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Bandh call against smart meters, highway toll plaza affects normal life in parts of Jammu

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Jammu: Normal life was affected in parts of the Jammu division on Saturday following a bandh called by a traders’ body against the installation of smart electricity meters and to press for the removal of a toll plaza on the Jammu-Pathankot highway.

The one-day strike called by the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industries (JCCI) was supported by several political parties in Jammu and Kashmir such as the Congress, the National Conference and the PDP.

In protests in many parts of the division, including Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Reasi and Udhampur districts, people also demanded the unconditional release of some Yuva Rajput Sabha (YRS) members, who were detained on Monday during a demonstration for the removal of the toll plaza at Sarore in Samba. They were accused of violating restrictions imposed around the toll plaza.

While the toll plaza has been set up illegally, the smart meters have resulted in people getting inflated power bills, protestors from political parties and social organisations claimed.

The main markets in Jammu, Samba, Kathua and Udhampur districts wore a deserted look with almost all shops and business establishments closed. However, vehicles were seen plying on roads.

Police assisted by paramilitary personnel have been deployed across Jammu to maintain law and order, officials said, adding that there has been no report of any untoward incident from anywhere so far.

However, a group of YRS members were detained when they blocked the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway near Udhampur town in support of the bandh.

The strike call was given by the JCCI and it was supported by the Congress, the National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party and the CPI(M). The Jammu High Court Bar association also extended its support.

Congress, National Conference and PDP supporters staged protests at different places in the city, while lawyers suspended their work. Some lawyers also blocked the Janipur Main Road outside the high court.

Raising slogans against the Lt Governor-led Jammu and Kashmir administration, transporters marched from the Bikram Chowk to the Press Club to demand unconditional release of the detained YRS members.

“It is a symbolic strike to raise the genuine demands of the public. The Lt Governor-led administration should pay heed to the issues concerning the common people and try to resolve the same,” JCCI president arun Gupta said.

National Conference provincial president Rattan Lal Gupta, who led a protest in support of the bandh outside the party’s headquarters here, accused the administration of taking arbitrary decisions without taking people into confidence.

“The bandh is the result of brewing anger among the people against the administration over its anti-people policies such as installation of smart meters, property tax, and illegal toll plaza at Sarore in Samba, and arrest of YRS activists,” he said.

Demonstrations were also held in Katra town, the base camp for the pilgrims visiting the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Reasi district.

On Friday, Divisional Commissioner Ramesh Kumar had assured people about the efficiency of smart meters, while listing the steps taken by the administration to dispel the doubts of consumers regarding the accuracy of power consumption readings.

“The installation of smart meters is not unique to Jammu and Kashmir but is being carried out across the nation,” Kumar had said, explaining that smart meters are designed to empower end consumers by curbing power loss.

Clarifying the reasons for occasional high bills, he had said that any discrepancies in bills were due to past pending amounts and assured that the new system’s bill cycle has been rectified.

On the protest over the toll plaza, Additional Director General of Police, Jammu Zone, Mukesh Singh, said that “as a result of Lt Governor Manoj Sinha’s efforts, a team from the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is set to visit the affected area within the next two days.”

Singh said the YRS activists detained for “breach of peace” will be released if any “prominent person” guarantees on their behalf that they would not repeat such an offence. (PTI)

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