up assembly elections 2022: Power subsidy removal major talking point among weavers in Varanasi

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Removal of a power subsidy for looms, rising costs and falling demand are talking points among weavers of Varanasi, an electorally important group in eastern UP, especially for the Samajwadi Party, ahead of assembly elections.

The Ansari Muslim community involved in the craft fears suspension of guaranteed power and a flat electricity rate for running the looms. The power subsidy was introduced by the Mulayam Singh Yadav government in 2006. Weavers pay less than ₹150 per month for looms that consume 1 horsepower of electricity. However, an order in December 2019 made unit-based consumption mandatory. This could raise their energy bill to around ₹3000 per month.

“Electricity subsidy is very important for weavers. The subsidy is what sustained us all these years,” 60-year Gulzar Ahmed of Varanasi’s Lohta weaving colony told ET. After protests and multiple rounds of interaction with the government last year, including the chief minister, the order was put on hold this February. MSME additional chief secretary Navneet Sehgal in a letter to the UP Power Corporation asked it not to collect dues or stop power supply until a decision was taken by the Cabinet on an amended subsidy scheme. However, with no government decision in sight yet, weavers often face harassment of power department executives.

“Officials from the electricity department visit us 8-10 times a month to trouble us. The lockdown has just got over and we don’t have money to pay bills. We will pay it sooner or later; it is not as if the government will waive it off,” said Mohammad Junaid, a wage earning weaver of the city’s Alaipura weaving colony. Wage earning weavers work a power loom for a master weaver and get paid between ₹125-150 per day.

“Since 2006, due to the flat rate, weavers have been able to progress significantly, but in the last two years, there has been much uncertainty due to the new rule. In our discussions with the government, we agreed that they could increase the rate as it has not been increased over the last 12-13 years, but not do away with the subsidy altogether. After the havoc that the Covid-19 second wave wreaked, however, we had to ask it to let us pay according to the 2006 subsidy only. We have been assured that no change in the rate will take place until March, 2022, but lack of a government order makes things ambiguous,” Haji Iftekhar Ahmed Ansari, president of the UP Bunkar Sabha told ET, adding that he is confident that the order will be passed in a week or so, based on his interactions. He also said in many areas like Kanpur, Meerut, weavers were not charged anything.

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