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How 1984 Anti-Sikh Riot Widows Are Being Accused Of Stealing Electricity #WTFnews

/By Tanushree Bhasin for Youth Ki Awaaz:

When tragedy strikes, we all seek to understand who is to blame. But those whose lives are thoroughly disrupted and destroyed, seek first to survive. For the families of the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, the fight for survival continues to be an everyday reality. While most have given up hope of ever seeing the killers of their loved ones behind bars, their struggle remains one of their basic needs such as water, electricity, education and employment. All that was snatched away from them in the blink of an eye has yet to return to them. Three decades and still counting.

In Tilak Vihar’s Widow Colony, residents continue to not pay their electricity bills despite pressure to clear their dues. “This is a colony where the widows and families of the ’84 riot victims were housed. With no employment or education an entire generation, the children of ’84, has already been lost. When even free electricity cannot be given to us – those who actually cannot pay for it – what then will become of this current generation of our kids? Will they go to school? Will they get jobs?” asks Atma Singh LabanaPradhan of the C-Block and head of the Victims of 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots Society.

According to media reports, the residents of the colony were promised free electricity by former PM Rajiv Gandhi, but there are no official records to substantiate the claim. However, from 1987-88 till 2002, they received free electricity. From 2002 onwards, when the electricity distribution was privatised, they started to face the pressure to pay up. In 2013, they were asked to apply for new connections to receive electricity.

#demonetisation" data-image-description="<div id="headart"></div> <div class="detail-info"> <div class="article-links"></div> </div> <p><img src="" alt="" width="636" height="399" /></p> <div class="photo-caption"><span class="photo-source">Sushil Kumar Verma</span>Waiting in vain for customers. A shop selling fruits in Azadpur Mandi on November 15.</div> <div class="zero5"></div> <div class="article-text"> <div class="noline"></div> <div id="content" class="content"> <div class="dropp"> <h3>More than 80 per cent of India’s workforce is in the informal or unorganised sector and has taken the full brunt of the demonetisation move. By AKSHAY DESHMANE</h3> </div> <p>DESPITE having spent three decades unloading fruits and vegetables at Asia’s biggest fruits-and-vegetables market, Delhi’s Azadpur Mandi, Nabi Ahmed does not remember a time when business was this bad. “Except during times of peak militancy or intense winter in Kashmir, arrivals of apples have never been as affected as they are now,” he told <i>Frontline</i>, gazing at the largely vacant apple sheds nearby, which would usually be abuzz with the arrival and sale of cartons of apples at this time, the peak season for the fruit. He is not sure about actual numbers but says he is unloading fewer than half the number of cartons he used to unload previously. “<i>Notebandi</i> has affected everybody at the <i>mandi</i>. My daily earnings of Rs.500 to Rs.1,000 have come down by about half. There is a lot of unpredictability about the business because the number of shipments and the number of prospective buyers have come down drastically”, said Ahmed.</p> <p>In some cases, stocks have arrived but remain unsold because there are no buyers. Take the case of Ranjit Singh, who has driven all the way from Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district. He brought a truckload of potatoes two days ago but they are lying unsold. “There is nobody to buy them because they don’t have new notes. That is why I have been waiting here for two days to sell this stock,” he explains, speaking with this correspondent at a small tea stall. The slump in trading activity has hit many ancillary businesses located around the market. The owner of this tea stall, for instance, is Ram Vilas, a migrant from Samastipur district in Bihar. “Ever since <i>notebandi</i>, my earnings have reduced by more than half. If I made Rs.1,000 a day before, I make only about Rs.250 now,” he said.</p> <p>His predicament appears to mirror the situation in the entire market, spread over 17.2 hectares. Metharam Kriplani, president of the Chamber of Azadpur Fruit and Vegetable Traders, said arrival of fruits and vegetables to the market had decreased by half and that prices had come down by 10 to 20 per cent because of the impact of demonetisation. There are some who support the move, seeing it as an important weapon in the government’s battle against black money, but the cash crunch has hit them hard. The situation at the Azadpur Mandi is the most glaring instance of how badly India’s informal economy has been affected by the sudden invalidation of nearly 86 per cent of the country’s circulating currency.</p> <p>According to the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, the informal or the unorganised sector comprises all unincorporated private enterprises owned by individuals or households engaged in the sale and production of goods and services and operated on a proprietary or partnership basis with fewer than 10 workers. In 2011-12, nearly 83 per cent of India’s workforce was concentrated in the informal sector.</p> <p>By its very nature, the informal economy relies on cash. Electronic financial transactions are an exception to the norm of daily transactions in cash carried out by hundreds of millions of Indians engaged in micro-, small- and medium-scale businesses. Predictably, the effect of demonetisation has been the worst on the informal economy, especially on the workers who depend on their daily earnings to make ends meet and have no reliable social security mechanisms to fall back on.</p> <p>It should come as no surprise then that many interest groups representing specific sectors of the informal economy have spoken out against the demonetisation measure or the manner of its implementation. Speaking to <i>Frontline</i>, Shaktiman Ghosh, general secretary of the National Hawker Federation, said: “There has been an adverse impact on street vendors and the entire low-circuit economy. Our producers come from cottage and small industries. They are small, poor and retail-dependent. They number about four crore and have a turnover of Rs.8,000 crore a year. The adverse impact on the low-circuit economy has benefited the online businesses. From November 9, sales in the retail market has been reduced to one-third of what it was previously and in wholesale markets to half of what it was. This is unjust. They have let off the big businesses easily.”</p> <p>Interestingly, an assessment by the international consulting firm Deloitte, which was released soon after the demonetisation announcement, also pointed out that there would be an adverse impact on the informal economy. It said: “There will be disruption in the current liquidity situation as households are likely to get affected by the note exchange and currency withdrawal terms laid by the government. Though clarity is unfolding on this, commodity transactions and general cash market transactions are likely to feel an immediate impact. Unorganised sector proceedings, including small trade market activities will remain volatile in the short term. Roadside vendors, cab drivers, <i>kirana</i>stores, etc., have already stopped accepting INR 500 and INR 1,000 notes. It is important to note that a significant percentage of the Indian workforce, employed in this sector, is likely to be affected by immediate liquidity issues. Overall, a likely negative impact on disposable income is expected along with disruption in the consumption patterns of the general populace. It is estimated that there may be a negative GDP impact in the current quarter as consumption shock gets transmitted in the system. However, the quantum and degree of this impact cannot be ascertained at this time.”</p> <p><b>Antagonising BJP’s core constituency</b></p> <p>A large section of those affected are clearly the core constituency of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has hinted in his recent statements that the government was aware that a situation such as this was likely to emerge. “Demand may be affected in the short term,” he said, due to shortage of liquid money.</p> <p>However, he airbrushed that concern by promising that the system would become functional once the new notes were replenished. However, it is uncertain how long that will take.</p> <p>Even those considered to be BJP supporters in the trading community—large parts of which continue to be in the informal sector even though the financial size may have grown bigger—have steadily begun speaking out about the adverse impact of the policy. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) said in a statement: “Post-demonetisation, trade in the markets of the country has reduced to 25 per cent in comparison with normal days. Rural retailers from taluka and other mofussil areas who generally visit nearby district markets for procurement of goods had to remain at their respective places for want of sufficient funds of acceptable denomination. APMC [Agricultural Produce Market Committee] and <i>mandi</i>s across the country had very less business as farmers who had brought their produce for sale in the market have to face a nightmare when he could not get money against his saleable produce due to non-availability of smaller denomination of notes. The logistics sector came to standstill as the truck drivers had only high denomination notes which caused blocks in smooth movement of transportation.”</p> <p>To give a sense of how large the retail sector is and what an adverse impact on it could mean for the economy, the CAIT shared some figures: “It is estimated that the Indian retail trade is of about 42 lakh crore of rupees annually, resulting to approximately Rs.14 thousand crore per day, out of which about 40 per cent trade is conducted through Business to Business (B2B) whereas rest of the 60 per cent business is conducted through Business to Consumer (B2C) activities. Sixty per cent of the total retail trade is conducted in urban areas whereas rest of the 40 per cent trade is conducted in rural areas.”</p> <p>Opposition politicians have naturally seen this as an opportunity to intervene. Back at the Azadpur Mandi, while discussing the losses in the apple trade, Nabi Ahmed also spoke animatedly about politics. On the day he spoke with this correspondent, Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee were at the market and they spoke against the policy of demonetisation. Kejriwal mentioned the lack of trading activity at the market and called the policy “Independent India’s biggest scam”. While Ahmed was not sure about this claim, he agreed with Kejriwal’s larger message: demonetisation has affected the most vulnerable and poor unjustly and disproportionately.</p> </div> </div> " data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" class="aligncenter wp-image-70761 size-full" src="" alt="1_1" width="533" height="800" />

