Inflated electricity bills: MERC orders Adani to refund suburban users
mid-day impact: Following our exposes of inflated electricity bills, regulator appoints two-member probe panel, while ordering the refund of excessive amounts to residents with interest
Slapped with an inflated bill from Adani Electricity Limited? You won't have to wait too long for a refund. A day after announcing a probe into the hike in bills, the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) yesterday asked the company to correct the bills with immediate effect, and refund consumers with the excess charges — plus interest.
This is a huge victory for the thousands of citizens who were subjected to massive hikes in their power bills after Adani Electricity Mumbai Limited (AEML) took over from Reliance Energy two months ago. mid-day ran a sustained campaign on the issue once complaints began to arise over the company's billing tactics. This paper's reportage caught the attention of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, as well as the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC). On Friday, mid-day exclusively reported that the electricity watchdog had made up its mind to open a probe into the allegations against Adani.
Since the probe will take a few months, MERC has instructed the company to hold camps where consumers can approach them with billing grievances. Adani will have to immediately refund the excess charges, plus interest (rate has been approved by MERC). Yesterday, MERC chairman Anand Kulkarni also announced that the probe panel will comprise former additional chief secretary Ajit Kumar Jain (retiring as information commissioner in a couple of months), and former technical member of MERC, Vijay Sonawane. He told the media: "Their integrity is impeccable. While Mr Jain has a vast experience of administration [including conducting inquiries] as a senior IAS officer, Mr Sonawane has been a career technocrat in the field of electricity."
Panel has a free hand
Kulkarni said the scope of inquiry would be finalised in discussion with the panel. "We have decided to give the fact-finding committee a free hand, and not put any ceiling or limit to the probe. It will be allowed to verify the company accounts, tariff orders, balance sheets and whatever it deems fit to bolster their findings," said Kulkarni, adding, "We are not satisfied with the explanations given by the electricity distributor and hence felt that we must have a detailed inquiry. The approved average hike was just 0.24 % and yet in 1.1 lakh cases the spike went beyond 20%. At the approved rate, there could be at the most 3% hike or, in some cases, even less."
What Adani told MERC
. There was indeed an increase in bills of November due to prolonged high temperature and high humidity in October. About 1.1 lakh residential consumers (out of 27 lakh) got bills with about 20% average hike. (MERC will now study how the weather affected the billing pattern of three other companies — Tata, BEST and Mahavitaran.)
. Due to a strike by billing employees during the change of ownership of the company, around 3.53 lakh bills were issued on average consumption basis. However, these were adjusted based on the actual meter reading of October. Thereafter, billing has been based on actual meter reading.
Nirupam alleges MERC-AEML nexus
Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam called MERC's decision to appoint a two-member probe panel a 'desperate attempt to douse the public outrage'. He demanded a judicial probe into the working of MERC and AEML, alleging a nexus between the two. He also demanded the sacking of MERC chief Anand Kulkarni, who refused to comment on the allegations.
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