Report by Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) correspondent
“We are finding it hard to feed ourselves. How will we afford to pay the huge bills generated by smart metres, or should we not feed our family!”
For the past many months, the people of Kashmir have been strongly resisting the forceful installation of smart meters in the valley. Women have been coming out on the streets and leading powerful struggles despite heavy police and military presence and AFSPA. In the last week of July, scores of women in Banday Mohalla and Zargar Mohalla Handwara in Kupwara district gathered to protest against the injustice.
“It is an injustice to the people of Jammu and Kashmir that the electricity being generated here is bought at cheaper rates and sold at exorbitant rates back to the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” the citizens said.
“Prices of essential commodities are touching the sky and the government—instead of lessening the burden of common masses—is overburdening them by introducing back-breaking schemes. How is it possible for a labourer or a roadside vendor to pay huge electricity bills from smart meters?” asked a local. This will certainly resonate with a huge majority of working people across the country.
Why are smart meters being forced on citizens?
Mainstream media criticizes protesting citizens for opposing “development.” However, in whose interest are these smart meters?
Smart meters communicate real-time energy consumption data to consumers and electricity distribution companies. Therefore, the process of meter-reading is eliminated. In places where electricity distribution is privatised, private companies do not have to hire workers for meter reading.
The use of smart meters is being pushed so that electricity can be distributed on prepaid mode! This has already created havoc in states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Assam, and Tamil Nadu. Under the prepaid system, electricity can be immediately disconnected once power has been supplied according to the amount paid.
Moreover, the installation of smart meters requires an investment of thousands of crores. It is clear that private companies want to avoid such a huge expenditure. This is why, state governments are being forced to bear the burden of installation prior to privatization!
Protests in Kashmir
So far, more than 50,000 smart meters have been installed in the Kashmir valley.
In the face of citizens’ protests against this installation, the Kashmir Power Development Corporation Limited (KPDCL) authorities have resorted to cutting the electricity supply in places where there are protests!
In some places, smart meters were installed on postpaid mode. However, the corporation is now forcing smart meter subscribers to switch to prepaid. It has threatened power disconnection if consumers do not switch within a month.
Unitedly oppose smart meters!
“How is it genuine to install smart meters when Kashmir’s economy has been in shambles for the last 35 years?” a resident questioned. The unemployment rate in Jammu & Kashmir is at a staggering 23.2%. This means that two out of every ten persons is without a job.
Electricity is sold on a flat rate in Kashmir. This flat rate has in fact always been on the higher end. In October 2022, the government hiked this rate, leading to an increase of 8%–22% in domestic bills. Moreover, the state recently announced the discontinuation of flat rates offered to government employees living in Jammu & Kashmir. This is only one more step toward ending the system of flat rates and moving toward dynamic fares, which are more profitable for private companies.
“We have been paying monthly flat bills to the tune of Rs 1200–1400,” said a woman, adding that people simply won’t be able to afford the huge bills generated by smart meters.
“They should first provide us quality water, good roads and schools,” another citizen said.
The fight of the people of Jammu & Kashmir is a fight of all workers and citizens—it is part of our struggle to secure electricity as a fundamental right. All power workers and consumers must stand with the protesting citizens!