A senior citizen, 85-year-old Baburam Patil, was turned away for the third time when he to pay his water bill at the Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran (MJP) office in Sai Centre, Ambernath.
Patil, a resident of the area, was told there was a shortage of manpower. He has been trying to pay his bill, unsuccessfully, for weeks now. “This office is close to my house; the other centre is far away. I have always paid my bill here. While they always create a fuss each time, they eventually take my payment. This time, they were adamant that I should not pay here,” he said.
Satyajit Burman, a member of the Ambernath Citizens Foundation and an RTI activist, said the officers at the head office of the MJP that supplied water to the suburbs had stated that it did not have the manpower to collect bill payments.
“After the senior citizen, others in the area voiced that they had to go to as far as Badlapur to pay their bills. When I went to speak to the officers, I was told there is no manpower,” he further said, adding, “the officers are hardly there in their chairs during working hours.”
Collection of the water bill payment has become a common problem in Ambernath. “Each time we go to pay our bill, there’s some new rule. Either the bill collection centre has shut down or they have changed offices. The bill collection centres plan their own working hours too and you can never be sure of their timings,” said Shreya Tambekar, a resident of Ambernath (West), adding, “we used to go to the main office, to avoid confusion, but even they are not taking payments now.”
In July, residents, said, the MJP filed an FIR against a junior clerk who allegedly siphoned Rs 5.5 lakh from the bill collection submitted to him. He was suspended later. Burman added, “He worked at the Bhendipada bill collection centre. For months, people had complaints against him. Despite paying bills, they were being shown as defaulters. People then preferred to pay bills only at the head office.”
Senior officials denied that there was an issue with bill payments. “There is no shortage of manpower and the head office should take the money. I don’t know why the bill was not collected, so I can’t comment on it,” said P Velarasu, member secretary of MJP, adding, “we are working on bill collection issues in Ambernath. We are also starting online and automatic bill collection machines in Ambernath. Being a suburb, there are some quality issues in human resources…”