Lucknow: The Uttar Pradesh Police on Monday, October 26, has registered a First Information Report (FIR) against 35 powerloom weavers, who are protesting against the Yogi Adityanath led government over the restoration of the flat rate electricity bill and withdrawal of the new meter system introduced earlier this year.
"The powerloom weavers have violated the restriction of COVID guidelines during their protest which is going on since October 15. Though the administration has not initiated any action against them so far but action will be taken if they do not end their protest," Kaushal Raj Sharma, District Magistrate (DM) Varanasi told NewsClick.
The district administration has warned protesting weavers to avoid staging demonstrations with mass gatherings or taking out processions in view of COVID-19 scare and raise their demands through talks.
Weavers in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's constituency Varanasi and adjoining districts including Mau, Mubarakpur and Azamgarh have been on strike for the past 12 days, demanding restoration of the flat rate electricity bill and withdrawal of the meter system introduced earlier this year. The protesting weavers allege that since the implementation of the new meter system, the electricity department has been harassing them to pay higher rates or face connection cuts.
Speaking with NewsClick about their demands, president of the Uttar Pradesh Weavers' Association, Iftekhar Ahmed Ansari said, "We have only three demands and since the beginning of the protest in September, we have been raising the issue through the democratic way. Our first demand is to restore flat rate power tariff system for weavers instead of meter reading basis, second to realise the tariff for months between January and July on flat rate like till 2019-end and third to withdraw all FIRs and recovery challans, restore power connections of weavers whose supply was disconnected," said Ansari, adding that instead of listening to their concerns, the administration is taking legal action.
Also read: Protest by Weaving Community in Varanasi Against New Power Tariff System Enters 8th Day
The weavers had first gone on strike on September 1 under the umbrella of Uttar Pradesh Weavers' Association and Varanasi-based Biradarana Tanzim but four days later they had called off their stir following an assurance from the Yogi Adityanath government that they would be charged on the basis of the previous flat rate till July and from August, a new system would be devised within 15 days of the meeting after consultation with the weavers.
The meeting was attended by additional chief secretary of the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), N Sehgal at the protest site in September for talks.
"The government had agreed to fulfil all the demands in 15 days, but so far only one order has been issued with just one demand of stopping the billing on meter reading basis while other demands have not been attended," Ansari said, expressing that the weavers felt betrayed by the government.
Meanwhile, a procession was taken out by weavers from Saraiya to Shakkar Talab against the FIR and demanded that the FIR registered against them be withdrawn immediately otherwise they will protest outside UP CM’s resident soon.
"The strike will continue till our demands are met or talks are held to find amicable solutions to our problems, otherwise we will launch nationwide protest and will 'gherao' Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's Lucknow residence," Manish Sharma, leader of Bunkar Sanjha Mach who led the procession told NewsClick, adding that the FIR is a bid to scare the protesters.
Congress national general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Monday interacted with weavers from Varanasi over video conferencing and assured them that her party was standing with them against injustice of all kinds.
Gandhi interacted with about 40 to 50 weavers through videoconferencing and patiently heard the various problems being faced by them, media in-charge of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee Lalan Kumar told media persons.
Also read: Power Tariff Hike: Weavers in Varanasi go on Indefinite Strike Again on Unmet Demands