Faced with protests against installation of smart meters across Gujarat, State-government owned Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam (GUVNL) on Wednesday said the State discoms will not “forcefully” install the smart-meters and will first win the “trust of people.”

“We are saying that the smart meter is a better meter and has been installed with the intention to benefit people. As people are protesting, we want to say that we will go forward (with the installation) only after winning their trust. We are not going to forcefully install the meters,” Jai Prakash Shivahare, managing director of GUVNL told media persons.

When asked if the State government was suspending the installation of smart meters, Shivahare side-tracked the question and said, “We are going to install these meters in government offices so that there is a demonstration-effect. People can see and compare for themselves.” The IAS officer did not give any timeline regarding the demonstration that will be undertaken for the public at government offices.

Public outcry

The public statement from GUVNL comes after public protests erupted in some cities of Gujarat including Vadodara where smart-meters were being installed. People largely complained of being overcharged through smart-meters. When asked how many customer complaints have been received so far and if the case of a Vadodara-based smart meter customer receiving an electricity bill of ₹9.24 lakh was true, Shivhare said, “We have tried to search for the cases reported in the media. In some cases we have been able to find the customer, we have inquired and found no issues.”

‘More effecient’

Official sources told businessline that 1,65,10,860 smart meters have been sanctioned for installation in Gujarat and so far 67,856 smart meters have been installed across the State. “As the name suggests, a smart meter is more efficient, accurate and has more functions. In future as per the Indian government guidelines, where we will get cheaper solar power during day time then we can provide cheaper power to consumers or give them a discount...There is no shortcoming in these meters. We have taken all precautions. We have tested it as well. We have installed 50,000 smart meters in the State. There are no problems in them,” he said adding that the protests against the smart meters were largely due to the misunderstanding about the meters,” Shivhare said.

“I can challenge and say that there is no shortcoming in these meters,” the official said, asking media persons to take the lead and install smart meters at their respective homes.

After public protests against smart-meters, the leader of Congress party in Gujarat Assembly, Amit Chavda held a similar press conference at Gandhinagar on May 21 and claimed that the smart meters are one more way to “loot” the people of Gujarat. “Customers across Rajkot, Vadodara and Surat have been protesting since the last few days. People in Vadodara who were paying ₹1,000 monthly as electricity bill have started getting ₹350 bill per day after smart meters were installed. At many places, people who were earlier getting a ₹4,500 bill every two months, ended up spending ₹4,000 in just 20 days,” Chavda said giving examples of erroneous billing by State discoms.

“Customers with smart meters have to pre-pay ₹300 in advance to the State discoms. So If 1.65 crore smart meters are going to be installed, the State government will end up collecting over ₹500 crore in advance from the electricity customers,” said Chavda adding that the State discoms in Gujarat do not provide any discounts or free power to people.

“Why should smart meters be made mandatory? Why do not give an option to people to opt for conventional or smart meters? Even mobiles have postpaid and prepaid options. Why are such options not given to smart meter customers? If the money recharged in these smart meters gets exhausted, then electricity can go off. Secondly, if people have to recharge their smart meters, they will need smartphones. Where will the poor get smart phones from?,” Chavda added.