Having ‘mistaken’ a 21-hour-long power disruption for a permanent disconnection, residents of Central Delhi’s Kathputli Colony feared that the restored supply on Tuesday could go off forever in the not-so-distant future.

The area was plunged into darkness following a weather-induced supply interruption on Monday and the power came back a couple of hours before the Delhi Chief Minister announced the slashed power tariffs. The announcement itself brought little cheer to the 3,200 families in the area, most of whom are folk artists and below poverty line.

In the backdrop of this scepticism – which intensified during the disruption – are persistent warnings issued by the Power Department of a permanent power cut in the event of the households failing to clear unpaid dues that vary from tens of thousands to several lakhs. Area residents, who claim the bills are inflated by rigged or malfunctioning metres, said the warnings have been conveyed to them verbally by meter-readers visiting the area.

“Soon after we got power connection a few years ago, we started receiving bills of thousands of rupees. Being illiterate, most of us know little about the tariff structures and our only way to gauge whether the bill was justified or not was to compare them with the ones received by those in other localities. To our surprise people running appliances consuming more amount of electricity were paying a fraction of what we were,” claimed Ramesh, an area resident.

According to Ramesh, his own electricity bill jumped to Rs.6,500 in the second month, compared to a more manageable Rs.90 in the first. Most others shared similar stories and said after repeated pleas to the local politicians and power department to check the sudden and unexplained jump in electricity bills fell on deaf ears, they stopped footing their bills.

“It’s not the running metres which causes problems. Even households where the meters are not working or those which do not get any supply at all, also receive bills of thousands,” said Ramesh.

On whether they will clear their dues in future, the people gave a candid no as an answer. They said that it was beyond their modest means to pay such huge amounts and that they were pinning their hopes on Delhi’s “new trouble shooter” Arvind Kejriwal.

“Being poor, we should get supply at subsidised rates. We will take up our issue with the Chief Minister, who gives the impression of being empathetic to the concerns of people like us,” said Dilip Bhatt, an elderly gentleman who is also the head of Bhule Bisre Kalakar Association.

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