Lucknow: The crisis of powerloom weavers in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's constituency seems to be worsening. The indefinite strike of weavers in Varanasi that began October 15 demanding power tariff on meter reading basis instead of fixed rate entered its eight hday on Friday. The key demand of about 20,000 workers is restoration of the monthly flat rate subsidy on electric bill that has been withdrawn since January 2020.
On Thursday, the weavers went to district headquarter with documents of their movable and immovable property along with the registry of houses and keys of factories to express their displeasure. While making a human chain, the weavers assembled outside the district administration office, requested the District Magistrate (DM) to take their documents to the government. The district administration heard them out and received the memorandum.
Read Also: Power Tariff Hike: Weavers in Varanasi go on Indefinite Strike Again on Unmet Demands
After withdrawing their five-day strike in September following an assurance from the Yogi Adityanath government that their demand for restoration of monthly flat rate and settlement of electricity dues for the powerloom sector among others would be considered and sorted out within a month, the weavers are angry and disappointed that their demands have not been met even after one-and-half months.
The president of the Uttar Pradesh Weavers' Association, Iftekhar Ahmed Ansari, alleged that the Adityanath government was not paying heed to their demands as in every meeting officials were making commitments but doing nothing to fulfill these. In the meeting between the association and the Additional Chief Secretary, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), on September 4, the State government had agreed to the key demands but these were not fulfilled. Meanwhile, Opposition parties, including Congress and Samajwadi Party (SP) have extended their support to the weavers on strike.
Ansari sadi: "On September 4, 2020, it was decided in a meeting with the government in Lucknow that the draft of the new scheme will come in October, but nothing has happened so far. The pressure of billing according to meter is also being made by the electricity department. We have been forced to come on road because of government betrayal."
According to the weavers, the state government used to take a fixed charge for electricity earlier, but this has now been replaced with new tariff. Earlier the state government was taking Rs 72 per powerloom as electricity charge but as per the new tariff, the bill would be in the Rs 1,400-1,500 range.
When questioned how the new tariff system would affect their business, Shailesh Pratap, vice-president of Bunkar Mahasabha, told NewsClick: "The increased electricity bill will make it difficult for local powerloom weavers to survive in the market. The new billing system will make local textiles expensive. Though traders would not be affected due to this but weavers certainly will. The weavers had to pay a fixed rent for power connections on their looms at the rate of Rs 65 -120 depending upon the size of the loom machine till December 2019. Now they have to shell out the tariff on per unit consumption". He said many handloom weavers in UP had switched to power with a small investment and any change in the costing would hamper their business prospects.
Pratap said "Introducing the new tariff policy at a time when the entire country is striving to come out from the disastrous impact of the lockdown and an unprecedented contraction in GDP, the Adityanath Government continues to be insensitive to the plight of weavers in Varanasi, most of whom are very poor." He said the loom business was better organised in Surat and Bhiwandi than in UP.
The Banarasi sari traders are also facing troubles. Shopping for festivals and the upcoming wedding season is in complete disarray. Orders already received are also being cancelled. "We have been on strike since October 15. Our sector has been badly affected the most by the COVID lockdow. During the festival when our business should be at a peak level, we have shut down the looms due to the bad policies of State government. In September, the government had assured us about a new plan by eliminating flat rates but so far no plan has been revealed. From January to July the billing was assured to be deposited at the old rate. Now August, September and the third month of October is going to end in a few days but the government is not clear at what rate we now have to pay electricity bills," a weaver leader Ansar Ahmed said.
Meanwhile, the president of the Uttar Pradesh Weavers' Association, Iftekhar Ahmed Ansari, has also written a letter to weavers and thread traders of the country to bring in their goods in the state as weavers of Varanasi would be on indefinite strike.
Read Also: Power Tariff Hike: UP Powerloom Weavers Plan Indefinite Strike From Sept 1
The weaver community first went on strike from September 1 to 5 against new tariff system but they called off their agitation and resumed work after the Uttar Pradesh government accepted their key demands related to power tariffs.