Darjeeling: The Bengal government has decided to waive the late payment surcharge (LPSC) and give a 50 per cent waiver on the outstanding electricity dues billed till December 31, 2018, for commercial connections across the state.
The move is expected to bring major relief to the business community in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) area.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had asked the hill people to stop paying electricity bills from April 1, 2008, as part of “non-cooperation movement” till the party signed a pact to set up the GTA in July 2011 during the Gorkhaland agitation. Hence, hill traders had clocked huge outstanding power dues.
A standard operating procedure (SOP) issued by the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited for Duare Sarkar camp to be held from September 1 to 15 has listed the waiver.
“Domestic and commercial consumers having outstanding dues may avail waiver of 50 % of the dues up to 31.12. 2018 if remaining 50 % amount is paid at a time,” the SOP states.
LPSC will also be fully waived.
The exemption is also extended to “individual, beneficiaries/ farmer committees” running shallow tube wells, deep tube wells and river lift irrigation systems.
A senior administrative official of the state government confirmed the new announcement for the Duare Sarkar camp.
Those seeking a waiver have to submit an application in a prescribed form before the start of the camp. Verification of records would be done by the station manager concerned.
Sources said that there were around 1.4 lakh consumers in Darjeeling hills. The outstanding due between April 1, 2008 to July 2011 stood around Rs 81.72 crore; the LPSC had touched Rs 235.50 crore.
The state government last year provided a similar waiver for domestic consumers.
“It was earlier estimated that commercial dues would be around 30 per cent of the total dues,” said a district official.
Although the WBSEDCL did not force hill residents to clear the outstanding amount, unpaid bills were a source of inconvenience. People faced problems trying to transfer electricity connections as part of property sale or mutation in the name of the children after a parent’s death or to apply for a new connection.
“Small traders grappling with huge outstanding bills were facing the brunt,” said a trader.
Hill leaders had been seeking a rebate since 2012. However, the state government in 2013 stated it could not direct corporations to waive dues.
“It was clarified that the state government could not direct corporations like the WBSEDCL and BSNL to waive dues and there was no possibility of exemption under the Electricity Act,” the note of the 2013 meeting between the GTA and state government read.
“The government changed its policy last year, but only for domestic users,” said a source.