Thousands of power bills torched in Rawalakot as AJK braces for agitation

Published August 23, 2023
Participants of a rally stretch out their electricity bills to be torched during a protest in Rawalakot on Tuesday. — Photo by writer
Participants of a rally stretch out their electricity bills to be torched during a protest in Rawalakot on Tuesday. — Photo by writer

MUZAFFARABAD: A large gathering of people from different walks of life torched thousands of electricity bills in Rawalakot, the divisional headquarters of Poonch, on Tuesday at the climax of a sit-in that had started more than 105 days ago in the town to record protest against the “cruel electricity taxes, unavailability and increase in the prices of wheat flour and some other issues of public concern”.

The demonstrators brushed aside a notification issued by the AJK government on Monday in its desperate attempt to defuse the situation.

On Monday, the government had “suspended” the implementation of the increase in power tariff until the “next orders” directing the electricity department to correct non-submitted bills in accordance with the pre-increase tariff and adjust the already submitted amount by users in the next month bills. A seven-member committee, comprising four cabinet members and three civil servants, was also formed by the government to look into the issue and give its recommendations for its ultimate solution.

However, angry protesters in Rawalakot and elsewhere rejected what they called the “lollipop” by the government and made it clear that their agitation would continue as per their calendar until all unnecessary and cruel taxes were withdrawn and tariff was brought on a par with Gilgit-Baltistan.

Participants of the rally in Rawalakot, some of whom were also carrying placards, chanted slogans and torched around 7,000 electricity bills at Kutchery Chowk.

The local lawyers’ community also boycotted judicial work to express solidarity with the protesters and torched some 2,000 bills earlier in the Judicial Complex. The protesters maintained that by burning electricity bills they had practically launched a “civil disobedience movement” in the state.

“We reject yesterday’s notification by the government. By setting the electricity bills on fire we have touched off the merciless system that only caters to the ruling elite,” said Umar Nazir, a key leader of the traders’ body.

District Bar Association president Sardar Khalid Mahmood said the lawyers stand shoulder to shoulder with other members of society in this struggle for the rights of people.

Separately, Sardar Iftikhar Feroz, president of All Azad Kashmir Anjuman-i-Tajran, announced that the trader leaders from across Azad Kashmir would assemble on August 25 to decide their future course of action.

“This territory generates thousands of megawatts of electricity but its own requirement of hardly 400 megawatts is not being met. Ironically, not only we are being made to pay cruel taxes but we also face merciless power outages of longer durations. These issues demand a collective and tough stance from all walks of life and we will take the lead role in this regard,” he said.

The Poonch division, which comprises four districts, and Mirpur division, which comprises three districts, would observe a shutterdown and wheeljam strike on September 5 while a similar activity would be held in Muzaffarabad division, which comprises three districts, on August 31 on the same issues.

Of late, the Muzaffarabad residents are again up in arms about the less discharge of water in Neelum River after the re-commissioning of Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Project (NJHP) which they say has not only badly affected the environment but also caused scarcity of tap water in the town.

On the other hand, apart from the inflated electricity bills, the Mirpur residents are also angry about non-completion of Rathoa-Haryam Bridge, compensation of extended families disturbed by Mangla dam upraising and arbitrary property tax by local civic bodies and gas loadshedding.

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2023

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