Varanasi weavers go on indefinite strike over new power tariff

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Demanding restoration of the monthly flat rate or fixed rate electricity bill, the weavers of the city went on an indefinite strike from Tuesday.

The strike call was given by Uttar Pradesh Bunkar Mahasabha and Varanasi-based organisation Biradarana Tanzim.

They claimed that the powerloom weavers were being charged as per electricity meters since January 2020 after the government withdrew the ‘flat rate’ subsidy.

There are about 5 lakh weavers associated with weaving of Banarasi sarees, stoles and other clothes in the city and they claim the government move was burning a hole in their pocket.

The groups have announced that all sorts of weaving would remain suspended between September 1 and 15. The effect of the strike was visible everywhere with powerlooms in all localities remaining closed. The weavers also formed a human chain and decided to stage demonstrations from Friday.

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.

Social worker and master weaver Mateen Kaifee said: “Under the flat rate scheme, Rs 145 each was fixed for every powerloom. But now weavers are made to pay per unit electricity every month. For example, if a powerloom consumes 300 units, the weaver will have to pay a bill for all 300 units.”

In the new arrangement, he added, on consumption of 120 units by a half horsepower motor operated powerloom and one horsepower motor operated powerloom, the weaver will get monthly subsidy of Rs 350 and Rs 240, respectively.

“The government should make it clear whether the weavers would get subsidy in their accounts or the amount will be adjusted at the time of deposition of the bill,” Kaifee said.

He further said if the government thinks that Rs 145 monthly bill for each powerloom was very little, it may increase it to Rs 300 per month per powerloom.

Echoing the sentiment, another weaver Saif Ansari said, “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.”

Opposition Congress has extended support to the cause and said they will take up the issue with the government.

“Weaving is an art and weavers are the keeper of this art. The government should restore the flat rate in order to save this art. If weavers don’t get electricity on flat rate, many weavers may quit the field and look for other options to earn their livelihood. This will be a great loss,” former Congress MLA Ajay Rai said.

He said the government representatives should speak to the weavers to assess the situation.

He said on the invitation of weavers, Congress state unit president Ajay Singh Lallu had recently called on the weavers and assured them of raising their issue with the authorities and extended them all possible support.

Purvanchal Vidyut Vitaran Nigam Limited, director commerce, OP Dixit, confirmed that the metered electricity bill was launched in January following government order.

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