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State hints at power bill waiver for hills

Siliguri, Aug. 20: State power minister Manish Gupta today said the government could grant some concessions to domestic electricity consumers in the Darjeeling hills who had not paid bills from June 2008 to July 2011 during the Gorkhaland agitation.

Gupta said the final decision on the waiver would be taken at a meeting between the power department and GTA Sabha in Darjeeling.

“Bills to the tune of Rs 70 crore are outstanding in the hills. We intend to recover the amount and for this we will hold a meeting with officials of the GTA in the next 15 days in Darjeeling. As far as commercial consumers are concerned, we can allow them to pay the arrears in instalments. But for domestic consumers, there is a proposal to waive a portion of the dues. We will take the final decision at the meeting,” the minister told journalists here.

“There is a chance that the surcharge for late payment might be waived for domestic consumers. However, no final decision has been taken,” said a senior official of the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (WBSEDCL).

According to Gupta, the power department has decided to allow the commercial consumers to pay the dues in phases. “However, they have asked for more instalments to clear the dues. We are considering the proposal,” he said.

Senior officials of WBSEDCL said the dues were mentioned in the bills that consumers got every month in the hills.

In June 2008, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had asked people of the hills to stop paying power and telephone bills and sales tax as part of the “non-co-operation movement” for a separate state. The non-payment continued till July 2011 when a tripartite agreement was signed to form the GTA.

After the agreement, the GTA chief executive Bimal Gurung instructed the hill residents to resume paying power and phone bills. No decision, however, was taken on clearing the dues.

“The state is keen on recovering the amount, may be with some waiver to domestic consumers. Although the dues had accumulated, electricity connections to the defaulters were not cut off,” said a source in the power distribution company.

Gupta, who held a meeting with senior officials of his department this morning, said Siliguri would be brought under the Smart Grid Project.

“Siliguri will be the first town in the state to be brought under the Smart Grid Project. A sum of Rs 7 crore will be spent for this purpose. Under the project, we can cut down outage, unjust utilisation of electricity, theft and total consumption by using advanced technologies,” Gupta said.

“Our department will build seven 33 KVA substations in Darjeeling district for better and consistent power supply.”

The locations where the substations will come up, he said, are Iskcon Road in Siliguri town, Champasari, Gossainpur, Kawakhali and Bagdogra in Siliguri subdivision, and Takdah and Pedong in Kalimpong subdivision.

“We will also raise two 132 KVA substations (at Ujanu in Matigara block and in Kalimpong). Work at all these sites will commence soon. In the Darjeeling hills, work on rural electrification has finished in 85 per cent of the villages. We plan to complete the remaining work by December,” Gupta said.