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Bimal Gurung to stop power spot billing system in Darjeeling

Electricity power spot billing system in Darjeeling
GJM chief Bimal Gurung on Friday announced his decision to suspend the power department’s recently introduced ‘spot billing’ system in the Darjeeling hills beginning Saturday, even as he reiterated the resolution to indefinitely close down all offices of the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited from February 16.

After meeting electricity meter readers or couriers as WBSEDCL casual employees are referred to, Gurung said, “These people (meter readers) had initially refused to work, but they started spot billing from last year upon getting my assurance. But it appears the company is neither paying the causal workers their dues nor allowing them facilities. Further, as spot billing is creating a lot of confusion among the people, we have decided to stop this system beginning tomorrow.”

In effect, this will lay off more than 250 couriers in the three sub-divisions, who also have to double up as meter readers. The move could be a headache for the WBSEDCL. Some of the grievances of the casual workers include low remuneration and stiff targets set by their employer, which is a private company. “The contractors (outsourcing) companies get Rs16.67 per bill. But we receive just Rs9.50 per bill. Moreover, the quarterly target set for us at 3,900 consumers is very hard to achieve because of the difficult terrain of the hills. And our job is not secure as we can be dismissed if we fail to meet the harsh and unjustified targets,” said a courier, while demanding dues to be paid directly to the casual workers.

Initially, the couriers used to receive Rs2.00 for every bill they delivered to consumers. The outsourcing companies have increased this amount to Rs9.50 since November 2014 after the couriers also took on the job of meter readers. At present, the WBSEDCL is using the services of three private firms based in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Kolkata. These firms supply the power company with casual workers for spot billing in the Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Kurseong sub-divisions.

WBSEDCL (Darjeeling region) manager Sibesh Deb argued the electricity company has no say on the salary and targets of the casual workers. “We are just paying these companies in lieu of their services as per the agreements signed with them. Hence, whatever has been agreed between the three firms and the spot billers is not our area of jurisdiction.”

Asked for his response to the GJM chief’s call to close down WBSEDCL offices across the hills and stop the spot billing system, Deb said he would inform higher authorities about the Morcha’s decision.

The GJM has accused the electricity company of issuing inflated bills to consumers in the hills by adding the unpaid amounts accumulated during the statehood agitation period from April 2008 to July 2011. According to the Morcha, this was against the agreement with the

state government that such dues be waived off, a matter that was still under negotiation.

Restating the GJM’s demand, Gurung said, “We have never said we will not pay the dues. But the electricity company cannot harass people by billing huge amounts. We will clear all dues once the state government gives us our share of the revenue accruing from various power projects in the hills.”

The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration wants the state government to implement the agreement where it has been mentioned that the council would be given a share of the electricity revenue on a “mutually agreed” formula. On February 5, the GTA had invited WBSEDCL officials and discussed the matter with them. Another meeting is expected on February 18 to resolve the issue once and for all. (EOIC)

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