The news of a continued blackout in Siddharth colony in Mumbai’s Chembur has been doing rounds for years until now. The residents of the Siddharth colony have failed to pay their electricity bills since 2006 and their dues have now mounted for up to Rs 99 crore. Adani Electricity has disconnected its power supply for nine hours during the day owing to the non-payment of the dues. The residents of the colony have now taken to protests.
The history of non-payement of dues
Several residents of Chembur’s Siddharth Colony have taken to protests after the electricity supply to the colony was cut by the provider Adani electricity. This came after it was repeatedly realised by the company that the residents have failed to pay their electricity dues for 16 years from now.
The Times of India has reported that the pending electricity bills along with the penalty have mounted up to Rs 99 crores. According to Adani Electricity, electricity connections of the defaulted customers have been disconnected in the past but were later restored on humanitarian grounds. In August 2019, the power supply to the society was restored on an assurance that regular payments will be made from then onwards while past dues will be paid within three months. However, the residents of the society did not budge.
Earlier in 2018 also, the then electricity supplier Reliance energy had to face a similar hurdle to receive the power dues from the residents of Siddharth society. It was reported that the housing society which houses more than 20,000 residents had to face the action of Reliance electricity when the company cut the power supply for three days. In 2018, the dues mounted for 63 crores.
Despite repeated actions and warnings, the residents of Siddharth Society are adamant about not clearing previous dues despite the fact that electricity was consumed by them. Also, the residents have made repeated assurances of unhindered payment of current electricity bills but have failed to do so as well.
What Electricity distributers have to say
In 2018, Reliance Energy, as an electricity distributor, had disconnected the electricity supply to Siddharth Colony for non-payment of dues for 12 years. After repeated notices and warnings, Reliance took the decision of cutting the power supply which was restored later after a protest. An official from the company had said that they are strict at that time about recovering all the arrears. “If the residents couldn’t pay, they had to find a way. Because of Siddharth colony residents, other customers were paying higher tariffs,” he added while responding to the situation.
A similar scenario has prevailed today in 2002 while despite a coercive action of repeated power cuts by the new energy distributor – Adani Electricity, the residents are not ready to pay their dues. The collective dues for the society have now mounted to Rs 99 crores to this day. An Adani official while speaking to the TOI added, “Despite multiple relaxations, several notices and reminders, consumers from Siddharth Colony and Shuddhodhan Nagar have not cleared their outstanding dues and continue to default on their current dues as well. This puts an unnecessary tariff burden on our regular paying consumers and such a situation is unacceptable.” The official further asserted that the company is obligated and constrained to initiate mass disconnection against the defaulters in the interest of their regular paying consumers.
Where mob mentality meets politics
Siddharth Society is often denoted as a slum of lower-middle-class dwellers in Mumbai’s neighbourhood of Chembur. Located between the Eastern expressway and Sion-Panvel Highway, The society has been currently in the news for over 3500 households plunging into darkness after failing to play electricity dues for over sixteen years. When asked a resident about their coercive negligence to pay the bills, it was learnt that many builders had approached the residents for redevelopment, owing to the settlements’ strategic location. Talking about one such builder, a resident added, “The builder who was to redevelop our colony had promised to pay all bills, but now, he is not showing his face,”
While no deal was struck between any builder and the residents, the residents decided to discontinue paying the bills accusing an alleged builder of his promise of paying their dues. Since then, the dues have added to the headache of the electricity suppliers. In 2018, when the supply to the society was discontinued, around 500 protestors gathered around the Reliance Energy office in Tilak Nagar, they had even tried to attack the office. To avoid a law and order situation, police forces were deployed.
In August last year, it was found that 12 residents of Siddharth Colony pilfered electricity for a year after the power supply was cut off over default on bills. It was found that 33,541 units of power were used illegally by these residents which cost Rs. 4,86,635/-. The Chembur Division of Adani Electricity Mumbai Ltd (AEML) had filed an FIR against these residents in 2021.
It is learnt that caste politics also has a role to play as many residents who belong to the Dalit community are counted as a major vote bank in the Chembur constituency. A resident named Sunil Sukhdev while alleging about the power cut had gone further to say “We are being harassed for three days. We are planning to approach the court to apply for the Atrocity Act as all of us are Dalits,”
The colony also fetched limelight during the Bhima-Koregoan Protests which spurred from Pune to Mumbai within no time in 2018. It is known that the Siddharth colony was an epicentre of the violence that broke out during the agitations. Chembur-based surgeon Amit Thadani’s clinic was attacked as some residents of the society broke out on streets to vandalise public property, buses and went on rampaging the streets.
Board of my clinic damaged, glass panes broken. Bamboos and stones used in the attack. Also posting more pics and videos sent by other docs in my area as a tweet series. pic.twitter.com/Fqqkt9I6nq— Amit Thadhani (@amitsurg) January 2, 2018
Over 100 Dalit and Leftist protestors agitating in areas of Chembur were arrested for vandalising and creating nuisance on the street at that time. An era of group veto powered by power, politics and caste identities continued at the Siddharth Society in darkness.