Lucknow: Powerloom weavers in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's constituency, Varanas, went on indefinite strike once again from Thursday against being charged power tariff on meter reading basis instead of fixed rate as was being practiced till 2019-end.
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 or fixed-rate electricity bill and settlement of electricity dues for the powerloom sector among others would be considered, the weavers are upset that their demands have not been met even after one-and-half month.
Under the aegis of Uttar Pradesh Bunkar Mahasabha and Varanasi-based Biradarana Tanzim, weavers from across the state assembled at weaver-dominated localities, such as Bajardiha, Madanpura, Nakki Ghat, Reori Talab and Sadullah Pura. The colonies, which otherwise used to be resonating with sound of powerlooms working, went silent as weavers working on old orders have also stopped their looms in protest.
“Our demand is very simple, that we should be given power supply against fixed charges to run our weaving units. We had opposed the new provision of power tariff on meter reading basis as soon as it was introduced. The situation has worsened after the work was halted due to COVID-19," Iftekhar Ahmed Ansari, president of the Uttar Pradesh Weavers' Association, told NewsClick. He said weavers were forced to take to the streets again as the government failed to keep its promise to look into their demands.The weavers’ leader claimed that this was a state-wide strike.
A senior member of this Tanzim, Ramzan Ali Ansari said, “After work halted due to the lockdown, we were expecting a special package, but instead the government gave us an extra burden of power consumption cost at commercial rate. The industry earns huge foreign exchange and generates revenue through exporters and traders but the material for sale is supplied weavers, who cannot survive in new power tariff structure.”
Weavers claimed that a delegation of weavers had met N Sehgal, Additional Chief Secretary, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), at the protest site for talks last month, following which they had decided to call off the protest temporarily. Despite Sehgal’s assurance of looking into the matter sympathetically within 15 days, nothing was done, they said. A large number of weavers had already sold their powerloom machines to scrap vendors and shifted to other works like construction labourers in past few months, they said.
Top members of the Tanzim, Maqbool Hasan and Ishrat Usmani said a strategy would be evolved to intensify the stir further if the government does not accept the demands. Weavers from across the state will collectively apply to get their electricity lines disconnected, they added.
According to the weavers, the state government used to take a fixed charge for electricity earlier, but this has now been replaced with a new tariff. Earlier, the state government was taking Rs 72 per powerloom as electricity charge but as per the new tariff, the bill is in the Rs 1,400-1,500 range.
Demanding restoration of the old billing system, the leader of weavers in Varanasi, Haji Maqbool Hasan, said the strike would continue until withdrawal of the new system as weavers are not in a position to pay electricity bills since they have already suffered heavy losses.
“We need electricity at subsidised rates in order to survive and preserve the art of weaving which we have been doing for generations. If the flat rate system is not restored, many powerlooms in the city would fall silent,” another weaver told NewsClick.
Rakesh Kant Rai, president of the Varanasi Weavers' Union, said the government had promised on September 3 to implement the old tariff system. If the same was implemented, then they would have not forced weavers to come on the roads. "The proposal that the cabinet has passed on Wednesday night is for electricity till July. There was a complete lockdown from March to June. During this time, neither the powerloom nor any other work was done. Despite this, the bill for that period is also being," he added.
At present powerloom weavers outnumber handlooms four-to-one in UP. As per estimates, about two million weavers are associated with some 272,000 powerlooms in Varanasi, Mau, Azamgarh, Jhansi, Barabanki, Sitapur, Gorakhpur, Sant Kabirnagar, Basti, Meerut, and Ambedkarnagar districts of the state.
Also Read: Varanasi Weavers Called Off Stir After UP Govt Assures Flat Power Tariffs Till July 31