March 25, 2021 9:02:43 pm
As many as 54 persons have been arrested in several criminal offences pertaining to attacks and vandalism faced by employees of the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (MSEDCL) during an ongoing drive to recover unpaid bills in the five districts of Pune Division since February 1.
MSEDCL undertook the drive to recover unpaid power bills from its domestic, commercial and industrial consumers. During the same time, the agency also started cutting power connections of consumers who had not paid their bills for several months.
In the five districts under Pune Division — Pune, Solapur, Kolhapur, Satara and Sangli — there were 27.11 lakh consumers who owed the MSEDCL a total of Rs 1,771 crore at the beginning of the drive. As many as 13.86 lakh customers had not paid a single bill in the period from April 2020 to January 2021, according to MSEDCL.
The agency had said that because of the severe financial crunch it was facing, there was no choice but to start taking the stringent step of cutting power connections. Anticipating backlash from the consumers, the agency had, at that time, issued a warning that criminal cases would be slapped against those resorting to violence and vandalism against MSEDCL staffers.
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Officials from the MSEDCL said on Thursday that as many as 30 offences have till now been registered in cases of manhandling, physical assault, verbal abuse and vandalism faced by the staffers, who are part of the drive to recover the bills and cut power connections. As many as 82 persons have been booked in these cases registered across five districts and 54 of them have till now been arrested. The number of cases registered and persons booked in each of the five districts are Pune (7 and 16), Kolhapur (6 and 34), Sangli (3 and 5), Solpaur (7 and 13) and Satara (7 and 14).
These persons have been booked under charges of use of criminal force against public servants, physical assault, unlawful assembly, criminal intimidation, damage to public property and vandalism in government offices.
The MSEDCL stated in a press statement, “Because of the large number of unpaid bills, the financial condition of the MSEDCL is extremely weak. The agency has made available options of payments in installments for those who have long-pending unpaid bills. Our officials are also taking up each of the cases where the consumers have doubts in the bills that they have received. There is no option but to disconnect the power as a last resort. We urge our consumers to cooperate with our staffers and not resort to violence and vandalism against them.”
On March 16, the MSEDCL had said that around 4 lakh consumers who had unpaid bills had cleared their dues since the beginning of the drive, and had made payments of close to Rs 480 crore during this period.
As on March 16, there were over 23 lakh consumers who owed the MSEDCL close to Rs 1,300 crore in power bill dues. Till March 16, the MSEDCL had disconnected power supplies to over 80,000 consumers from domestic, commercial and domestic categories, officials said.
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