video by Umay Işık
In the city of Van (Wan) in Turkey many houses are still heated by coal burning stoves. These stoves are usually in sitting rooms while others rooms, if any, are heated by electric heaters. The weather in Van can be as cold as -15 centigrade by the beginning of winter and electric heaters are not always sufficient even when used 24 hours a day.
Nevertheless, the electricity bills are almost equal to the monthly incomes of some families. This can lead people to search for alternatives.
Expensive electric bills lead people to use illegal electricity. The illegal electric system enables usage rates to seem 50% lower. The number of families who use illegal electricity is high.
The Turkish Electricity Distribution Corporation (TEDAŞ) simultaneously raided neighbourhoods for illegal electric usage at the beginning of the winter. Electric meters were removed when people were sleeping and those who used illegal electric meters were detected and fined. The fines ranged between 4,000 and 10,000 Turkish Lira (TL). Authorities cut off electricity if the fines could not be paid.
TEDAŞ has used new electric meters over the last five years. They set those electric meters to houses for free, offering no choice to residents. Applying a new system this year, TEDAŞ has begun to take electric meters out of homes and place them above lampposts. This system was implemented in Van (Wan), Hakkari (Colemerg), Muş (Mûş), and Bitlis (Bedlîs). People took to the streets in outrage over the new system and tried to prevent TEDAŞ staff from attaching meters to lampposts, but the police intervened with armored vehicles.
67 year-old Meryem I fined
One of those who was fined after using illegal electric, Meryem İ., said, “I was fined 7,500 TL. How will I pay it? I can not afford my electric bills even at my normal usage. I am 67 years old and a widow. I live with my two unemployed daughters. I receive a pension of 600 TL monthly. That money is sufficent for only our monthly supplies. Though we all live in the same room and use only one electric heater, the bill costs 500 Tl monthly. Is the fine justified? The state does not provide any financial support. I have a lot of neighbours who are like me”.