 months heeding the call of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which had launched a non-cooperation movement against the state between 2008 and 2011, demanding Gorkhaland.

People were also asked not to pay telephone bills and sales tax.

Electricity dues of Rs 72 crore, Rs 20 crore in telephone dues and Rs 10 crore for sales tax piled up because of non-payment.

“We have decided not to cut the power connections. The modalities of realising the dues will be worked out. We will send a proposal (regarding realising the dues) to our board of directors and after getting its approval we will start recovering the dues,” said A.K. Sinha, WBSEDCL zonal manager, over the phone from Darjeeling.

In January, WBSEDCL had served notices to hotels and other commercial establishments, asking them to clear the dues by January 29 or have their supply would be disconnected. Power supply to few hotels in Kalimpong were snapped on Friday morning but restored later in the evening.

“We had met the GTA chief executive on Saturday to seek his intervention. Today’s meeting was fruitful as the WBSEDCL has decided not to disconnect supply. We want a complete waiver of the dues accumulated during the agitation period,” said Sanjogita Subba, the president of the Hotel and Restaurant Owners’ Association of Kalimpong (Horak), who attended today’s meeting.

Sinha, however, said: “There is no question of a waiver.”

He said issues like late payment surcharge might be discussed later.

GTA sources said the hill body could write to the state government and to seek a waiver for hotels and other tourism-related businesses. “The hoteliers have sought relief,” said the source.