November 12, 2019
Officials must sit up and take note of this blatant mismanagement of finances, says NGO official.
Even as Coimbatore scrambled to close unused borewells following the tragic death of two-year-old Sujith Wilson, when he fell into an disused borewell in Nadukattupatti village (Tiruchi), a quirky issue related to these infamous ‘death traps’ has emerged.
While public outrage over the death of Sujith has still not subsided, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) has revealed that local government bodies have been paying monthly bills (fied charges) that have now topped Rs. 6.28 crores to the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO) for unused borewells, according to records in the possession of Coimbatore Consumer Cause.
Its secretary K Kathirmathiyon, told The Covai Post, “About four months ago we were cross checking some records when we stumbled upon two power connections of the Coimbatore Corporation for which it had been paying electricity bills for nil power consumption.
“When the organisation realised that these were borewell connections, it verified the information with Tangedco which claimed that there were thousands of such borewells which had fallen into disuse, yet bills are being paid.”
According to him, some borewell connections were taken between 2012 and 2015 and some were from 2007 onwards. “However, since computerised data from Tangedco is available only from 2007, there could be many connections older than this, perhaps, from 2000, and for all of which bills have been paid until last month,” said Kathirmathiyon.
Following this, the NGO conducted a survey which revealed that there were nearly 3,396 similar borewell connections in Coimbatore for which around Rs.28 lakhs is being paid bimonthly to Tangedco, amounting to Rs 6,28,995,610.
“The TANGEDCO charges Rs.120 per kilowatt (kw) and each borewell uses about 8-10 kw. If they are deeper, then kilowatts have to be increased. An unused borewell in Mettupalayam has around 35 kilowatts, but they are paying Rs.4,600 every month,” said Kathirmathiyon, citing an instance.
A senior official in the Coimbatore city municipal corporation reportedly told Kathirmathiyon that this issue was present all over Tamil Nadu.
Saying that the same situation prevails in corporations, municipalities, taluks and villages, Kathirmathiyon asserted it’s time officials acted on the “mismanagement” of finances by local bodies.
“Just like how we would cut down on consumption to save money on home EB bills, officials must address this issue; it is the job of Tangedco and the Corporation to identify unused borewells, disconnect their electricity connections and close them to prevent accidents similar to Sujith,” said Kathirmathiyon.
Three benefits from such action would be the EB bill payments can stop, owners can get back the deposit for connections lying idle with the Tangedco, and close borewells to prevent human or animal casualties.
However, it appears there are practical difficulties to this exercise, as put forth by businessmen and officials.
If the unused borewell belongs to commercial buildings, then the landlords are reluctant to surrender the connections, even though their current tenant may not require it. They will retain it for a future tenant who may need it and avoid spending larger amounts to reinstall the borewell connection. This was pointed out by a Salem-based businessman who did not want to be named.
“But this indefinite ‘wait’ when a borewell may come into use has to be reasonable, say a year or two, not running into several years,” said Kathirmathiyon.
A local body official in the District Collectorate, Coimbatore, told Coimbatore Consumer Voice that EB bills are often given in thick sheaves so that it was difficult to identify which borewell was in use and which was defunct.
“We get around 400-500 bills from hundreds of corporation borewells and it is difficult to scan each. The payments are made to Tangedco automatically,” said the official.
Despite the challenges, Kathirmathiyon says, authorities must address the issue of bill payments for unused borewells, without delay.
Though, he added, some responsible corporation offices identified and cancelled some connections some months ago, said Kathirmathiyon.