ISLAMABAD-The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) has held the power distribution companies (DISCOs) and K-Electric (KE) responsible for charging excessive bills to millions of consumers by adopting illegal and unlawful practices and directed to correct the inflated bills within one billing cycle alongwith taking legal action against the responsible.
An inquiry report on the inflated bills, charged to the electricity consumers in July and August 2023, released here by NEPRA on Monday, has observed that it is very unfortunate that DISCOs are deliberately carrying out such malpractices in order to hide their inefficiencies due to which thousands of consumers suffered with higher electricity bills. “Overall, it can be said that most of the DISCOs have failed to charge the electricity bills in accordance with the relevant clauses of CSM and terms and conditions of tariff approved by the authority. The DISCOs have also failed to carry out the mechanism of percentage checking as provided in CSM,” it maintained. It was noted that more than 13.762 million consumers were charged by Discos for more than 30 days of billing cycle in the months of July and August 2023 which has resulted in inflated bills.
It is worth to mention that while taking notice of the complaints from the electricity consumers regarding excessive, inflated, and wrong bills charged by the distribution companies to the consumers during the of July and August2023, NEPRA had conducted a public hearing and then constituted an inquiry committee to probe the matter. It is alarmingly noted that thousands of consumers were charged for more than 40 days billing. This was the major cause of overbilling during the months of July and August, 2023. During probe it was surprisingly noted that more than 12 million consumers were charged by four Punjab based DISCOs for more than 30 days of billing cycle in the months of July and August 2023. In MEPCO, 5.725 million consumers were charged for more than 30 days of billing cycle in the month of July, 2023 and 2.265 million in August, followed by GEPCO i.e. around 0.463 million in July and 1.2 million in August, 2023. Similarly, FESCO overbilled 0.354 million consumers in July and more than 0.8 million in August, 2023; in LESCO, around 0.7 million in both months. In HESCO, more than 0.5 million consumers in the month of July and 0.208 million in August. In SEPCO, only 485 consumers in July and 0.325 million were charged more than 30 days of bill cycle in August. In PESCO, 156,647 in July and 156,949 in August; in IESCO, 17,009 in July and 28,861 in August. In QESCO, 116,255 consumers were overcharged in July, while 48,732 in August.
This resulted in change of slab from lower to higher, change of status from protected to un-protected and change of status from life line to non-life line for thousands of consumers. It is further noted with grave concern that during the months of July and August, 2023, approximately 0.8 million consumers were served electricity bills having invalid snaps, in which MEPCO, LESCO, QESCO and SEPCO are major contributors. The inquiry report further said that due to non-replacement of defective metres, thousands of consumers have been charged on average basis for more than two months, and, even in large number of cases, one year to three years and even above three years. Had these metres been replaced on time, there could have been a chance to calculate the authentic figures of losses, it maintained.
The CSM provides that it is mandatory for metre readers to take snapshots of metre readings through mobile sets/hand held units. During inquiry, it came to the knowledge that DISCOs except KEL are carrying out metre reading through mobile phone instead of Hand held Units (HHU) which created accuracy problems. The handheld units are more reliable for taking meter readings; however, the only disadvantage is that these units are expensive as compared to smartphones.
It was concluded in the report that DISCOs are charging excessive bills/detection bills to the consumers by adopting illegal and unlawful practices, therefore, prima facie, are in violation of NEPRA Act, Consumer Service Manual, Terms and Conditions of Tariff and other applicable documents, etc. The inquiry committee recommended legal proceedings against all Discos including KEL under NEPRA Fine Regulations, 2021 for violation of the provisions of NEPRA Act, CSM and tariff terms and conditions etc. the DISCOs were directed to replace all defective metres immediately having age above two months and to submit the compliance report within two months.