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'Not a bulb works in my home'

May 05, 2005 20:35 IST

Aurangabad is the largest city in Maharashtra's Marathwada region.

Befitting its size, the Maharashtra State Electricity board office here is huge.

Fear was the key emotion at the MSEB office in Aurangabad on Wednesday.

Fear because Shiv Sena has announced that it would take a morcha to the MSEB office protesting the power shortage in the region.

Fear because earlier this week Sainiks, protesting the electricity situation in a state that is not used to power outages, had thrashed MSEB workers in Pune and set office furniture on fire.

Maharashtra is short of about 4,000 mega watt power.

In most states, the deficit in power is between 500 to 800 MW.

With such a huge shortage of power, MSEB has had to resort to frequent loadshedding.

Officially, the loadshedding extends for four hours in the city and nine hours in the rural areas.

But power cuts last longer than that -- at times they stretch up to 14 hours.

MSEB Chief Engineer Chandrasekhar Modi was huddled in a meeting with senior officials. They were contemplating what explanation to give the Sena leaders when they arrived.

The officers presented the chief engineer with statistics on the power cuts. An officer gave him the number of power thefts registered in the last two months.

In rural areas, people who need power think nothing wrong of throwing a hook directly onto the overhead lines to access electricity.

The chief engineer said in the last two months they have removed 30,000 hooks from power lines.

Almost all villages in this vast country are used to power cuts and loadshedding.

Most states are power deficit.

But in Maharashtra, there have been violent protests not heard of in other states.

"Maharashtra never experienced load shedding till about five years ago. The shortage has now increased to an uncontrollable 4,000 MW. It is but natural that they are agitated," Modi said.

According to him, it will take another five years to bridge the present shortfall. By then the demand for power would be much higher.

Every time the phone rings, Modi had the same answer -- "Call me after 5 pm. At the moment I have my hands full with the morcha."

The MSEB chairman's office called. It got the same reply.

In the waiting room were five policemen joking among themselves. One was fast asleep. They had seen many morchas in their career. They were not unduly worried.

Three police inspectors arrived to tell the chief engineer that the morcha had been called off; instead, there would only be a demonstration. The chief engineer did not look relieved though.

In the complaints' room sat an elderly MSEB employee. He too looked tense like everyone else. He said since the morning he had received seven complaints of power failures. He had sent his men to look into the complaints. "They (the consumers) are always angry and rude but I stay calm. I tell them when the power will come back as softly as possible," he said.

Two people came to enquire about new connections. He asked them in a strained voice to return "tomorrow." "Today we are busy with other work."

A policeman remarked, "They are using the morcha as an excuse not to work."

Municipal Councillor Nasar Khan came in with five others. He brushed aside the peon guarding the chief engineer's office. The chief engineer told him to wait for five minutes.

"Why can't you do the loadshedding from 6 am to 10 am in my area? Or you can do it from 7 am to 9 am and then for another two hours in the evening?" the councillor asked.

The chief engineer explained the loadshedding was systematic as he had to consider his entire area, not only the councillor's area.

"I am not worried about myself and you," Khan said, "but the poor who have to work for their food every day and children who have to study."

The chief engineer refused to relent.

"I don't care whether you do what I say or not, my job was to petition you," the councillor said.

He had brought along a photographer, who clicked him giving the petition to the officer.

Suddenly one of the men, who had come with the councillor, screamed, "There are two air conditioners in this room, while in my house not even a bulb works. How the hell will you understand our problems?"

He glared at the chief engineer and stormed out.

The Sainiks were punctual. They arrived at 3.50 pm with a handful of journalists.

A Sena leader earlier in the day had told this correspondent that there would be 500 people in the demonstration, but less than 50 turned up. They still looked menacing, with tubelights in their hands.

Realising how dangerous this could turn out to be, the police asked the Sainiks to hand over the tubelights.

The Sainiks shouted slogans for 45 minutes. Only ten of them were permitted to meet the chief engineer.

Inside the chief engineer's office, they handed over a petition.

One of them first read it aloud. They wanted the loadshedding to stop. Or at least, the times of loadshedding to be announced well in advance.

They blamed the power situation on bad planning. They said power thefts occurred with the collusion of MSEB officials.

The Sainiks left the chief engineer's office shouting slogans.

A Sainik said they were ready to break the tubelights in the MSEB office but were restrained by their leaders.

District Sena president Ambadas Dhanve told "What can we do if the people  face so much trouble? Violence will naturally follow when the government doesn't listen to the peoples' woes."

One woman wanted to know from the chief engineer why they could not conduct repairs during the loadshedding.

"Even when the loadshedding is over," she said, "the MSEB switches off the power regularly. Their excuse -- 'We have to fix a line.'"

The chief engineer had no reply.

A Ganesh Nadar in Aurangabad