Power Minister R K Singh’s voice seems to be falling on deaf earsas most household consumers across the country have been receiving inflated electricity bills. Singh has been appealing to power distribution utilities (Discoms) to pass on the benefits of the Centre’s package to the end consumers. In fact, his Ministry has written to States and UTs on the same and to ensure prompt redressal of the complaints of consumers regarding billing.

In May, Singh had said: “There will be a direct saving of 20 to 25 per cent in the electricity bills raised this month for residential consumers after the measures undertaken by the government (Centre).” However, the story on the ground is different.

An eye sore

From Neena Sinha, a resident of South Delhi to actor Tapsi Pannuin Mumbai to locals in Kerala and Gujarat, their electricity bill today is an eye sore as it has soared during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

Most Discoms have done provisional billing, citing inability to physically verify meter readings and generate actual bills. They are charging consumers by using the monthly consumption for the same months of last year or are sending combined bills for two or three months. The situation does vary across States, depending on the method adopted by local Discoms.

While Discoms allow self-meter readings through dedicated mobile apps in Delhi, there have been instances of provisional bills being generated despite the readings being submitted. In some areas, no bills have been received since March. “I had submitted the electricity meter reading through the mobile app during the three-day window that is given, but I was still served a significantly higher provisional bill for June 2020,” said an aggrieved resident.

Bengaluru no different

Residents in Bengaluru narrated a similar story. But Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (BESCOM) believes work from home has led to higher consumption. To pacify enraged consumers, BESCOM decided to bill on an average of the previous three months’ consumption. It also installed a mechanism to average the bill, subject to revision in May, when two months’ consumption will be billed and proportionately apportioned for each month’s slab billing. The surplus or deficit amount will be adjusted in the subsequent bill based on the actual reading of the meter.

Nirmay Mehta, a self-employed professional from Navrangpura area in Ahmedabad, got a shock when he received his electricity bill recently, nearly three times the usual bi-monthly bill from private sector power playerTorrent Power. In other parts of Gujarat, too, mainly in cities of Surat, Vadodara, Bhavnagar and Rajkot, consumers received unexpectedly high electricity bills. Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Limited has also issued bills to customers on a provisional basis. The amount charged in the provisional bills was adjusted against the actual bills when the meter reading resumed in early June.

Scene in Telangana

In Telangana, too, most consumers had a common complaint of being moved to a higher slab, resulting in higher bills. They recieved bills put together for three months in June first and second week. Typically, when consumption ismore than 450 units per month, the tariff is applied at flat ₹9 per unit in the State. This swells the power bills.

Ram Mohan received a bill of ₹6,200 for three months of March to May. Normally, his bill comes up to ₹1,200 to ₹1,500 per month. Mohd Riaz got a bill of ₹22,000 for three months. He contended that the bill would have been just about ₹10,000 for three months, had they not put him under the higher slab.

The issue has reached the Telangana High Court. Meanwhile, State Power Minister G Jagadish Reddy has maintained that the billing system was automated and that there was no scope for any mistake. The bills factor consumption of power for March, April and May and was higher due to higher consumption as it was summer and any discrepancies would be investigated.

The story of Kerala is similar to Telangana. In many cases, it was alleged that individual connections had jumped several slabs based on use during increased consumption. The issue was dragged to the High Court, which asked for clarification from public utility the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB).

The KSEB submitted a response to the court stating that it had decided against disconnecting power supply on grounds of non-payment of bills during the lockdown period. The original petition had also sought for a directive to introduce monthly billing system for domestic consumers, instead of the present bi-monthly billing.

The KSEB also stated domestic consumers would be allowed to remit at least half of the bill amount for April, May and June 2020 before June 15 or the due date of the bill, whichever is later, and allow two equal instalments of the balance amount in the subsequent monthly or bi-monthly bills, based on their request.

Wasim Kahn, resident of Navi Mumbai received an electricity bill of ₹5,740. “It is just not possible that I consumed so much power because we were not even staying here during the lockdown. I am not getting my salary, so how will I pay this amount,” he said.

At the receiving end

Santosh Ray, a resident of Mira Road said: “I have been out of Mumbai for one-and-a-half months. My flat is still locked with all power switches off. My power company has produced bill of ₹6,205 for current month. Is it acceptable?”

In its response, Adani Electricity Mumbai Limited attributed the inflated power bills to the summer season and no physical meter reading in the last three months. It said that late charges are applicable in case a customer doesn’t pay. The excess amount will be credited back to the consumers and to avoid carrying cost, a consumer can voluntarily pay any amount above the assessed bill, which would be adjusted when billing based on actual reading is undertaken during the post lockdown period.

Reacting to consumer concerns, the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s office has said that the State government had taken stock of the situation and was working to resolve consumer issues. Even in West Bengal, only provisional bills were issues based on regulatory guidelines. For March 2020, bills were generated on basis of power consumption made in March 2019. For April this year, bills were issued based on the average consumption of the previous six months (October 2019 to March 2020).

According to Avijit Ghosh, Vice-President, Distribution, Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC) Limited, meter readings began on June 8. This also included total consumption for the period when meter readings were not done. So, bills are now calculated by subtracting the provisional bill amount from the total amount due, post applicable discounts and rebates. The difference is being charged in the June bills of the consumer, as per regulation.Senior official of Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited said: “We have not faced any issues as far as billing is concerned. We have highlighted that Tangedco followed the system as per Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission (TNERC) regulations. A few consumers went to the court. But we have provided rejoinders and necessary explanations.”

(Inputs by Twesh Mishra, Abhishek Law, Rutam V Vora, Anil Urs, Vinson Kurian. Venkatesh Ganesh, V Rishi Kumar and G. Balachandar)