For the residents of the Widow Colony in Tilak Vihar, the last few years have been spent getting the state to recognise their need for help. Problems are visibly many: open drains, dilapidated houses, overhead wires crisscrossing their way closer and closer to the ground, and housing lanes littered with garbage and swarming with flies.


An elderly resident of the colony stares vacantly, sitting outside his house.


The one problem that troubles most residents is of electricity. In the last three years, the residents of the colony have been accused of stealing electricity and non-payment of bills, with notices slapped against them by BSES.


In my conversations with the residents, it emerged that most people do not pay their bills simply because they cannot afford to pay them. “I get electricity bills between Rs. 8-10,000 per month. We don’t even have an AC in our house. How are we supposed to pay such a large bill? Only one of my sons works and that too on a small salary,” says Gopi Kaur who lost her husband in 1984.


Living in tiny flats furnished with fans and sometimes coolers, these are homes that receive bills for nearly Rs. 5,000 a month, now having amounted to nearly Rs. 20-25,000 over several months of non-payment. Jaswant Kaur, who lost her father-in-law in the riots, struggles to keep her family of eight well taken care of, given that her husband doesn’t have a job. “He’s always been a heavy drinker and doesn’t earn at all. We are all dependent on my brother-in-law’s paltry salary. How can the government expect us to pay our electricity bills in such a state?” she asks.


Residents here reiterate that the Kejriwal government needs to take a decision on the electricity issue in Tilak Vihar. Seventy percent of the people, they say, are in no position to pay their bills. “We aren’t experiencing any power cuts at present but in 2013, we used to have almost 16 hours without electricity. People here can only manage to pay up to Rs. 200 per month, they are simply not in a position to pay more,” says Labana.


Residents put in their own money – Rs. 600 per house – to install these new electricity meters in a show of good faith once the BSES removed the old meters.


The last repair work done in this area was in 2014 when staircases in all blocks were fixed. Everything else residents have had to do from their personal funds.


A BSES notice to one of the residents warning of a termination of her electricity connection due to non-payment of a cumulative amount of Rs. 18,700.


“My son does woodwork which too isn’t a consistent source of income for us. Not only can we not pay our bills but this has now resulted in ration cards not being issued to us. They keep telling us to first clear our bill and only then will they issue a ration card,” says Gurmeet Kaur, a resident of C-block.

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