MUZAFFARABAD: Tens of hundreds of electricity bills were thrown into a river by civil society activists in Muzaffarabad and an equal number was torched in Rawalakot on Thursday amid sit-ins under the aegis of people’s action committees on issues of public concern, including the ‘exorbitant power tariff’, witnesses said.
In Muzaffarabad, a sit-in camp has been established by the people action committee since Sept 20, initially at a roundabout in front of the Press Club and later on the club premises facing the main thoroughfare, with an appeal to the people that they should not pay their electricity bills.
Participants of the sit-in, who included traders, lawyers, students and vendors, would daily attend the activity from 9am to 4pm every day, during which they would collect electricity bills from consumers visiting them from different city neighbourhoods.
Interestingly, on Monday local police had also booked a civil society activist under a sound system law introduced under the National Action Programme against terrorism for using mosque loudspeakers to persuade people not to pay their electricity bills.
People action committee appeals people not to pay their bills
For the past few days, participants of the sit-in were seen making boats and aeroplanes of electricity bills which they had announced would be thrown into Neelum River on Sept 28.
On Thursday, the administration had deployed several contingents of riot police in the surroundings of the sit-in camp in a bid to frighten the demonstrators and restrain them from dumping electricity bills in the river, but in vain.
At about 2pm, the undeterred demonstrators who were led by Shaukat Nawaz Mir, the elected president of the traders of Muzaffarabad, intensified sloganeering and headed towards the nearby Saheli Sarkar Bridge from where they threw paper boats and aeroplane into Neelum river.
Once a mighty river, Neelum has been reduced to a small channel due to the diversion of its waters for Neelum Jhelum Hydro Project (NJHP) – one of the major concerns of the residents of Muzaffarabad, which frequently figures in their protests.
Sources told Dawn that under the policy of the government, the Muzaffarabad deputy commissioner had categorically directed the duty magistrates — assistant commissioner (rural) Munir Ahmed Qureshi and tehsildar Syed Zameer Shah — to take all steps (including the baton charge) to stop the protesters from dumping electricity bills in the river.
However, as the duty magistrates avoided the harsh action in view of its repercussions for the atmosphere of the capital ahead of the festival of Eid Miladun Nabi (PBUH), they had been served a show cause notice.
“Despite categorical instructions, you both failed to perform your assigned responsibilities in a befitting manner due to which writ of the government stood challenged… You should therefore explain as to why disciplinary action should not be taken against you,” read the explanation notice, a copy of which was available with Dawn.
In Rawalakot, where a sit-in is being held on the issue of unavailability of subsidized wheat flour and exorbitant electricity bills for the past 143 days, civil society activists took out a “boycott bills” rally on Thursday.
The rally paraded through different streets amid drumbeats and at its conclusion hundreds of electricity bills were torched.
Prime Minister Chaudhry Anwarul Haq had spent the past two days in Rawalakot in a bid to pacify the aggressive residents of Poonch division. However, he could not achieve his target, as leaders of the sit-in have declared that their protest would continue until the acceptance of their 12-point charter of demand.
In the lakeside city of Mirpur, a group of people led by lawyer Saad Ansari also torched power bills in front of the electricity department office.
Video clips and pictures shared on social media showed that anti-expensive electricity demonstrations were held in many other towns of Muzaffarabad, Poonch and Mirpur divisions on Thursday.
Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2023