USERS of prepaid power and gas, especially the low-income consumers who cannot afford to buy credits enough to get through a considerable period of shutdown, are at the risk of facing supply disruption as the card recharge mechanism is reported to have faltered in places. Power supply agencies have 3.3 million consumers using prepaid meters across the country and the gas supply agency has 213,000 consumers using prepaid meters in Dhaka. The power authorities say, as New Age reported on Sunday, that smart prepaid meter users would be able to recharge online, which also needs such a facility to be available, but prepaid card holders might face some problems. Statistics say that a half of the prepaid power users are card holders. Such a large number of prepaid utility service users suggests that any technical glitches, which would call for human intervention to resolve the problems, and the scarcity of agents for recharge could spell disaster if the authorities concerned did not put in the best of their efforts to keep the system functional. In a case in example, 20 consumers are reported to have faced technical difficulties in recharging their cards on Saturday. There could be many other such cases going unreported.
The government has, however, announced that more than 30 million of its post-paid power consumers would face no disruption even if they failed to pay electric bills for February and March. Post-paid gas users would also be allowed to pay their bills without any penalty for four consecutive months until June. The authorities seek to say their agents for card recharge were running the services in the time of the crisis at hand and urged people through text messages, advertisements, public announcements and Facebook postings to recharge enough to cope with the emergency situation. But there are a huge number of poor users who recharge their cards on a daily basis or for a few days. Even after all this, the mechanism that the government has put in place is reported not to be working in a few cases. A power consumer who ran out of credit on March 26, which was a national holiday, had his power supply stopped. This suggests that the safeguards that the government has apparently put up fail to work, practically in a few cases and potentially in many cases. The government should immediately attend to these issues that force people not to stay indoors.
The government announced a five-day general holiday, which has automatically spanned 10 days with the Independence Day holiday and two two-day weekends before and after, to minimise any chance for the spread of the new coronavirus infection, which has so far infected 48 people and left five of them dead. With 15 patients having already recovered, there are now 28 active cases, with a number of suspects in institutional and home quarantine and some in isolation. The prime objective of the holiday, which is to ensure social distancing, still remains an issue hard to achieve with people going out for various reasons. If the government cannot ensure that emergency supplies and services run uninterrupted, it is only likely that the objective may fall flat. The government must attend to the issues immediately.
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